Han Sai Por
One of Southeast Asia’s top sculptors
Her slight frame and quiet manner belie a strong mind and unbounded imagination well served by steady hands. Han Sai Por is considered South-East Asia’s top sculptor. Her sizeable works in granite, marble and glass catch the eye at landmarks across Singapore. Witness her Seeds Series at Esplanade Park, the Seeds carved out of sandstone at Fort Canning Park and Shimmering Pearls outside Capital Tower.
Sai Por also draws and paints but sculpture as public art holds a special place in her heart. “Public art can play an important role in a modern city. It can implicitly express our social values, aesthetic values, functional values,” she said.
Sai Por’s is a life of true grit. Born in 1943, she realised her childhood dream to be an artist when she was in her 30s. Her father died when she was 10, leaving her mother to raise six children. She worked as a teacher for 12 years and saved to study in the UK, earning an Honours degree in Fine Art at Wolverhampton College of Arts in 1983. Sai Por credits her teacher there, Anish Kapoor, with spotting her talent for three-dimensional art and directing her energies to sculpting.
On her return to Singapore, she sculpted while teaching part-time to pay the bills. Solo exhibitions and works such as Goddess of Happiness, Pisces and Tropical Leaves established her credentials and enabled her to be a full-time artist in 1996. “I like to think my sculpture has a force or inner life inside struggling to get out,” she once said.
A prolific sculptor, she held seven solo exhibitions between 1993 and 2013, and participated in group exhibitions and international sculpture symposia. Noticeable works include Progressive Flow at NTUC headquarters and Flora Inspiration at Changi Airport Terminal 3. Some of her more than 20 public sculptures are on display as far afield as the Portland Sculpture Park in England, the US, Malaysia, Japan and China.
Sai Por won the Cultural Medallion in 1995, the top prize at the 11th Triennale India in 2005 and the Outstanding City Sculpture Award in China in 2006. She was a finalist at the Beijing Olympics International Tour Exhibition in 2008.
“She’s very gifted… she took on the hardest of material (granite), difficult to cut and turned them into beautiful sculptures which are so organic in form, they look as if they were growing out of the ground,” Joseph McNally, then principal of LaSalle-SIA College of the Arts, said in 1995.
As one who draws on nature for inspiration, Sai Por feels impelled to call attention to the pollution and degradation of the earth. “My concern about the environment is delivered through my art,” she said, referring to her solo exhibition Black Forest 2013.
The sculptor, who is single, now lives with her sister. At 70, Sai Por said she would keep on creating until her strength gave out. But she let her membership of MENSA lapse. Why? Because MENSA is “boring”. Sculpting is much more interesting.
"Art should come from the mind and the soul of the artist." "Sculpture is an essential form of public art. Many modern cities understand that public art can elevate their living environment… Unfortunately, many art pieces at our public space are imitation artworks… This attitude will produce a lot of art junk occupying our public space, wasting public funds and discouraging local artistic development in future."