Lee Wen

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Lee Wen (李文)
Born 1957 (1957)
Nationality Singapore
Education Lasalle-SIA College of the Arts
City of London Polytechnic
Known for Performance art
Movement Contemporary art
Awards 2005: Cultural Medallion (Visual Art)

Lee Wen (Chinese: 李文; pinyin: Lǐ Wén) is a Singaporean performance artist on social identity themes, and best known for his Yellow Man performances. Painting his own body with bright yellow poster paint, he expresses an exaggerated symbol of his ethnic identity as a citizen of Singapore. He is also a member of The Artists Village (TAV), and part of the Black Market performance collective.

Lee Wen studied in the now defunct Kim Keat Primary School and Raffles Institution. After finishing his A levels, he worked as a logistics officer, a computer operator and a bank officer.

In 1988 Lee Wen left behind his banking career to enrol at the Lasalle-SIA College of the Arts at the age of 30. He expressed himself with both painting and various non-traditional media, having influenced by performance artist Tang Da Wu and other experimental artists Amanda Heng and Vincent Leow from The Artists Village. In 1990, Lee went on to study at the City of London Polytechnic, and it was then that Lee had found his true calling as a performance artist. He went on to develop the Yellow Man persona which gained him his first recognition in the arts community. This progressed to the Journey of a Yellow Man series of works involving mixed-media, installation, performances and paintings. Lee Wen's work quickly gained international recognition since 1993, having performed and showcasing his artistic expressions in many international locations such as the Kwang Ju Biennale, at the 3rd Asia Pacific Triennial in Australia in 1999.[1]

In 2003, Lee spearheaded the Future of Imagination international performance art event at The Substation, and at the Sculpture Square in 2004 with foreign performance artists such as Alastair MacLennan from Northern Ireland, Finnish artist Irma Optimist and Marilyn Arsem from USA.[1] Lee saw the value of having an annual gathering of international artists here in Singapore, to share a continuing interest in the cultural constructs of identity in the global situation and current trends of contemporary art practice, through live performances and discussion forms.[2]

Lee also taught art at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music and at his alma-mater back home in Singapore. He had also taught workshops at Hanoi University of Fine Arts, University of Ulster, UK, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Mexico City, and Musashino Art University, Tokyo. On 21 October 2005, Lee Wen was presented with the highest cultural award, the Cultural Medallion for his immense contributions to the development of local contemporary art.

In 2015, Lee Wen was shortlisted for the Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art, which honours a South-east Asian artist or curator whose work is actively committed to advocating freedom.[3] He won the award in 2016.[4]

Solo exhibitions[edit]

Dates Title Location
1993 Journey of a yellow man no.3: DESIRE The Substation
1995 Neo-Baba VA-nishiogi Gallery
Tokyo, Japan
1996 Hand-Made Tales The Black Box, Theatreworks
2002 Everybody Should Be Happy Utterly Art
2003 Stramge Fruit The Substation
2004 Unframed 7 P-10
11 September –
9 October 2007
Freedom of Daydreams, Mothers of Imagination Your MOTHER gallery
10 September -
27 September 2008
Anthropometry Revision Soo Bin Art Gallery

Further reading[edit]

  • Chin Hock Seng (1981), ‘Pop dog’ artist shares a dream, The Straits Times, Singapore. 9 May 1981
  • Lee Wen (1981) A Waking Dream - drawings and poetry, Singapore : Select Books
  • Ng Sek Chow, Yellow reflections, The Straits Times, Singapore, 23 July 1993
  • Chandrasekaran.S., Langenbach, R. & Lee Wen (1993), Local Performance Art, Democracy: Commentary. Journal of the National University of Singapore Society, Singapore, National University of Singapore Society (Vol.11 No. 2)
  • Swinson, James, Lee Wen Connection / Location, Third Text/ no.45 Winter, London 1998-99 - pp. 95–97
  • Lee Weng Choy, Artist essay on Lee Wen, The Third AsiaPacificTriennale 1999 Catalogue, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane Australia.
  • Lee Weng Choy, (2000), Just What Is it that Makes the Term Global-Local So Widely Cited, Yet So Annoying?, "Flight Patterns: picturing the Pacific Rim" catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles (A shorter version of this essay was first published in Artlink, Volume 20 Number 2, June 2000.)
  • Woon Tien Wei, Between Journeys: an Interview with Lee Wen, Performance Research 6(l), pp. 3 7 © Taylor & Francis Ltd 2001
  • Barragan, Paco, The Art To Come, Subastas Siglo XXI, Madrid 2002
  • Oon, Clarissa, Hello, yellow fellow, The Straits Times, Singapore, 21 October 2003

Gunalan Nadarajan, Russell Storer and Eugene Tan Contemporary Art in Singapore Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, LASALLE, Singapore 2007

Valentin Torrens, Editor Pedagogia De La Performance, Programmas de Cursos y Talleres Diputacion Provincial De Huesca, Barcelona, Spain, 2007

Lee Wen, Editor Anthropometry Revision Soo Bin Art International, Singapore, 2008

Kwok Kian Woon, Lee Wen, Co-Editors The Artists Village: 20 Years On Singapore Art Museum, The Artists Village, Singapore, 2009

Richard Martel Arte en vivo y en directo EXIT Express Magazine #47 November 2009, p16-25

Adele Tan Art and the iterative force: Lee Wen’s untaming of Yves Klein PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, May 2010, Vol. 32, No. 2, Pages 17–23

Iola Lenzi, Tan Boon Hui, Khairuddin Hori, editors, et. all.. Negotiating Home History and Nation Two Decades of Contemporary Art in Southeast Asia 1991-2011 Singapore Art Museum 2011 Christine Van Assche, Patricia Levasseur de la Motte, et, all... Video, an Art, a History 1965 - 2010 A Selection from the Centre Pompidou and Singapore Art Museum Collections Singapore Art Museum 2011

Mitsu Salmon Lee Wen's Revolutionary Daydreams, IN TIME December 2013, newsletter, Chicago, pg.22, 23


  • Glenis Israel, Senior Artwise 2 visual arts 11-12, Part 3 Asian Artists – contemporary, Chapter 14, John Wiley & Sons Australia Ltd, Sydney 2004
  • HO Tzu Nyen, “strange fruit”, Art Asia Pacific / Spring 2004 No.40

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b 2005 Arts Awards Souvenir Programme (PDF), Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 6 
  2. ^ "The Future of Imagination - international performance art event", Annex 2, Singapore: National Arts Council, archived from the original on 16 July 2011 
  3. ^ http://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/arts/singapore-artist-lee-wen-one-of-three-finalists-for-joseph-balestier-award-for-the
  4. ^ Martin, Mayo (19 January 2016). "S'porean artist Lee Wen bags Joseph Balestier art award". MediaCorp. TODAY. Retrieved 19 January 2016. 
  5. ^ http://leewen.republicofdaydreams.com/curricullum-vitaebio.html

External links[edit]