Learning Activity 1
What does it mean when someone asks you: "What is your name?"
What do you say when someone asks: "Where do you live?"
These were two questions that artist Chua Mia Tee asked himself in 1959, the year he made this painting and also the moment when Singapore gained self-governance from its former colonial masters, the British.
What makes these two questions even more fascinating is that Chua asked them in Malay, the language that would soon become Singapore's national language in the hope of uniting different ethnic groups through a common Malayan identity. In the painting, some Chinese students are seated around a table, learning the national language from a Malay teacher. Behind the teacher hangs a blackboard, on which these two basic questions about identity and belonging are written.
Both questions are so simple but powerful, going to the very essence of what it means to belong to a place.
Masterpieces from the Gallery: National Language Class by Chua Mia Tee
Dr Cai Heng Curator National Gallery Singapore