Irrawaddy, Kim Lim, Singapore/ UK, 1979, pinewood

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Irrawaddy, Kim Lim, Singapore/ UK, 1979, pinewood.

Collection of National Gallery Singapore.

Irrawaddy, Kim Lim, Singapore/ UK, 1979, pinewood

Kim Lim was born in Singapore in 1936 and spent much of her early childhood in Penang and Malacca. Her father was Lim Koon Teck, a well-known magistrate in Penang and through her mother's side (Betty Seow), she is a descendant of Tan Kim Cheng, son of Singapore pioneer Tan Tock Seng. At the age of eighteen, Kim Lim went to London to pursue her career as an artist. She spent two years at St. Martin's School of Art (1954-56) concentrating on woodcarving. Then, she transferred to the Slade School of Art where she developed a strong interest in printmaking. She exhibited widely after graduating from the Slade in 1960.

Kim Lim's early period early period is enumerated by works that were very much influenced by her formal study of art at St. Martin's and later at the Slade, alongside travels through Europe and Asia with her artist-husband William Turnbull. These works, developed mostly between 1960 and 1979, are primarily executed in the medium of wood, fiberglass and steel.

This period was also marked by a significant high point, as Kim was included in the 'Hayward Annual' at the Hayward Gallery in 1977. A year prior, in 1976, she also found a place alongside her peers in Singapore, primarily those who were part of the Modern Arts Society and practising along the lines of abstraction, at the inaugural exhibition that surveyed currents in Singapore art at the former National Museum Art Gallery. In 1974, she was also invited for a solo-show at the then influential Alpha Gallery that had developed a reputation for being at the centre of debates on minimalism in Southeast Asia. Kim passed away in 1997.


This is an extract from "The Singapore Story through 60 objects" written by Kennie Ting, Director, Asian Civilisations Museum and Peranakan Museum & Group Director of Museums, National Heritage Board. This article was first published in Cultural Connections Volume IV 2019 by Culture Academy Singapore.