PM Lee Hsien Loong at the "Soul of Ink: Lim Tze Peng at 100" Book Launch and Exhibition

SM Lee Hsien Loong | 15 June 2021

Transcript of speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the “Soul of Ink: Lim Tze Peng at 100” book launch and exhibition on 15 June 2021.

Mr Lim Tze Peng
Mr Woon Tai Ho
Ladies and Gentlemen

Good afternoon everybody.

I would like to say how delighted I am to join you all for the book launch and exhibition of “Soul of Ink: Lim Tze Peng at 100”.

Today, we honour the remarkable accomplishments of Mr Lim Tze Peng – one of Singapore’s most accomplished artists.

Let me start with a few words first in Mandarin:


Mr Lim’s journey as an artist has been long and fruitful. He developed an interest in the arts early in his youth, before the War. He taught himself painting and calligraphy, and honed his talents as a student in Chung Cheng High School. After graduation, he became a teacher at Sin Min School and subsequently the principal of Sin Min School in the 1950s. For over thirty years, he looked after the welfare of his students and made sure they received a good education. In his free time, he relentlessly pursued his passion for art. His field trips in the 1960s and 70s around Southeast Asia with other Nanyang-school artists helped to inspire and shape his artistic identity. In 1977, he exhibited a work at the Commonwealth Art Exhibition in England. His entry was initially rejected by the local selection committee for being neither Eastern nor Western, but it was eventually accepted, and unexpectedly won the Special Prize. It was the only Singaporean work to win a prize at that competition. This success spurred Mr Lim on. Tze Peng only became a full-time artist in 1981 at the age of 60, after retiring as a school principal. More than twenty years later, he was awarded the Cultural Medallion, and later still, the Meritorious Service Medal for his contributions to the arts. At age 100, he is still going strong, breaking new ground and relentlessly improving his craft. He has joined the select group of internationally-acclaimed artists who remained active as centenarians.

In 2014, I opened the Lim Tze Peng Art Gallery at Chung Cheng High School. Mr Lim’s alma mater had set up the gallery to house over 100 of his best works, that he had donated. These masterpieces now inspire the students, and future generations of artists. So when Tai Ho invited me to launch “Soul of Ink: Lim Tze Peng at 100” – his book about Mr Lim’s life story and works, I was deeply honoured to accept.

The book captures the “spirit” of Mr Lim’s art. From his streetscapes and kampong scenes in our early nation-building years, to his iconic paintings of Chinatown and the Singapore River through the decades, they offer a vivid glimpse of the colour of everyday lives in Singapore – still within living memory, but fading into the past year by year. His life’s work captures the atmosphere of the changing times, as our country developed and urbanised. It opens a window into our nation’s soul, while enriching our heritage, and helping to form an emerging national cultural identity.

This is exactly what art can do – to link generations past, present and future, to express our creative responses to our circumstances, and articulate our dreams and aspirations, and at the same time, remind us that our future paths are our own to blaze.

Just like how Mr Lim pioneered his own path. His works were undeniably rooted in Chinese Art, from the materials, to the style of painting and writing. But the spirit of his art is neither Eastern nor Western. It is Singaporean. Mr Lim has inspired new generations of local artists, each with their own unique styles, but all distinctively Singaporean. Piece by piece, each new artwork contributes to our collective identity, our sense of national identity and pride. As Mr Lim said, “Everybody contributes differently, I am born for art and my contribution is in art. You can live to 200 years, [but] it will be a short life, if you haven’t made a meaningful contribution.” Mr Lim, 谢谢。谢谢你对新加坡的贡献。We thank you for your contributions to Singapore.

In a few months’ time, the National Arts Council (NAC) will open the Cultural Medallion Gallery, right here at the Arts House. It will celebrate and honour our Cultural Medallion recipients, like Mr Lim. It will showcase their artistic excellence and contributions across various art forms, from the visual and literary arts to music, theatre and dance, that have left an indelible imprint on our cultural landscape. These cultural icons and role models we call our own, will continue to inspire new generations of local artists and performers.

Last but not least, let me congratulate Tai Ho on successfully putting together first the book, and today’s book launch and exhibition. We need passionate individuals like him. Their efforts in nurturing the arts, supporting our local artists, writing about them, and promoting awareness and appreciation of their achievements are just as important in keeping the Arts vibrant and growing in Singapore.

Thank you all once again, and I wish everyone a very happy and memorable evening.