NL Prominent Speaker Series: Tan Swie Hian

The National Library regularly host renowned speakers from the arts, heritage, technology and social sciences sectors to share with the wider community and to exchange ideas. Organised by the National Library, this event was held on 24 Feb 2017. This guide accompanied the talk given by Dr Tan Swie Hian on the topic “A Thousand-Year Debate on the Imagery of a Plantain Tree in Snow”.



The speaker for the topic is the acclaimed artist, Dr Tan Swie Hien.

Tan Swie Hian (b. 5 May 1943, Indonesia – ) is a multidisciplinary artist who has created artworks in a wide range of media and genres. 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. In 1968, he published his anthology of poetry, The Giant (《巨人》), 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 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 and held 23 solo shows worldwide. He won 29 accolades nationally and internationally, including the Cultural Medallion (Visual Arts, 1987), the Singapore Chinese Literature Prize (1998) and the Meritorious Service Medal (2003).


These resources are drawn from the collections of the National Library.

Books on Tan Swie Hian


  • Ch’ng, P. T. (2015). My friendship with Singapore’s greatest painter. Singapore: Zhuang Productions.
    Call Number: RSING 759.95957 CHN
    A biography of Tan Swie Hian with accounts of the author’s friendship with Tan. The book also features selected art and literary works by Tan.


  • National Library Board. (2005). Tan Swie Hian Collection Catalogue = 陈瑞献藏室目录. Singapore: Lee Kong Chian Reference Library, National Library Board.
    Call Number: RSING q700.92 CHE
    A catalogue of the Tan Swie Hian collection, which comprises materials that the artist donated to the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library (as of publication date). The catalogue is a basic guide to the collection and introduces the artist and his philosophy.


  • 潘正 [Pan, C. L.]. (2012). 天行心要:陈瑞献的艺踪见证  = The essentials of celestial travel: tracing Tan Swie Hian’s artistic pursuits. 新加坡:大家出版社.
    Call Number: RSING 700.92 PZL
    This book is a collection of Pan Cheng Lui’s works on Tan Swie Hian, which include an interview with Tan Swie Hian, articles on Tan Swie Hian or his works, and poems or works inspired by Pan’s contact with Tan or Tan’s works. 本书收录了潘正镭自1980年代所撰写关于陈瑞献的各类文章及作品,其中包括了与陈瑞献的访谈录、关于陈瑞献或其作品的专题文章,以及作者与陈瑞献同行的经历或对陈瑞献作品有所共鸣而创作的诗文。


  • 方桂香主编 [Phoon, K. H. (Ed.)]. (2004). 陈瑞献谈话录 [Words of Tan Swie Hian]. 新加坡:创意圈出版社.
    Call Number: RSING Chinese 700.92 CRX
    This book comprises 30 interviews with and six speeches by Tan Swie Hian from 1971 to 2004.



  • 方桂香 [Phoon, K. H.]. (2004). 陈瑞献美学思想论 = On Tan Swie Hian’s aesthetic thoughts. 新加坡:创意圈出版社.
    Call Number: RSING 701.17095957 FGX
    This book consists of six main parts and analyses the artworks and literary works of Tan Swie Hian.



  • 方桂香 [Phoon, K. H.]. (2002).  巨匠陈瑞献 [Master Tan Swie Hian]. 新加坡:意圈出版社.
    Call Number: RSING Chinese 700.92 FGX
    This publication focuses on the life of Tan Swie Hian and highlights his achievements in the arts.



  • 方桂香 [Phoon, K. H.]. (2010). 新加坡华文现代主义文学运动研究:以新加坡南洋商报副刊<文艺><文丛><咖啡座><>和马来西亚文学杂志<蕉风月刊>为个案 [A Study of Singapore Chinese Modernist Literature: Case studies of Nanyang Siang Pau Literary Supplements, “Wen Yi”, “Wen Cong”, “Ka Fei Zuo”, “Chuang”and Chao Foon, a Literary Journal in Malaysia]. 新加坡:创意圈出版社.
    Call Number: RSING C810.072 FGX
    This research publication focuses on the Singapore Chinese modernist literature Movement through the study of the literary supplements of Nanyang Shang Pau and a literary periodical, Chao Foon. The book also includes a chapter on Liang Mingguang (梁明广) and Tan Swie Hian, who were major advocators of modernism in Singapore Chinese literature.



Newspaper Articles


  • Barnes, R. (1979, October 20). A Buddhist’s meditations in black and white. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
    This article is a review of “Expo 3”, an exhibition at Alliance Francaise that featured the artworks of Yeo Hoe Koon, Goh Beng Kuan and Tan Swie Hian. The writer mentioned that he had been most impressed by Tan’s “highly original, contemplative works”.


  • Tan, B. H. (1980, March 17). High time this myth about art be broken. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
    An interview with Tan Swie Hian, who had then just been awarded the Knight of the Order of Arts and Literature by the French government. During the interview, Tan expressed his view that everyone could be an artist, recounting how he had encouraged his mother to paint.


  • Teo, H. W. (1982, April 17). Free as a butterfly. The Straits Times, p. 1.Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
    An interview with Tan Swie Hian, wherein he discusses his art and philosophy.


  • Teo, H. W. (1982, October 7). Swie Hian goes places. The Straits Times, p. 1.Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
    In April 1982, Tan Swie Hian was invited by the French government to hold an exhibition in Paris. This article includes Tan’s reflection on his experience in Paris.


  • Guan, L. (1993, May 12). A dream come true. The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
    This article reports that Tan Swie Hian was publishing his literary works with an established publisher in China and also shares the preparation of as well as Tan’s thoughts on the publication.


  • Chew, D. (2006, June 8). French connection. TODAY – 2nd Edition, p. 64. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
    This article announced that Tan Swie Hian had received the Officier de l’Ordre de la Legion d’Honneur (Officer in the Order of the Legion of Honour) for his contributions to France-Singapore relations in the artistic field. The article also mentions that Tan was the only Singaporean artist to receive this award then.


  • Wong, K. H. (2010, February 13). Artist and poet Tan Swie Hian. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
    An interview with Tan Swie Hian, where he talks about his creative process in composing and writing a Chinese couplet.


Selected Titles on Works by Tan Swie Hian, including Exhibition Catalogues


  • 陈巧篆、陈碧巨杨伟烈编辑 [Chen, Q. H., Chen, B. J., Yang, W. L. (Eds.).] (2001).  陈瑞献 = Tan Swie Hian. 新加坡南洋艺术学院.
    Call Number: RSING Chinese q700.92 TSH
    This book includes images of Tan Swie Hian’s artworks from 1956 to 2001 in various mediums.



  • Cross, M & Sng, S. A. (2016). Anatomy of a free mind: Tan Swie Hian’s notebooks and creations with an introduction and notes by Yap Su-Yin. Singapore: National Library Board; Editions Didier Millet.
    Call Number: RSING 700.92 CHE
    This book was published to coincide with an exhibition of the same name, organised by the National Library Board in 2016. The publication features images of Tan Swie Hian’s works and corresponding pages from his notebooks. It also includes an introduction and notes by Yap Su-Yin as well as an essay by Tan, which sheds light on the artist’s journey when creating the artworks.


  • Nadarajah, I. (1994).  A Guide to Tan Swie Hian Museum. Singapore: National Arts Council.
    Call Number: RSING 708.95957 IND
    An introduction to the artwork in the Tan Swie Hian Museum.


  • National Heritage Board and National Arts Council. (2004).  Embracing Infinity: Works by Tan Swie Hian = 无时无涯:陈瑞献作品展. Singapore: National Heritage Board; National Arts Council.
    Call Number: RSING q700.92 EMB
    A catalogue of an exhibition of Tan Swie Hian’s works at the Singapore Art Museum from 25 August – 19 December 2004. The catalogue also includes selected essays on Tan Swie Hian and his works.



Selected Titles by Tan Swie Hian


  • 陈瑞献 [Tan, S. H.]. (1968). 巨人 [The Giant]. 新加坡:五月出版社.
    Call Number: RCLOS Chinese C811.5 MLN
    Tan Swie Hian’s first anthology of modernist poetry that was published under the pen name Mulingnu

    (牧羚奴). 这本诗集是陈瑞献第一部现代诗集,当时以笔名“牧羚奴”出版。


  • 陈瑞献 [Tan, S. H.]. (1983). 陈瑞献文集 [Collection of Tan Swie Hian’s articles].  新加坡新加坡新闻与出版公司.
    Call Number: RSING Chinese C810.08 CRX
    An anthology of Tan Swie Hian’s articles written from 1968 to 1983, covering a wide range of topics such as novels, theatre, paintings, sculptures, architecture, movies, food, religion and philosophy.




  • 方桂香 [Phoon, K. H. (Ed.).]. (2008). 陈瑞献寓言 [Tan Swie Hian Fables]. 新加坡:创意圈出版社.
    Call Number: RSING Chinese C818.2 CRX
    This book is a compilation of Tan Swie Hian’s fables and includes an analysis of every fable by Ho Nai Kin.




  • 方桂香编 [Phoon, K. H. (Ed.).]. (2014). 陈瑞献歌集 [Songs of Tan Swie Hian]. 新加坡:创意圈出版社.
    Call Number: RSING Chinese C810.08 CRX
    This book comprises scores and lyrics of songs written by Tan Swie Hian.



All rights reserved. National Library Board, 2017.

Written by Mervin Teo