Lee Suet Fern (left) with her award-winning Castel del Monte quilt and Ho Ching sporting the dinosaur-print pouch during a visit to the White House.

The Lee women spurring Singaporean appreciation for community art

The women of the Lee family are inadvertently championing community art in Singapore. One makes art while the other wears it. Lee Suet Fern – lawyer, daughter-in-law of Lee Kuan Yew, married to Lee Hsien Yang, brother of Singapore Prime Minister – is, as you might already know, quite an accomplished quilter. On the other hand, PM Lee Hsien Loong’s wife Ho Ching has on several occasions sported accessories made by local artists.

Making community art

In a profile done by AsiaOne back in 2014, Lee Suet Fern is described as having a passion for patchwork, with her handiwork covering every centimeter of her home – from bed covers to table mats, and even patchwork appliques on her clothes.

Mrs Lee with her handiwork. (Image by AsiaOne)

Having picked up quilting a little over 2 decades ago, Mrs Lee has made her name for herself on the international quilting circuit. In October 2014, two of her quilts were selected for the finals of the Traditional Pieced Quilts category at the International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas, United States. This annual event is the largest and most competitive quilt show in the world with tens of thousands of people attending each year.

Just this year, another of Mrs Lee’s creation made it to the 2019 Yokohama Quilt Time Festival in Japan. The massive piece is called Castel del Monte and is inspired by the octagonal Castel del Monte, a protected World Heritage European castle in southern Italy.

Castel del Monte quilt by Lee Suet Fern (Image from Lee Hsien Yang / Facebook)

The quilt was awarded the Quilt Time Award at the festival – an award that is given to a total of five participants in the ‘traditional’ category where submissions are quilts made in traditional patterns.

Mrs Lee’s quilt was described as ‘immensely creative’, ‘excellent’, and ‘wonderful’ but the festival.

Wearing community art

Another woman in the Lee dynasty has also been making headlines for her involvement in community art, specifically for the promotion of handmade Singaporean accessories.

Being the wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Ho Ching has attended a great many events on the international stage, from summits and meetings to official visits with foreign dignitaries.

Back in 2016, Singaporeans were quick to criticised her ‘lack of style’ when they saw her sporting a cheap purse/pouch with a dinosaur print during an official visit to the White House. As the wife of the country’s leader, many in Singapore argued that she should have tried harder to present a more sophisticated impression.

Mrs Ho with 19-year old Seetoh, designer of the dinosaur-print pouch. (Image from Pathlight School / Facebook)

However, Mrs Ho soon revealed that the purse was actually made by 19-year old Seetoh Sheng Jie, a student at Pathlight School for autistic children. As part of the school’s Artistic Development programme, young Seetoh designed the pouch which the school sells on their website.

Once people found out where she got the $14.80 denim pouch, the school quickly sold out as citizens snapped up all 200 pouches in a single day.

Ho Ching with wives of G20 leaders holding a bronze dinosaur-print clutch designed by student of Pathlight School (Image from Coconuts Singapore – Erika Villano / AFP)

This wasn’t a one-time thing, though. Later in 2018, Mrs Ho again another creation from Pathlight School, this time a bronze dinosaur-print clutch, at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She was pictured standing alongside wives of other G20 leaders such as US’s Melania Trump and China’s Peng Liyuan.

Spurring Singaporean appreciation for art

With these two prominent women of the Lee family making headlines in their own way – one making award-winning community art while the other wears and promotes it on the international stage – maybe the country could be spurred into appreciating art more, specifically local art.

It’s an encouraging message to all Singaporeans that you can not only nurture your creativity but appreciate local talent as there’s no shortage of wonderful local artists.