Four Dimensions: A Sculptural Installation by Han Sai Por, National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore, 1993→
Han Sai Por: 20 Tonnes Physical Consequences, ARTrium@MITA & Art-2 Gallery, Singapore, 2002→
Han Sai Por — Moving Forest, Singapore Tyler Print Institute, 2014
TK Sabapathy & Bridget Tracy Tan (eds.), Han Sai Por: Modern Sculpture, Singapore, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, 2013→
Christina Sui & Leong Liew Geok (eds.), The Changing Landscape: Deforestation, Destruction, Extinction, Transformation, Luxe Art Museum, Singapore, 2010
Han Sai Por has had an exceptional career as a sculptor, working with a wide range of materials such as fibreglass, wood, glass, bronze, steel, and, more recently, paper. However, she is best known for her work with stone (granite, marble) – from carving and polishing figurative and organic abstract forms out of stone pieces (for example in her Seed series) to hewing hefty blocks of granite (for example in 20 Tonnes) so as to confront the viewer with the raw presence of the rock and the force of her chiselling, hammering, and drilling.
She first worked as a full-time teacher after graduating from the Singapore Teachers’ Training College in 1968 but took part-time art courses at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) for two years. In 1979, she left Singapore for the UK to pursue undergraduate studies in fine art at the East Ham College of Art (London) and the Wolverhampton College of Art (Wolverhampton). It was here that she learned and honed her skills for stone sculpture from her teachers. She returned in 1983 to Singapore and became an art teacher for most of the 1980s and 1990s, whilst developing her career as a sculptor. She later left for Canterbury, New Zealand, to take up further studies in landscape architecture at Lincoln University.
Although born into an impoverished family of six children, Han Sai Por had a carefree childhood, spent mostly by the sea on Changi beach exploring and constructing different forms from sand and found objects. This early and enduring contact with nature galvanised much of her thinking and expression in art, and most of her sculptures reflect a creative tension with nature – not only are the shapes of flora and fauna translated into her art, her treatment, selection and combination of materials are also sensitive attempts to coax these materials into resolute forms that will be in sync with their surrounding environment. As Han Sai Por notes: “In my sculpture, I would like to depict life and nature. I derive inspiration by sensitively observing natural forms. I eliminate everything superfluous to create pure and essential form, rather than a mere superficial imitation of nature. I would like to think my sculpture has a force or inner life inside struggling to get out.”
One significant departure from the themes of her previous works appeared in her 1993 exhibition Four Dimensions, for which she experimented with geometric shapes mathematically progressing in logical sequences, in order to communicate her ideas about space and time. More consistently, however, her works are concerned with issues of environmental degradation, such as deforestation and the loss of virgin jungles and animal habitats in Southeast Asia. Her exhibition Black Forest in 2013 at the NAFA Gallery showcased an installation made of burnt wood, and was subsequently expanded into a full room installation for the Singapore Biennale in 2016.
Han Sai Por’s work has been exhibited and collected in Southeast Asia, China, Japan, South Korea, North America and Europe, and a number are public and private commissions. For her contributions to art, she was awarded Singapore’s Cultural Medallion in 1995. She also co-founded the Sculpture Society (Singapore) in 2001 with fellow Singaporean artists. Her other achievements include the “Outstanding City Sculpture” award (2006) in China, and the “Leonardo Award for Sculpture – Third Prize” (2015) at the Chianciano Biennale in Italy.
© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
Han Sai Por, Deforestation, 2011, wood logs, charcoal, bones and drawings, 200 x 40 cm, © Han Sai Por
Han Sai Por, Black Forest, 2016, wood and charcoal, variable dimensions, Singapore Biennale, © Han Sai Por