Born in Zhejiang, China, Sun Yee received her formal artistic education from the Xinhua Art Academy in Shanghai and the University of Japan in Tokyo, before leaving for France to study under renowned French modernist, Fernand Léger. In 1953, Sun Yee exhibited at the Salon des Beaux Arts in Paris to great acclaim. The next year, she settled in Singapore and established the Singapore Academy of the Arts. Sun Yee was herself an important contributor to the burgeoning Malayan art scene, and a strong proponent of the cultivation of localized visual idioms drawing from local issues and subject matter.
In Medley of Dances, Sun Yee captures the harmonious racial integration we enjoy in Singapore through her a presentation of the different traditional dances.
Dance surpasses communicative capabilities of language by using the performative body to express emotions and deliver stories without the mediation of a translator. Bringing these dances together in a “medley”, Sun Yee creates a visual manifestation of the racially harmonious society of Singapore through the universal art forms of painting and dance.
Sun Yee’s long, horizontal panel draws the viewer through a seamless progressing from one style to another from left to right. Beginning on the left, Indian women hold water vessels above their heads, signifying the traditional Indian Kuchipudhi dance. Their graceful stance angling towards the men in white suggest their movements in time with the percussionists’ beats. Tall, vertical banners stand proudly next to the Indian dancers – they are the qimo, or props, used in traditional Peking operas to demonstrate their imagined environments. At the front of the line, a Chinese man painted in blue holds his prop up in a deliberate pose. Above them, a pale pink performer in costume bends to the side, tilting her head questioningly at the viewer. The long sleeves are indicative of a particular style of Chinese dance that originated from the Tang Dynasty, where the long fabric was used to exaggerate the sharp hand movements of the dancers. Beside them, two couples are engaged in a traditional Malay joget dance, with the men and women stood on either side. The women face the viewer, though their faces are coyly turned away from the men. Finally, the Western tradition is represented by two ballerinas in the far right, one in mid arabesque while the other balances in relevé.