The National Gallery gets ‘Tropical’ at its new exhibition exploring the resistant spirit of art within 20th century colonialism from Nov 18

The exhibition will feature over 200 paintings from approximately 70 renowned artists hailing from Southeast Asia and Latin America.

Keola Cheah

Irrationally moved by otter live cams. Enjoys trashy rock and metal.

Published: 9 October 2023, 2:44 PM

The National Gallery Singapore will open a window to the lives of celebrated artists who have “[struggled] against colonialism” in their home countries across Southeast Asia and Latin America. 

Its new exhibition, Tropical: Stories from Southeast Asia and Latin America, will span from Nov 18, 2023 until Mar 24, 2024. 

The exhibition will take place at the National Gallery Singapore’s Singtel Special Exhibition Galleries and various locations around the Gallery.

It will feature over 200 paintings, sculptures, performances and sensorial installations from masters of their mediums, whose strength and resilience paint a picture of history and its lasting impact on art. 

Frida Kahlo

One artist to look out for is Frida Kahlo, who was known for her strong Communist sympathies and active involvement in left-wing political circles. This, coupled with her use of socialist and revolutionary themes, has made her into a modern-day symbol of resistance. 

Much of her art depicts her fractured identity and support for the working class and marginalised communities. These themes grew in importance to her following the Mexican Revolution and its independence as a country.  


Frida Kahlo, once described as “[a] ribbon around a bomb” by André Breton, is well-known for self-portraits like ‘Self-Portrait with Monkey’ (1945) that document her eventful, tumultuous life. PHOTO CREDIT: NATIONAL GALLERY SINGAPORE/HUMBERTO TACHIQUIN BENITO “TACHI” (TACHIPHOTO)


Other themes in her works include expressions of her chronic pain, symbols and clothing from indigenous Tehuana culture, and her loneliness during her divorce and remarriage to muralist Diego Rivera, whose works are also included in the exhibition.

Paul Gaugin

Another artist featured at the exhibition is French artist Paul Gauguin, who spent much of his early childhood in different countries, including Lima, Peru. He eventually ventured to Tahiti in 1891. 

His works and life offer a differing perspective in conversation with the other artists featured in the exhibition, some of whom hailed from indigenous and colonised backgrounds. Paul Gauguin, a pioneer of modernist art, idealised and sought purity in the Tahitian way by “going native”. This aim was “structured by exoticist and erotic fantasies.” 

His work had a social impact on Europe and its colonies. He allegedly inspired a revival of pastoralism as artists “sought to reconnect with rural landscapes and portray idyllic scenes evoking harmony and tranquillity.”


Paul Gauguin’s oil on canvas painting ‘Pobre Pescador’, or ‘The Poor Fisherman’ (1896), offers viewers a glimpse into his idealised life in Tahiti, and is said by many to contain Biblical references. PHOTO CREDIT: NATIONAL GALLERY SINGAPORE/MUSEU DE AR

Patrick Ng Kah Onn

In line with the exhibition’s theme, Patrick Ng Kah Onn’s art featured at the exhibition represents a “nascent formation of a Malayan cultural identity”  following its release from three centuries of colonial rule under the Dutch and the British.

His works, which include self-portraits that make use of “techniques from the Malay world”, have previously been featured in Painted Shadows: A Queer Haunting of the National Gallery.

Painted Shadows was originally shown at the Substation in 2016, and then at the National Gallery in 2018.


Patrick Ng Kah Onn’s featured work, ‘Self-Portrait’ (1958), features himself as a Malay woman and brings up “troubling notions of race and gender,… calling on the viewer to question the presumed fixity of such identity markers.” PHOTO CREDIT: NATIONAL GALLERY SINGAPORE/NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD

Latiff Mohidin

One artist who may be familiar to local visitors is Latiff Mohidin, lauded as Malaysia’s most cherished modernist painter and poet.

In an era where many areas of Southeast Asia were being decolonised and the social atmosphere was rapidly changing, he travelled across the region and developed an aesthetic known as “Pago Pago.”

Its purpose was to “challenge the dominance of Western modernism” at the time (1964 to 1969), and advance the mediums of painting, drawing and writing in a way that celebrated a uniquely Southeast Asian outlook on art. 


His featured work at the exhibition, ‘Tumbuhan Tropika’, or ‘Tropical Growth’ (1958), serves as a “poignant reminder that the only constant is change itself.” PHOTO CREDIT: NATIONAL GALLERY SINGAPORE


Besides the artists listed above, other artists whose works will appear in the exhibition include Filipino kinetic artist and activist David Medella, Brazilian modernist painter Tarsila do Amaral, and painter and champion of Papuan independence Emiria Sunassa. 

Ticketing information

Gallery passes, which are priced at $15 for standard admissions, are available at National Gallery Singapore’s website

Local Singaporeans and Permanent Residents aged 60 and above, children aged 7 to 12 and Full-time National Servicemen (excluding foreign personnel) will receive a discounted ticket price of $10.

Children aged 6 and below, persons with disabilities (PWD), their caregivers, and locally-based students and teachers are eligible for free admission. 

More information on the event, ticket pricing, and terms and conditions can be found on the exhibition’s website

National Gallery Singapore is located at 1 St. Andrew’s Road, Singapore 178957.

You may like these