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Koeh Sia Yong's “Persecution” Art Review

“A picture is worth a thousand words”, this quote is undeniably suited to the scene shown in “Persecution”. I believe “Persecution” fits into the theme of Art and Society as the painting represents the result of political conflict and human selfishness. Society can be defined as a large group of people who live together in an organized way (Cambridge Dictionary, 2019), however, the painting is a stark contrast to that. Where the people in the painting live in chaos. War is one of the end results of international disagreements, and the consequences can be grim for all parties involved, as seen in the painting.

Where prisoners of war are taken and soldiers are wielding weapons of death, there is only dread and a broken society of a nation left.

“Persecution” is an oil on canvas painting done by Koeh Sia Yong in 1963 (National Gallery Singapore). In the painting, it depicts soldiers leading prisoners of war by force through a war trench, with greenery and grey clouds enveloping the sky.

In the same year of 1963, the Vietnam War was concurrent (HISTORY, 2019). Due to the nature of the artwork, it showcases colours of low intensity and darker shades and tints. The hues mainly consist of green in different intensities. The artist utilised organic shapes, hence, the edges are curved. The painting makes excellent use of shading to give the people a feeling of weight. The background reinforces the feeling of volume as the shadows are made clear by the prisoners. The time of day in the painting can be interpreted as evening as the grey clouds envelop the sky.

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All these elements masterfully executed by the artist allows “Persecution” to achieve a desired mood of hopelessness. This perfectly captures a glimpse of the horrors of war and conflict.

The colours set a heart-rending and pitiful tone, which coincides with the nature of the artwork. The lines in the grass show varied thickness in width and length, giving it a natural feel, this enables the smooth brushstrokes of the soldiers and prisoners to be the centre of attention. The painting makes excellent use of shading in order to give the people a feeling of weight and an illusion of perspective. The background reinforces the feeling of volume as the shadows are made even more clearly, as presented by the prisoners. The elements gave the artwork its visuals and the principles gave a sense of realism. With all these elements and principles coming together, it flawlessly encapsulates the war-ridden scene the artist portrayed in his painting.

I can infer that the artist’s statement was to give a grim reminder of the angst-ridden state of Singapore during the Japanese Occupation as it was painted in the midst of the Vietnam War. In my opinion, the artist was trying to remind the viewers of the terror of war and conflict, and I felt that message clearly. “Persecution” made me feel and understand how grateful I should be for living in relative peace in Singapore, where our ancestors suffered for us. Peace is often taken for granted as, without it, Singapore may still be living in disarray. One feature that stood out to me was that the painting is a perversion of the colour green as green is seen as the colour of harmony, balance, and security (FINE ART TIPS with Lori McNee, 2010). However, in this painting, the opposite can be seen and felt. I think the artist’s purpose in this colour choice was to show how unfair and unruly war is, Where on the battlefield, there is no restriction or rules.

I believe that the painting has an intrinsic value. In “Persecution” the reality and tragedy of war are apparent to anyone viewing it. The artist made a beautiful painting for such a horrid scene to unfold. The idea being conveyed from the painting is gratefulness, as people continue to take peace for granted as they did not suffer like the people in the painting did. I feel that people can look at this painting and understand what just one moment looks like in war, never mind how it usually takes years to end. I think that the artist made full use of what he had at the time, especially in Singapore’s early stages where there was still scarcity for resources such as oil paints and canvases. In conclusion, I stand by “Persecution” for what it stands for, a constant hindering truth of what conflict between nations can cause. Where we may not be able to change the past, we can change the future.

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Koeh Sia Yong's “Persecution” Art Review. (2020, Oct 15). Retrieved from

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