Light / Dark mode

NAFA or LASALLE: Take a Guess on Which is Which?

Recently held at Gajah Gallery, Which is Which? is a group exhibition with one of the most provocative curatorial premises we’ve seen in a while. 

Curated by John Tung, it showcases artworks from 15 artists associated with two prominent Singaporean arts education institutions: the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) and LASALLE College of the Arts. We’re not the only ones who have heard the popular lore delineating the two – something along the lines of how LASALLE tends towards an emphasis on concept at the expense of technical proficiency, while NAFA slants towards the opposite. But how true is that, in reality? This exhibition aims to investigate the unexplored and alleged divergence between these institutions, by mounting a preliminary survey of possible markers of distinctiveness in artistic practices of the featured artists.

To allow the audience to examine each work and make guesses based purely on its aesthetics, the artist names and institutional affiliations were concealed on the wall texts in the exhibition, relegated instead to the second page of the card. Throwing a curveball to any attempts at clear delineation is the fact that a good proportion of the artists are actually affiliated with both institutions, which Tung shares was an intentional choice. 

When asked what he hopes that viewers will take away from the exhibition, Tung quips: “That assumptions can just as easily be dispelled as they can be maintained. While the exhibition was by no means a large or conclusive survey, I think it put to rest certain preconceived notions associated with both schools.”

Think you can win at Guess-the-Institutional-Affiliation-Based-on-the-Work? We’ve rounded up five of our choice picks from the exhibition below – give it a shot!

Ng Eng Teng – Still Life with Red Lilies & Dancer

Still Life with Red Lilies (1961), Ng Eng Teng

Recognised as a pivotal figure in Singaporean sculpture, Ng’s large-scale figurative sculptures can be found across Singapore’s urbanscape, his pioneering works in ciment fondu in particular having had enduring influence. As a student, his potential caught the attention of his teacher Georgette Chen, whose Nanyang Style influence is evident in his painting Still Life with Red Lilies exhibited here.

Dancer (1988), Ng Eng Teng

Ng went on to pursue further studies in sculpture and ceramics abroad before returning to set up his own pottery workshop in Singapore. One of his sculptural works, Dancer, is also exhibited here. While the title points towards the artist’s interest in the human form, the sculpture itself abstracts this form beyond recognition. Instead, the work presents a contrast between the sharp, limb-like appendages protruding from the top, and the bulbous, stable base.

NAFA or LASALLE?: Ng Eng Teng studied painting at NAFA.

Jaafar Latiff – Odyssey A/89 & Untitled

Odyssey A/89 (1989), Jaafar Latiff

While Latiff began with realistic painting, over time he transitioned to abstraction to “venture beyond the limit of the familiar” into the “wide world of free expression” (The Asia Magazine, 19 Aug 1979). He created his works spontaneously without planning, relishing abstraction as a means to intuitive self-expression of his inner world, moods and feelings. His significant emotional investment in his works has led him to remark that “When people say that they like this or they like that painting of mine, they are actually showing appreciation of my moods and feelings.” (Vocational & Industrial Training Board newsletter, Jul/Aug 1989).

Untitled (1993), Jaafar Latiff

His paintings often feature vibrant colour combinations and undulating, rhythmic movement, and also reflected his thoughts about Singapore’s rapid development in the 1980s and 1990s. A quintessential Singaporean artist, Latiff’s artworks have adorned public spaces such as Orchard MRT station and Changi Airport. Two of his acrylic paintings are represented in this exhibition, their bold, exuberant forms evoking the urgency and chaos of Singapore’s urban growth. 

NAFA or LASALLE?: Jaafar Latiff was an educator in both LASALLE and NAFA.

Susie Lingham – Seme : Seam : Seem (: Seam : Seme) & ellipsed ellipsis

Seme : Seam : Seem (: Seam : Seme) (2022), Susie Lingham

Dr. Lingham’s artworks frequently explore the intricacies of the human experience and mind, prompting introspection regarding the nature of consciousness and perception. Depending on the angle from which one approaches it, the sculpture Seme : Seam : Seem (: Seam : Seme) transforms, revealing either a borderless void within the larger cone, or reflecting the viewer’s image on the curved outer surface. Her playful titling adds an additional layer of complexity, mirroring the three homonyms in an interplay between knowledge (“seme”) and perception (“seem”), just as the two cones appear to be disproportionate reflections of each other.

ellipsed ellipsis (2023), Susie Lingham

The artist’s love of wordplay is evident once again in ellipsed ellipsis. The triptych of birch panels feature a cross-section of a nautilus shell drawn in charcoal and two inlaid cello bridges, a commentary on sound and silence. As she puts it, “ellipsis are unsaid, unheard omissions – placeholder silence”, and “[the panels] once inlaid with the cello bridges, are further charged with displacement and tensed silence”.

NAFA or LASALLE?: Dr. Susie Lingham graduated from NAFA with a Diploma in Fine Art, and has lectured at both LASALLE and NAFA.

Melissa Tan – Hygieia & Kalypso

Hygieia (2023), Melissa Tan

While originally trained as a painter, Tan, who was recently awarded the Young Artist Award, has extended her practice into a variety of materials, including steel, paper, resin. In her works Hygieia and Kalypso, the artistic choices made in their creation reflect multiple connections to the Greek goddesses after which they are named; the steel frames are laser-cut with drawings by Tan in reference to their classical paintings and statues, while the colours of the resin were selected for their correspondence to each goddess. Tan even designed the geometric shapes of the works based on a map of the spatial coordinates that track the trajectory of each goddess-named asteroid in space, delving beyond mythology into her other inspirations of cartography and landscapes.

Kalypso (2023), Melissa Tan

NAFA or LASALLE?: Melissa Tan graduated from LASALLE with a BA(Hon) in Fine Art. 

Noni Kaur – Microbial Feast

Microbial Feast (2023), Noni Kaur

Entering the gallery, one is greeted by a spirited composition of brightly-coloured powder on its cement floor. The work takes inspiration from the everyday Hindu practice of Rangoli – floor patterns made outside the threshold of households in the early mornings to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and good luck. Kaur has recreated this artwork in various sites around the world, from Tokyo to Ontario, and no two pieces are the same; she hand-pours her design in each new installation space and sweeps it clean at the end of the exhibition. The ephemerality of the artwork is made all the more prominent by Kaur’s choice of material: pure desiccated coconut dyed a myriad of vibrant colours, which slowly decays over the course of the show, handing the work its namesake. 

NAFA or LASALLE?: Noni Kaur graduated from LASALLE with a Diploma in Fine Arts (Painting), and has also lectured at LASALLE.


Which is Which? showed at Gajah Gallery from 24 November to 10 December 2023, with an abridged version of the exhibition continuing till 7 January 2023.

Header image courtesy of Gajah Gallery.

This article is produced in paid partnership with Gajah Gallery. Thank you for supporting the institutions that support Plural.

Support our work on Patreon