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Art Terms

Postwar Realism

Realism Rising Up from the Postwar Devastation

The 1940s and 50s—that is, during World War II and its immediate aftermath—saw a season of realism in modern art in Southeast Asia. In the Philippines, many artists, including Demetrio Diego (1909–1988) and Carlos Francisco (1912–1969), depicted the tragic realities of war. However, it was Fernando Amorsolo, a conservative master, who led the realism movement in the Philippines by depicting war scenes in his art. Although he was known for his sweet, sentimental, and exotic female portraits and landscape paintings, he walked around Manila after the bombing during wartime, sketched the devastated landscape, and turned it into oil paintings. In British Malaya (present-day Malaysia and Singapore), where the relationship with China was strong and the international Communist movement had a strong influence, artists moved toward social realism and depicted the life of poor people living in the societal margins. Singaporean artists Chen Wen Hsi (1906–1991) and Cheong Soo Pieng (1917–1983), who were generally known for their decorative art styles, depicted ordinary workers during this period. Other artists, such as Chua Mia Tee (1931–), Lee Boon Wang (1934–2016), and Lim Yew Kuan (1928–), also focused on realism paintings with social themes. In Vietnam, during the war against France and the United States, figures of fighting people were depicted in the style of social realism.


Fernando Amorsolo "Ruins of Intramuros" 1945 oil on canvas

Chen Wen His "Resting" 1950s oil on canvas

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