Singapore

Cultural Medallion recipient Lee Wen dies

Performance artist, 61, succumbs to lung infection

Acclaimed performance artist Lee Wen, best known for his Yellow Man series, died of a lung infection yesterday. He was 61.

The Cultural Medallion recipient, who also had Parkinson's disease, is survived by his wife, Japanese artist Satoko Lee, 57, and son Lee Masatoshi, 19.

He died at Alexandra Hospital surrounded by family and members of the art community.

Lee worked as a logistics officer, computer operator and bank officer before he quit his day job in 1987 to pursue art full-time. He graduated from the then Lasalle-SIA College of the Arts, and was an early member of seminal artists' colony The Artists Village.

His Yellow Man series, which addresses cultural stereotypes, began in the early 1990s and includes works where he is featured stripped to his briefs and covered in yellow paint.

His biographer Chan Li Shan observed: "At the heart of it was Lee Wen's dream of a society that overcomes stereotyping and superficiality. Can we understand differences and the concept of the Other? What does it mean to create a world with less prejudice, and more tolerance? "

In 2005, he received the Cultural Medallion, Singapore's highest arts honour. In 2016, the US Embassy awarded him the Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art.

Recalled Ms Chan: "In typical Lee Wen fashion, he had generously divided the prize money of US$15,000 (S$20,300) between the three nominees, saying that all of them deserved it equally."

The late artist's wife of 20 years said: "He was the best husband... He was a great teacher."

Artist Vincent Leow, who knew Lee for more than 30 years, said: "I remember seeing him at the hospital (in December). He was struggling to talk, but he asked me to take out my sketchbook so he could draw."

The wake will be held at Block 145, Potong Pasir Avenue 2, from today until tomorrow. The funeral will take place on Wednesday.

Death