1973 was a milestone year in Tan Swie Hian’s life during which he experienced a breakthrough in his spirituality and creative capacity. Henceforth, his artistic creations have been characterised by freedom – in medium, subject matter, genre and expression. The artist likens his newfound free mind to a hummingbird that can fly in all directions and experience different realms of reality.

Now, more than 40 years later, Tan’s works are presented again at the National Library in this exhibition featuring over 100 creations in a wide range of media. This is the first time the multidisciplinary artist’s creative process, as documented in his notebooks through writings and sketches, has been featured with his artworks.

Discover the extraordinary world of a free mind through Tan Swie Hian’s creations and notebooks!

《解析自由心 – 陈瑞献稿本与创作》




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About Tan Swie Hian 陈瑞献简介

Tan Swie Hian was born in Indonesia in 1943. He was educated in Singapore and graduated from the Department of Modern Languages and Literature of Nanyang University in 1968.

Tan was first known for his literary works before he ventured into fine art. He published his first anthology of Modernist poetry The Giant (1968), which earned him recognition as a poet. In 1973, Tan held his first solo art exhibition at the National Library. Since then, he has been a prolific multidisciplinary artist whose works extend across multiple mediums, genres, languages and subject matters. In 2003, TIME magazine described him as “Singapore’s Renaissance Man”.

To date, the acclaimed artist has published 58 works of literary and artistic creations; held 23 solo shows worldwide and won 29 accolades nationally and internationally.


在涉足艺坛以前,陈瑞献是以文艺创作崭露头角的,他发表的第一部现代诗集《巨人》 (1968年) 使他成为备受瞩目的诗人。1973年, 陈瑞献在国家图书馆举行第一次个人画展。此后,他成了一位多媒体艺术家,作品极其丰硕。 他的创作跨越多元媒材、类型、语文及题材,2003年美国《时代周刊》称他为“新加坡的文艺复兴人”。


Guided Tours

Anatomy of a Free Mind – Artist’s Tour

Wednesday, 25 Nov 2016
7.00pm – 8.30pm
Meeting point: Level 10, Gallery entrance, National Library Building

Join internationally acclaimed artist Tan Swie Hian on this exclusive tour to discover the stories behind his various creations, personal notebooks, manuscripts and artefacts.

(Programme has ended, registration is closed.)


Curator’s Tours 策展员导览

Join our curator-led tours every Friday and Saturday and discover the fascinating stories behind internationally acclaimed artist Tan Swie Hian’s various creations, personal notebooks, manuscripts and artefacts.

Meeting point: Level 10, Gallery entrance, National Library Building



December 2016

  • Fri, 16 Dec | 7pm – 8pm | Conducted in English
  • Sat, 17 Dec | 2pm – 3pm | Conducted in Mandarin  2016年12月17日 (周六)下午2点至3点

January 2017

  • Fri, 6 Jan | 7pm – 8pm | Conducted in Mandarin  2017年1月6日 (周五)晚上7点至8点
  • Sat, 7 Jan | 2pm – 3pm | Conducted in English

February 2017

  • Fri, 17 Feb | 7pm – 8pm | Conducted in English
  • Sat, 18 Feb | 2pm – 3pm | Conducted in Mandarin  2017年2月18日 (周六)下午2点至3点

March 2017

  • Fri, 10 Mar | 7pm – 8pm | Conducted in Mandarin  2017年3月10日 (周五)晚上7点至8点
  • Sat, 11 Mar | 2pm – 3pm | Conducted in English

April 2017

  • Fri, 21 Apr | 7pm – 8pm | Conducted in English
  • Sat, 22 Mar | 2pm – 3pm | Conducted in Mandarin 2017年4月22日 (周六)下午2点至3点

(Programme has ended, registration is closed.)




  • 2017年3月4日 (周六) 下午2点至3点
  • 2017 3月5日 (周日) |下午2点至3点
  • 2017 3月12日 (周日) |下午2点至3点
  • 2017年3月18日 (周六) 下午2点至3点
  • 2017 3月19日 (周日) |下午2点至3点

Admission is free. (Programme has ended, registration is closed.)


Art Journaling Workshop

Saturday, 18 February 2017
11.00am – 12.30pm
Level 5, Possibility Room
National Library Building

Learn how artists record their ideas and inspiration in their art journals in this talk-and-demonstration that offers you a peek into their minds. Admission is free. (Programme has ended, registration is closed.)

Prominent Speaker Series: A Thousand-Year Debate on the Imagery of a Plantain Tree in Snow

Friday, 24 February 2017
7.00pm – 9.00pm
Level 16, The Pod
For access to the Pod, please proceed to lift lobby opposite the information counter.
Speaker: Tan Swie Hian

The Tang poet-painter Wang Wei (699-761) is said to have made a painting depicting the noble man Yuan An of the Han Dynasty who, during a snow storm, refused to go out for his livelihood but to lie at home “as the snow is big when everyone is hungry, I should not go and trouble people.” In it, Wang also painted a plantain tree in the snow.

Yuan An Reclining in Snow was first mentioned by its collector Shen Kua (1031-1095) of the Song Dynasty in his Dream Pool Essays. Ever since, not only has the subject become one of the perennial for artists throughout the ages, but the imagery of the plantain tree in snow has sparked debate among famed artists, critics, scholars and writers for well over a thousand years.

Plantain trees grow only in hot climates and snow falls only in cold countries. How can a plantain tree survive in the snow? Wang’s detractors comment that he cannot “tell cold and hot apart”. But Wang’s appreciators believe that “Wang disregards the seasons when creating”.

The painting that no one has ever seen since Shen Kua is long lost. But the debate on a non-existent work continues, creating an unprecedented phenomenon that merits meditation. Now, join acclaimed artist Tan Swie Hian as he weighs in on why Wang did what he did.

Admission is free. (Programme has ended, registration is closed.)

Compassion: Tan Swie Hian’s Literary Creations – Roving Exhibition

  • Jurong Regional Library: 1 November 2016 – 29 December 2016
  • Central Public Library: 30 December 2016 – 28 February 2017

Singapore Cultural Medallion recipient Tan Swie Hian is the top grossing living artist in Southeast Asia who has received numerous accolades both locally and abroad. Although he exhibited impressive artistic talents at a tender age, he was first recognised for his literary creations when he ventured into the arts scene.

Tan wrote and published prolifically in the 1960s under the pseudonym of “Mu Lingnu”. Before long, he had established a reputation for advocating Modernist literature in the local Chinese literary circle. He once said that his literary works “mostly reflected the dark side of reality; and the sorrows of human destiny”, thus compassion for lives has been a key theme in his writings. To date, the multilingual artist/writer has published close to 40 literary titles.

As a complement to the Anatomy of a Free Mind: Tan Swie Hian’s Notebooks and Creations exhibition at National Library Building (22 November 2016 – 23 April 2017), this roving exhibition will feature Tan’s literary accomplishments in various genres – poetry, prose, novels, fables, translated works as well as publications edited by him. Visit the above libraries during the specified periods to learn more about Tan Swie Hian’s written works that took the literary world by storm.


  • 裕廊区域图书馆: 2016年11月1日–2016年12月29日
  • 中央公共图书馆: 2016年12月30日–2017年2月28日


1960年代,陈瑞献以笔名 “牧羚奴”发表大量作品,不久后便成了在本地华文文坛提倡现代主义文学的代表人物。他曾经说自己的文学作品 “多反映现实的阴暗面,以及人类悲苦的命运” ,因此对芸芸众生怀抱悲悯是他写作的一个主调。至今,他已出版了将近40部文艺著作。