Last Sunday saw the passing of one of Singapore’s pioneer performance artists. His contributions to Singapore’s art scene have been immense. The ‘Yellow Man’ series, his most well-known body of work, sought to delineate his dream of a society that had overcome stereotyping and superficiality. This was explored further in ‘Journey of a Yellow Man’, and gained international recognition at a fast rate when he began performing and showcasing International at locations such as the Gwangju Biennale and the Asia Pacific Triennial in Australia.
In 2018, NTU CCA presented ‘Journey of a Yellow Man. Selections from the Independent Archive’ for its fifth anniversary. This was a culmination of a digitalization project that started in 2017, established by Lee. At its media briefing in September, Lee spoke with gusto and vigor, proving that the passion he had for his practice never faltered.
Lee’s background could not be further away from the field of art. He worked as a logistics officer, computer operator, and bank officer before committing to art full-time in 1987. He then enrolled in what was then the Lasalle-SIA College of the arts and became an early member of The Artists Village.
Lee was awarded the Cultural Medallion, Singapore’s highest arts honor, for his immense contributions to the development of local contemporary art. He helped define contemporary Southeast Asian art through the spearheading of international performances, through his continued interests in the cultural constructs of identity, and interests in trends of contemporary art practice.
In 2016, he was awarded the Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art by the US Embassy. There were three nominees for this award, and Lee divided his prize money amongst them saying they deserved it equally.
Lee will be fondly remembered as a spectacular individual who shaped Singapore’s cultural and artistic history. He is survived by his wife, Japanese artist Satoko Lee, and his son Masatoshi.
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