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.
The Xiamen-born artist moved to Singapore in 1937 to flee the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war in his hometown. Lim was sensitive to his surroundings as he adapted to living in his new home. He began to paint local subject matter in Western and Chinese styles and encouraged artists to look inwards and embrace their local culture and identities through their works. Construction Site of a Shipyard at Tanjong Rhu depicts one of Lim’s works in the “Nanyang style”. The back of this painting features another painting of unidentified buildings and houses.