Art without Borders

‘Love without Borders’; Colored pencils on paper 11.7 x 16.5,” by Van WangYe ©2016. Van WangYe.

By Murali Pai, Editor, African Conservation Telegraph (ACT)

Singapore is a global hub for visual arts and an array of art work is displayed in galleries, museums, offices and homes across the small country. Yet, it remains a largely conservative society that eschews public display of fondness, even in paintings.

‘Love without Borders’ (11.7 x 16.5” coloured pencils on paper), is a painting by Van WangYe, to mark this special ACT issue on primates. Even when digital art and animation were the choice of a new generation, Van passionately sketched animals as a boy growing up in Singapore city in the late eighties – any critter that caught his fancy. Van studies the anatomy, ecology and behaviour of his animal subjects from zoological collections, museums, libraries and scientists.

Bonobo (Pan paniscus) make love as if there is no tomorrow, and sex binds bonobos into close-knit groups.  They often make it out to resolve power struggles. When bonobos meet, they usually greet each other by kissing mouth-to-mouth, and then their sexual interactions proceed as if they know Kama Sutra by heart. Van could not sell his art work for obvious reasons. A wildlife charity that received it as a gift, not only failed to auction it, but also deemed it was inappropriate to display the painting at their office.

“It’s as though there is a line an artist should not transgress” says Van while he speaks about shibboleths clouding our cultural landscapes and the moral police that censor our art. He also rues that technology has taken over the art of scientific illustration and why artists like John James Audubon, Rosemary Woodford Ganf or Harris Ray Ching, are not made anymore.

For a boy who knew he would paint endangered wildlife for the rest of his life, Van almost gave it up, due to a lack of motivation, repaying study loans and work pressures at an advertising firm. Yet he was resilient enough to bounce back after ten long years spent without painting any wildlife. Van attributes his comeback to his friends Joshua Goh and Pam Wan. On skimming through Van’s sketchbook, Joshua remarked, “Go back to your first love.” Van did just that and Pam recommended him to some wildlife NGOs in Singapore. Van’s art now adorns many conservation campaigns in southeast Asia, and is with private collections as well.

There is an unremitted quest for realism and scientific accuracy in his art, mostly depicting herps and marine fauna. His paintings of frogs, geckos, turtles, snakes, fish, seals and whales are being sought after. Here is wishing Van success in his endeavours.

For more on Van’s art, visit: