The founding principal of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), Lim Hak Tai, was one of Singapore’s most notable artists. Adept in Western oil painting, Chinese ink painting and calligraphy, Lim integrates Western and Chinese techniques while portraying Southeast Asian subject matter. This style of work is known as the “Nanyang style”. Lim ensured that the school he established embraced similar sentiments. The curriculum was one of the first schools in Asia to strike a balance between Western and Chinese art traditions in the curriculum, an initiative that NAFA still embraces today.
Lim’s calligraphy features Midnight Autumn Song (子夜秋歌) by Chinese poet Li Bai. The poem, set in Chang’an, tells the tale of women washing clothes on an autumn night when the moon is high in the night sky. With the men out at war, women tend to the farms and other chores during the day, finally availing themselves to do the laundry after a long day of work while longing for the return of their husbands. The war not only impacted the people on the frontlines, but also their loved ones at home. Written in the semi-cursive script (also known as “running” script), the artwork showcases not only Lim’s impressive calligraphy skills but also his scholarly appreciation for Chinese literature.