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Tang Da Wu
b. 1943, Thang Kian Hiong, Singapore
Tang Da Wu was born in 1943 in Thang Kian Hiong, Singapore. He received a BA in sculpture from the School of Fine Art, Birmingham Polytechnic (now Birmingham Institute of Art and Design) in 1974 and pursued advanced studies in sculpture at Saint Martins School of Art (now Central Saint Martins) from 1974–75. In 1985, he received an MFA from Goldsmith’s College, University of London. After returning to Singapore in 1979, Tang began to work in performance art, and in 1988, cofounded the Artists Village, a collective committed to promoting experimental art through the provision of studio and exhibition space. Working through a de facto ban on performance that began in 1994 as a response to artist Josef Ng trimming his pubic hair at a public festival, the organization supports community interaction through social relevance and the hosting of public site-specific interventions. Through performance, installation, painting, and drawing, Tang explores social and environmental themes including deforestation, animal endangerment, and urban transformation.
Tang’s seminal early work Tiger’s Whip (1991) comments on the exploitation of tigers for the supposed aphrodisiac powers of their sexual organs. For this work, in part a performance, Tang dragged behind him one of ten life-size papier-mâché tigers. In the work’s installation component, a tiger stands with front paws resting on a rocking chair that has been painted with a red phallus and draped in red cloth. This represents the tiger’s vengeful spirit returning to haunt the poacher. Other works such as They Poach the Rhino, Chop Off His Horn and Make This Drink (1989) further investigate the cultural beliefs that can lead to species extinction. Commenting on the effects of urban transformation is the series of ink paintings Bumiputra (2005–06), named for a Malay word meaning “son of the soil.” The work is a collection of portraits of residents of Hougang, a Northern suburb of Singapore that was developed from forests and pig farms into a residential town during the 1980s. Since the 1960s, the Singaporean city-state has been expanding through the dismantling of communities and the establishment of re-housing programs. By recording the original inhabitants of the area and assembling the images around an image of a well, a traditional meeting place, Tang highlights the way in which too-rapid development can erode community.
Tang was the recipient of the Visual Arts Award from the Arts Council of Great Britain in 1978, as well as the Artist Award from the Greater London Arts Council in 1983. In 1999, he was awarded the 10th Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize in Arts and Culture. He has had solo exhibitions at ACME Gallery, London (1978), National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore (1980), Your Mother Gallery, Singapore (2005), Valentine Willie Fine Art, Kuala Lumpur (2006), and Goodman Arts Centre, Singapore (2011). Important performances include Five Days at NAFA and Five Days in Museum, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and National Museum, Singapore (1982), They Poach the Rhino, Chop Off His Horn and Make This Drink, National Museum Art Gallery, National University of Singapore, and Singapore Zoo (1989), and Don’t Give Money to the Arts, Singapore Art exhibition and fair (1995). He was a leading organizer of and participant in the Artists Village’s Dancing by the Ponds and Sunrise at the Vegetable Farm, The Time Show—24 Hours Continuous Performance (1989–90). The group and its activities were celebrated in the retrospective The Artists Village: 20 Years On at the Singapore Art Museum (2008). He has participated in group exhibitions including the Asian Art Show, Fukuoka Art Museum, Japan (1989), Art in Asia: Traditions/Tensions, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth (1998), Fukuoka Asian Art Triennial (1999), and Singapore Biennial (2006). He was featured in the Singapore Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2007. Tang lives and works in Singapore.