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.
NAFA was founded in 1938 and began with 14 Fine Art students at 167 Geylang Road. The two-storey shophouse was shared with the Society of Chinese Artists, which helped to build the school’s reputation. With an increasing number of students and faculty members, the school moved to a bungalow on 93 Serangoon Road until it closed during World War II. In 1946, NAFA reopened with 30 students at St Thomas Walk, where it stayed for more than three decades. The academy continued to expand and develop its curriculum. In 2004, NAFA moved to Bencoolen Street, where it is currently present.