Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts

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Coordinates: 1°18′01″N 103°51′06″E / 1.300229°N 103.851573°E / 1.300229; 103.851573

Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts
NAFA's logo as of 2008
Established 1938 – Nanyang Fine Arts College
1982 – Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts
Type Singapore Art Institution
President Chia Mia Chiang
Students >2,300 full-time[1]
Location Bencoolen Street, Singapore
Campus Urban
Colors Orange and Green         
Nickname NAFA

Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (abbreviation: NAFA; Chinese: 南洋艺术学院; Malay: Akademi Seni Halus Nanyang) is the longest established tertiary arts education institution in Singapore.


Before 1937[edit]

Bust of NAFA's founding principal, Lim Hak Tai

In the 1930s, Japanese-trained artist Mr Huang Suiheng visited Singapore. On his return to China, he approached Mr Lim Hak Tai and persuaded him to establish the first arts school in Singapore. However it was only in 1937, following the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War, that Mr Lim immigrated to Singapore. With the financial support of Mr Tan See Siang and the alumni of Jimei, he set up the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.


The Society of Chinese Artists supported Mr Lim in establishing the school. At its 12th Council Committee meeting, the members of the Society formed a Drafting Committee to assist Mr Lim in his efforts. On 10 February 1938, the Committee placed advertisements in the local Chinese daily newspapers to recruit students. As the response was not good, the Committee put up another advertisement on 2 March in another local Chinese daily newspaper. Following the recruitment drive, 14 students were admitted to the arts school.

The school's minimum admission requirement was completion of secondary school education. However, those who did not meet the minimum entry requirement would still be considered for admission to the school as long as they had a keen interest in the arts. The Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts opened on 10 March 1938. Mr Lim Hak Tai was appointed as Principal by the School Management Committee with Mr Kao Fei Tse, Chang Ming Tse and Qiu Yingkui being assigned as teachers. The School was located at Lorong 167 Geylang, a two storey old bungalow just opposite the then "Gay World" building.


During this period, the school was closed due to World War II


In 1946, one year after the Japanese surrendered, Mr Lim Hak Tai, supported by two members of the board of directors, Mr Tseng Chee Chang and Mr Tsai Yen Fu, re-opened the school.[2] It was then situated at 49 St. Thomas Walk. After the Japanese occupation many Chinese immigrated to Singapore in search of a better life, and the School attracted well-known artists like Cheong Soo Pieng, Chen Wen Hsi and Chen Chong Swee as teachers.

Between 1954 and 1956, NAFA applied to the Ministry of Education for a subsidy and received a funding level usually awarded to primary schools. Additionally, the Singapore and Malaysia Education Bureaus did not recognise the graduation certificates issued by NAFA. With poor job opportunities upon graduation, student enrolment decreased gradually, threatening the school’s survival.

In 1963, Lim Hak Tai died at the age of 70, putting an end to his ambitions for the school. His son, Lim Yew Kuan assumed the position of deputy principal and became principal in 1970.


The global recession and inflation in 1973 affected the financial status of the school, a problem that was solved by a fund-raising sale of paintings by alumni from Singapore and Malaysia. In 1979, the school faced another financial crisis and the board members resigned en bloc. Tang Liang Hong came in to organise a new board of directors and engaged Wu Tsung Kan as the new principal. In 1982, the school shifted to a new office at 107A, Sophia Road.

Between 1983 and 1987, artistic talents who graduated from the school returned to their alma mater to teach and international art celebrities were invited to conduct lectures and arts demonstrations. In 1983, the Ministry of Education sent the first batch of 20 teachers to NAFA to upgrade their skills in fine art.

In 1988, Wu Tsung Kan resigned. Two years later, Dr Gwee Yee Hean was appointed principal of NAFA. In 1992, Dr Gwee Yee Hean resigned with no successor, and Chng Heng Tiu, chairman of the board of directors, stood in as temporary principal. In 1994, Dr Soh Kay Cheng was appointed the fifth principal of NAFA, resigning in 1996.


In 1997, Dr Ho Kah Leong, the sixth principal of NAFA took office and NAFA was re-divided into three major schools: School of Visual Arts, School of Performing Arts and School of Fashion Studies. NAFA purchased two adjoining studios located in Paris in January 1998 and February 1999 respectively. Today, NAFA is the only tertiary institution in Singapore that owns studios in Paris.

In April 1999, NAFA’s status was upgraded by the Singapore Government to that of a tertiary institution. Since then, NAFA has received polytechnic-level funding for all its diploma programmes from the Ministry of Education.

Mr Choo Thiam Siew became NAFA's President in 2003. In 2004, NAFA moved to its S$115 million, purpose-built new campus at Bencoolen Street. Three times the size of the old campus, the new campus is in the heart of Singapore’s bustling civic district.

In 2011, The Academy became the first comprehensive arts education institution to receive the coveted four-year EduTrust certification awarded by the Council for Private Education. It was also the first private arts institution in Singapore to launch a government-funded degree programme.

NAFA currently has eight academic departments: 3D Design, Arts Management & Education, Dance, Design & Media, Fashion Studies, Fine Art, Music and Theatre, offering a comprehensive range of full-time diploma courses and degree programmes in partnership with reputable universities from the UK, the USA and Singapore.

NAFA has nurtured 12 Cultural Medallion recipients, Singapore's highest accolade bestowed on arts practitioners who have made significant contributions to the arts and culture, and another 13 alumni have been presented the Young Artist Award.[3]


Unlike other institutions in Singapore, NAFA's Campus are spread among 3 separate buildings – all located along Bencoolen Street.

Campus One[edit]

Aerial View of NAFA's Campus 1.

NAFA Campus 1 covers approximately 5,078 m². It is divided into 2 wings, Wing A & Wing B, with a linking bridge. The departments of 3D Design, Design & Media and Fine Art are housed in this building. It boasts a High Definition Studio with full HD editing direct from server (via fibre channel connection) and colour grading stations with the capability of previewing full HD clips on 24” HD broadcast grade monitors. In Wing A, there is a Creative Media Studio for 3D animation and special effects, and audio-video production facilities – mainly for Video Production students. Altogether there are 21 Computer Labs in this building.

There are 6 Skylight Studios which allow painting in natural, evenly distributed daylight and 4 Master Painters’ studios. 2 Photography Studios are located in Wing A which are equipped with studio flash systems and digital cameras. There are also Jewelry Workshops with casting, processing and setting facilities, Interior Design Material and Project room, Drafting Studios and 3D Model Workshops and 3 Art Galleries with a total exhibition area of 850 sq m.

A 2-Storey library is located at Wing A. It houses an impressive collection of arts-related publications and journals available for members, staff and students only. The Tanoto Foundation Centre for Southeast Asian Arts is located on the 7th floor. TFCSEA@NAFA, a website housing a full-text bilingual database of more than 100,000 pages of Southeast Asian arts materials was launched in 2011 to aid scholars and students' research in this area. Arts institutions and public members can join as members to access the materials online.

Campus Two[edit]

Covering 1,169 m², this campus houses the Department of Fashion Studies. It houses a 5 Textile Workshops for Batik printing, textile development and embroidery design, 4 Quality Control Workshops with steamers and specialised garment machines and workshops for drafting, draping and project work.

Campus Three[edit]

The departments of Music, Dance and Theatre are located in this building. It covers approximately 2384 m². Here, there is a plush 380-seat Lee Foundation Theatre with a rotating central platform on stage, an adjustable orchestra pit with superb acoustics and two Steinway Model D grand pianos. The school's famous Studio Theatre or “Black Box” with 196 retractable seats is also located here. There's also a Recital Hall (Recording Studio attached) with Steinway Model B and Yamaha S6 grand pianos, Music Technology Suite with 20 iMac computers, Television Production Studio, Percussion Studio, 22 soundproof Music Practice Studios and 5 Dance Studios.

Future Campus[edit]

The purpose-built 7,221m² NAFA Campus 4 will be located on top of the upcoming Bencoolen Station (new Downtown Line Station), adjacent to NAFA Campus 1. The new campus will be ready by 2017.[1]

Academic Departments & Courses[edit]

NAFA has eight academic departments, offering a range of diploma and degree courses.

Department of 3D Design[edit]

  • Diploma (Furniture and Spatial, Object and Jewellery, Interior and Exhibition, Landscape and Architecture)
  • Top-Up Degree Course: BA (Hons) 3D Design: New Practice In collaboration with Loughborough University
  • Top-Up Degree Course: BA (Hons) Spatial Design in collaboration with University of Central Lancashire

Department of Design & Media[edit]

  • Diploma (Advertising, Graphic Communication, Illustration Design with Animation, Screen Media)
  • Top-Up Degree Course: BA (Hons) Graphic Communications in collaboration with Loughborough University

Department of Fine Art[edit]

  • Diploma (Painting, Chinese Ink Painting, Printmaking, Sculpture, Ceramics, Photography)
  • Top-Up Degree Course: BA (Hons) Fine Art in collaboration with Loughborough University

Department of Arts Management & Education[edit]

  • Diploma in Art Teaching
  • Diploma in Arts Management
  • Top-Up Degree Course: BA (Hons) Creative Industry Management in collaboration with University of Essex

Department of Dance[edit]

Department of Music[edit]

  • Diploma in Music (Chinese Instruments, Composition, Keyboard, Orchestra, Vocal)
  • Diploma in Music Teaching
  • Degree Course: Bachelor of Music with Honours in collaboration with Royal College of Music, London

Department of Theatre[edit]

  • Diploma in Theatre (English Drama, Mandarin Drama)
  • Top-Up Degree Course: BA (Hons) in Theatre Arts in collaboration with University of Essex

Department of Fashion Studies[edit]

  • Diploma in Fashion Design
  • Diploma in Fashion Merchandising and Marketing
  • Top-Up Degree Course: BA (Hons) in Fashion in collaboration with University of East London
  • Top-Up Degree Course: BA (Hons) in Fashion and Marketing in collaboration with University of East London


NAFA collaborates with universities from United Kingdom, United States and Singapore to offer degree programmes.

Entry Requirements[edit]

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Notable alumni[edit]

Cultural Medallion recipients[edit]

Year of Award Name Discipline Year of Graduation
1979 Wee Beng Chong Art 1958
1981 Ng Eng Teng Art 1961
1981 Lee Hock Moh Art 1970
1984 Thomas Yeo Art 1960
1985 Tay Chee Toh Art 1960
1990 Anthony Poon Art 1964
1995 Han Sai Por Art 1977
2001 Tan Kian Por Art 1970
2005 Chng Seok Tin Visual Arts 1972
2006 Toh Choh Tee Visual Arts 1962
2009 Ang Ah Tee Visual Arts 1962
2011 Lim Yew Kuan Visual Arts 1950

Singapore Young Artist Award recipients[edit]

Year of Award Name Discipline Year of Graduation
1992 S.Chandrasekaran Visual Arts 1985
1995 Baet Yeok Kuan 麦毓权 Visual Arts 1987
1997 Lim Poh Teck 林保德 Visual Arts 1987
2000 Lim Chin Huat 林振发 Dance 1994
2000 Hong Sek Chern 洪雪珍 Visual Arts 1995
2001 Goh Boon Teck 吴文德 Theatre 1991
2001 Chua Say Hua 蔡世华 Visual Arts 1992
2002 Tay Bak Chiang 郑木彰 Visual Arts 1995
2006 Goh Toh Chai Zechariah 吴多才 Music 1989
2006 Yeo Chee Kiong 杨子强 Visual Arts 1993
2013 Mohammed Zulkarnaen Bin Othman (Zero) Visual Arts 2000
2013 Muhammad Zaki B Abd Razak Visual Arts 2007
2013 Chua Yew Kok 蔡友国 Music 2006

Image Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]



External links[edit]

  • ^ Nanda, Akshita (9 April 2013). "School of Dreams". Singapore Press Holdings. The Straits Times.