Eulogy at the cremation service of
Mr Aw Tee Hong, 14 October 2021
Hi everyone, I am Wan Shuen, Mr Aw Tee Hong’s eldest granddaughter. First of all, I would like to thank everyone for being here today, to bid my Ah gong farewell for now, and to celebrate his life and the many achievements he accomplished during his 92 years of life.
Let’s start from the beginning. Ah gong was born in Wenshan village in Huiwen, Wenchang county of Hainan Island around the year 1929. When he was around 8 years old, he moved with his parents to the state of Kelantan in Malaysia, and then to Singapore when he was around 21.
Most people who know ah gong personally know how closely intertwined his identity is with his occupation as an artist. Ah gong lived and breathed his art.
Ah gong’s lifelong love affair with art began when he first commenced studying art at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in Singapore. As a testament to his natural gift for art, Ah gong was then accepted into and graduated from China’s most prestigious and renowned art academy, then known as the China Central Academy of Fine Arts and now known as Tsinghua University’s Academy of Arts and Design. Tsinghua University also bestowed upon Ah gong the great honour of being a visiting professor, in recognition of his contributions in giving a series of lectures on pottery at the university in 1994 and 1995. This experience was a cherished and significant one to Ah gong.
During Ah gong’s illustrious career spanning six decades, he mastered a truly stupendous array of mediums for his art work, from oil, acrylic, water colour, Chinese ink, calligraphy, seal carving, opera mask painting, woodcut, fiber glass sculpting, bronze sculpting, paper mache and copper tooling. He has held over 21 solo art exhibitions all around the world, including in Beijing, Tokyo, and Paris, and he is perhaps most well known for his eye-catching artworks found at Singapore landmarks, such as his two sculptures at Raffles Place titled the Pioneering Spirit and Struggle for Survival, his mural titled the Epic of Singapore at Tanjong Pagar MRT, and his bronze sculpture along the Singapore River called the River Merchants, just to name a few.
Ah gong has also received widespread recognition for his paintings in particular, which capture the growth and transition of Singapore throughout the 1960s to the 1980s, serving as an invaluable record of what Singapore used to look like, for future generations of Singaporeans.
On behalf of all of his grandchildren, it is truly our greatest pride and honour to call him our Ah gong. But beyond his public success as one of Singapore’s pre-eminent artists, Ah gong was also a great grandfather to all of us. We will fondly remember those warm, lazy afternoons spent in Ah gong and Popo’s house, which was and still is filled to the brim with his paintings and sculptures, where we would paint on ceramic figurines, or paint bananas, a staple fruit at Ah gong and Popo’s house. Ah gong would sit a short distance away from us, in front of his easel, dabbing away at his canvas with his paintbrush. At dinnertime, he would retire to the dining table and have whatever Popo brings him, along with his poison of choice – usually Tiger beer or a Guinness. This was when he would engage us grandchildren and playfully ask if we were good guys or bad guys, and who our favourite grandparent was – him or Popo. Ah gong was a jovial and loving grandfather who never failed to bring smiles to our faces, and we will always be grateful to have had him as our grandfather.
Ah gong will always be loved and remembered by those of us who knew him. His contributions, sacrifices and struggles have and will continue to shape our lives. His unwavering pursuit of art despite the obstacles of being an artist, and of course supported by Popo’s sacrifices and hard work, is an inspiration to all of us.
Although we miss him immensely, we find great comfort in the knowledge that he led a long and rich life, having touched the lives of many people through his interactions with them or his artworks. His legacy will also continue to live on a long time from now, in the hearts and minds of Singaporeans, through his art and sculptures, and through his descendants and loved ones.
We love you forever, ah gong. Rest in peace.