Han Sai Por Shapes Rural Singapore Into Art

Best known for her stone sculptures, the artist experiments with new mediums as she looks back on memories of her childhood.
by Michele Koh Morollo

Han Sai Por

Han Sai Por has spent more than four decades honing her craft and is undoubtedly one of Singapore’s most eminent sculptors. Her works can be seen at the Istana, the Esplanade, the Singapore Revenue House, OUB Centre, Changi Airport Terminal 3, the National Gallery Singapore, and the Singapore Art Museum.

Her creations are also displayed internationally at the National Museum in Beijing, Australian Parliament House, the Chancery of the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Singapore to the United Nations in New York, the Singapore Embassy in Washington D.C., as well as in public spaces and private collections.

A recipient of the Singapore Cultural Medallion Award in 1995, and founder and honorary president of the Sculpture Society Singapore, Han is best known for her striking, monolithic stone sculptures that feature sensual organic forms. Examples include Orchid Journey in Suzhou Park, China, the Seeds series at The Esplanade, and Tropical Leaf at One Raffles Quay.

Han sees sculpture as “an art of life experiences, an art of feeling through touching, observation and imagination, and an art of engineering and technology.”

Han Sai Por

The artist. Photo: Han Sai Por/STPI

According to Singapore’s foremost art historian, curator and critic T.K. Sabapathy, Han’s work is “sculpture in its embryonic form” and a study of the “uneasy” relationship between man and nature in the modern age. “Her works are made up of a compact, entirely solid mass of material, which she shapes but does not perforate or open up.

They are the outcome of a single-minded concentration on mass and volume,” said Sabapathy.  He added that her sculptures have “the strength and durability of primal or elementary forms”, and that they “retain the presence and weight of the monolith, and appeal to us with their provocative simplicity.”

New works

Han’s latest collection — currently on display at STPI Creative Workshop & Gallery until May22 — on the other hand, is a departure from her usual medium. Experimenting with new methods and materials, The Forest and Its Soul, conceived during Han’s second residency with STPI, is a series of 35 prints created with technologies such as photo intaglio — a printmaking technique where an image is cut into a surface and ink is applied to the recessed area — and laser cutting, a fabrication process using a thin, precise laser beam to cut and etch materials into designs.

Han tells us that she has always had a deep reverence for the natural world, and for this print series, she drew inspiration from her experiences of the forest ecosystem, which she describes as “an emotional landscape”.

“My childhood was spent surrounded by nature. Apart from my family, the trees, wildlife, and our domestic animals were my closest companions. Back then, I spent most of my time wandering in the woods. When I got hungry, I ate fruit from the trees. I chased butterflies and dragonflies along a hillside. All the details of plants and wildlife from my childhood are etched into my memory,” says Han, who tapped into this time of her life when working on The Forest and Its Soul.

Her dream of becoming an artist first entered her mind when she was 10, and her mother bought her a book about Michelangelo, the Italian Renaissance sculptor, painter and architect, whose most famous works include the frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. “This book got me thinking about being an artist, imagining what an artist’s life might be like.” In 1979, she decided to pursue this dream and left Singapore for the United Kingdom to study Fine Art at the University of Wolverhampton.

She returned to Singapore in 1983 and worked as an art elective teacher at Nanyang Girls High School for three years. “In 1986, after repaying my study loan to the Ministry of Education, I quit my full-time teaching job. I believed I could survive without full-time employment. I only had $15,000 in the bank, but I wasn’t worried,” shares Han.

Han Sai Por

The exhibit. Photo: Han Sai Por/STPI

Her faith was rewarded. Within a very short time after leaving her job, she received several well-paid sculpture commissions and was invited to participate in international art events. “This allowed me to gain the confidence I needed to step into the art world as a professional artist,” she says.

While growing into her artistic skills, Han also carved out time to be a student and a teacher. From 2004 to 2008, she studied Landscape Architecture at Lincoln University in New Zealand, and worked as a part- time lecturer at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and La Salle School of the Arts, and the National Institute of Education of the Nanyang Technological University from 1987 to 1995.

“Education is very important for anyone who wishes to pursue a career in fine art, but what’s most essential is feeling the indelible force within one’s cells. I felt this force. I knew my dream was to become an artist, and that making art is what I enjoy the most. Although the path of an artist is challenging and requires a great deal of effort, it is my chosen career. Creating art is what my soul desires, and I hope I will continue doing it till the day I die,” says Han.

This story originally published on The Peak Singapore.

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