STUMBLING upon Singapore photographer Chua Soo Bin's portraits of renowned Chinese painters at their most relaxed and unguarded, Shanghai retiree Eva Li was impressed that it took a Singaporean to show her these artists in a new light.
'This is definitely not an ordinary exhibition. These are Chinese masters captured in spontaneous moments of everyday life,' Mrs Li, 64, told Life! after viewing the Legends exhibition held at the Shanghai Chinese Painting Academy.
Chua's black-and-white photographs of 14 late Chinese ink masters are exhibited as part of the Singapore Season in China, a month-long showcase of Singapore culture ending this Saturday.
Presented in Beijing and Shanghai, the Singapore Season performances, films and exhibitions were largely well-received by over 20 Chinese audience members, officials and arts community members interviewed by Life!. Most of these people had little knowledge of Singapore or its artists to begin with.
The cultural diplomacy effort was organised by 14 Singapore government agencies including the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts.
Some of its shows, like the Legends photo exhibition and composer Mark Chan's musical score for the classic Chinese silent film Little Toys, had some Chinese audiences marvelling at Singaporean artists' sensitivity to Chinese art and art forms.
'This is definitely not an ordinary exhibition. These are Chinese masters captured in spontaneous moments of everyday life' - Shanghai retiree Eva Li's reaction after viewing Singapore photographer Chua Soo Bin's portraits of renowned Chinese painters
Other works reflected a certain distinctiveness about Singapore culture that was at once familiar and different from what Chinese audiences were used to.
Shanghai University film student Fu Ran, 24, said she has become very interested in Singapore films after watching several short and full-length films by directors such as Royston Tan and Jack Neo.
These movies were screened in Beijing and Shanghai as part of the Film Festival segment of the Season.
'I feel that Singapore, apart from having a lot of Chinese cultural influences, is strongly influenced by Western culture and there is a lot of fusion,' she said.
'From a film criticism point of view, I am trying to decide whether this Western influence is good or bad.'
Others simply found the works engaging or entertaining, like student Wang Lei, 24. She said she was both moved and tickled by Neo's film, I Not Stupid Too, about three Singapore schoolboys who are misunderstood by their parents.
'A lot of their sentiments are what I felt growing up,' she said.
Chinese audiences 'are not that familiar with artists from other Asian countries and Singapore should present more such showcases of representative artists', said Mr Alan Lee, director of a Beijing gallery, Asia Art Centre.
He attended a Singapore Season exhibition of three leading Singapore visual artists at Beijing's National Art Museum of China last month.
He described the works by Chen Wen Hsi, Goh Beng Kwan and Wong Keen as 'artistic exploration of quite a high standard'.
An official from China's Culture Ministry, who saw the Singapore Chinese Orchestra's (SCO) Beijing performance on Oct 13, said the Singapore Season 'amply reflected Singapore's unique culture, fostered cultural exchange and helped increase understanding between the people of both countries'.
Representatives of Chinese organisations who co-presented some of the Singapore Season productions also expressed satisfaction at how the shows turned out, although a few offered suggestions as to how such partnerships might be improved in future.
Beijing Music Festival programme director Lai Shu Chun said: 'We were very happy with the performances and audience response, but perhaps there could have been better coordination over publicity, which was not really discussed beforehand.'
The festival co-presented the SCO and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) last month. The SSO had a full house but the SCO's audience of around 70 per cent could have been improved through more effective publicity, she said.
For Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre (SDAC) general manager Yang Shao Ling, who co-presented Drama Box's experimental play Drift, the box office was not his immediate concern.
'Now that Shanghai's economic development and SDAC's own technical and logistical expertise have reached a certain level, it's important that we present both commercial and more experimental work.
'The collaboration for Drift was a good experience, it shows that people can still connect and find common ground through drama.'