Thian Hock Keng Temple 天福宮, which means Temple of Heavenly Happiness, is Singapore's oldest and most important Hokkien temple.
The Story of Thian Hock Keng Temple
Located on Telok Ayer Street, the temple is built for the worship of Ma Zu (or Tian Hou), the goddess that protects seafarers. Gazetted as a national monument in 1973, it was built in 1842 by craftsmen from China.
The Chinese immigrants in Singapore came from different provinces in Southern China. The immigrants from different provinces speak a different local dialect and have different practices.
Those that came from the Fujian province in China spoke the Hokkien dialect and worshipped Ma Zu.
When they arrived in Singapore which they called 南洋 or the Southern Seas, after a long and perilous journey by sea, they prayed to the goddess Ma Zu, to give thanks for her blessings for having reached Singapore safely.
The Hokkien immigrants built the Thian Hock Keng Temple, near to where they landed when they first arrived in Singapore.
The Chinese temple was originally sea facing, but in 1879, the land reclamation works were carried out and soon the temple found itself enveloped by the high rise buildings in Singapore's Central Business District, far away from from the sea.
The Story of the Painting
Distinguished Singapore Nanyang artist Low Hai Hong, who is a Teochew from Shantou province in China, witnessed the changes to the landscape around the temple over the decades.
While he understood the inevitability of rapid developments in Singapore, he wanted to remember how the temple looked like in the past, which at one point was the most majestic building on that street.
In this painting in 2010, he chose to focus squarely on the temple, without the tall buildings hovering over the temple in the background.
He chose to capture his impressions of the temple with quick brushstrokes, highlighting the distinctive curved roof ridges and the four dancing dragons on the roof.
There are no details of the entrance of the temple hall, which is outlined only by the red-orange pillars.
The end result is a painting of one of the oldest temple in Singapore but yet it feels light, modern and contemporary.
Who says old buildings can't look young? What do you say?
Title: Thian Hock Keng Temple 天福宮 (2010)
Artist: Low Hai Hong
Medium: Oil on Chinese Rice Paper
Dimensions (with frame): 60cm x 70cm
Rent: $42 per week
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Learn more about the painting.
This painting has been exhibited in public only once, in:
"A Tale of Two Rivers - a solo art exhibition by Low Hai Hong" was held at The Fullerton Heritage Gallery, The Fullerton Hotel Singapore from 30 May to 30 July 2014.
The exhibition showcased Low Hai Hong's 18 oil on Chinese rice paper paintings that captured the landscapes along the two rivers that he painted most in his artistic journey, the Singapore River in Singapore and the River Seine in Paris, France.
In an interview with the Business Times for the exhibition, he shared how he started painting on Chinese rice paper more than 30 years ago, noticing the difference in the visual effects from painting on paper and canvas:
"Rice paper, for example, has a sheen to it, and because it doesn't absorb the oil so fast, the colours turn out slightly different. I apply layer on layer on the paper for the effect that I want."
In this "A Tale of Two Rivers" art exhibition, while the Singapore River has Thian Hock Keng Temple, the River Seine in Paris has the world famous Notre-Dam Cathedral.
Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen - Leonardo da Vinci