Remembering KONG Yin Ling 江燕玲

It is not often I speak publicly or write about artist deaths within the arts community through the decades that I have grown up in and be part of as a professional today. Remembering them fondly for their presence, private conversations, close friendships/relationships and thoughts on art is how I cope with the morbid reality of the passing of such ageing or ill-stricken artists – it saddens me in a personal way due to my relationships with them (as opposed to an obligation by means of work association). However today… the passing of an artist compelled me to seek a personal way to remember her.

Condolence notice submitted by members of The Molan Art Association (names redacted) and as published in local Chinese broadsheet Lianhe Zaobao, Obituaries. 2020 May 21.
Condolence notice submitted by members of The Molan Art Association (names redacted) and as published in local Chinese broadsheet Lianhe Zaobao, Obituaries. 2020 May 21.

As a relatively low profile Chinese ink painter and calligrapher based in Singapore, the late Madam KONG Yin Ling (江燕玲 Jiang Yan Ling) graduated from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and further studies at the China Academy of Fine Arts, Hangzhou.[1] She first began her exhibition career in 1988 with her Chinese ink painter husband CHEN Shi Jin (陈士仅),[2] and had since been active as a participating member of the Molan Art Association, Singapore Art Society, NAFA Alumni Association and Shichen Chinese Calligraphy and Seal-Carving Society. Memorably, she studied portraiture under Singaporean portrait artist SIEW Hock Meng (萧学民). She passed away at the age of 58 on May 18, 2020. She is survived by her husband.

While an art historical perspective of paintings is not the focus of this article, I deeply respected and loved her Chinese ink paintings of Southeast Asian women that she had seen in her travels.

KONG Yin Ling, Untitled, 1991 (辛未), unknown dimensions, Chinese ink and pigment on paper. From exhibition catalogue Molan Association 25th Anniversary Special 墨澜社二十五周年纪念特刊, 1992.
KONG Yin Ling, Untitled, 1991 (辛未), unknown dimensions, Chinese ink and pigment on paper. From exhibition catalogue Molan Association 25th Anniversary Special 墨澜社二十五周年纪念特刊, 1992.

Placing aside her ability as a Chinese ink painter, I always remembered her bright smile and kind voice whenever I visited her and her husband or travelled overseas with my family with them.

At Cameron Highlands, early 1990s. L to R Dad (LIM Choon Jin), KONG Yin Ling, CHEN Shi Jin, KOH Mun Hong and unnamed lady. Courtesy of LIM Choon Jin and Vincent LIN.
At Cameron Highlands, early 1990s. L to R Dad (LIM Choon Jin), KONG Yin Ling, CHEN Shi Jin, KOH Mun Hong and unnamed lady. Courtesy of LIM Choon Jin and Vincent LIN.
At Myanmar, 1999. L to R - Local guide, KONG Yin Ling, CHEN Shi Jin and Dad (LIM Choon Jin).Courtesy of LIM Choon Jin and Vincent LIN.
At Myanmar, 1999. L to R – Local guide, KONG Yin Ling, CHEN Shi Jin and Dad (LIM Choon Jin).Courtesy of LIM Choon Jin and Vincent LIN.

She always had a kind word or story for everything that could be taught to a young child – and I grew up calling her Yanling-jie (燕玲姐) much to the annoyance and chagrin of many other artists’ wives or female artists. Her quiet personality, resilience against adversity and constant support of her husband help to shape my thoughts and inspire me over the years (as well as to serve as a personal “matrix” to seek out my significant other).

As time went by, I seldom had the chance to meet Yanling-jie but retained fond memories of her over the decades. It was in 2016 during National Gallery Singapore’s presentation of Ink Masters series (with Singaporean Chinese ink painter KOH Mun Hong 许梦丰) that I met her again. I did a double take and had to seek the confirmation of her identity with “Uncle” GOH Chiew Lye (Singaporean Chinese ink artist 吴秋来) and “Aunt” YEO Yang Kwee (the wife of the late Singaporean Chinese ink artist CHUA Ek Kay) who were both there at the presentation.

“燕玲姐!”

Turning around, she was shocked and surprised at my salutation. She called me by my personal name and said that only “that one rascal” who would call her in this manner over the decades. My eyes were moist with tears as were hers, while we emphasised our mutual inability to recognise each other (I mean, the last time we met I was still a child). Thus under the wry smiles of Uncle Goh and Aunt Yeo, we began to catch up over what we have been doing over the years.

Before I had to return to my duties, I mentioned to her that I would like to interview her one day (after my studies) with regards to her Chinese ink paintings of Southeast Asian women. She was thrilled and told me that she is looking forward to that.

Alas, she is gone too soon. I hope I will still be able to pick up the pieces of her gentle voice and loving personality in her art in due time.

Edit (2020 July 11) : Artist KOH Mun Hong wrote an article about Yanling-jie.


[1] See The Molan Art Association – 35th Anniversary 1967-2002, ed. The Molan Art Association (Singapore: Cape of Good Hope Art Gallery, 2002), Exhibition Catalogue. Unfortunately, the exhibition catalogue has minimal chronological details.

[2] See “Visual Artist – Chen Shi Jin,” Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, 2011. Accessed May 21, 2020. https://tfcsea.nafa.edu.sg/artist_biography.aspx?id=45.