Richard Walker, Epiphany
1942, 71 x 98.6 cm
Reproduction of original oil on wood panel
Gift of Rev Dr Moses Tay
Collection of National Gallery Singapore
Religion provided much needed spiritual support and hope to prisoners-of-wars who suffered from starvation and oppression in internment camps during the Japanese Occupation. British Army chaplain John Lewis Bryan wrote in his survey of churches built in by prisoners-of-war (POW) that the “one request of all ranks” in POW camps in Malaya was for a Bible and that POWs from various Christian denominations, ranks and nationalities often worked together to build make-shift churches in detention camps.
Richard Walker’s Epiphany was similarly painted on a piece of re-purposed wood. Painted while Richard Walker was interned as a prisoner-of-war in Changi Internment camp (1942-1945) during the Japanese occupation of Singapore, Epiphany is an allegorical painting of a nativity scene — the revelation of Christ to the Magi — with distinctly local characteristics. It depicts the revelation of Christ to the Magi, who are fashioned as Chinese scholars. The Virgin Mary is painted as an Asian woman. Nativity scenes are often presented during Christmas and have been perceived as messages of hope and love in the face of trials and tribulations.
Painted on what could be scrap or re-purposed wood, Epiphany was placed behind an improvised altar. Used for holy communion services in the camp, it could have offered hope to prisoners in the darkest of hours. This painting was presented to the Anglican Diocese of Singapore after World War II. Today you can find the work on display at the National Gallery Singapore as part of Siapa Nama Kamu? Art in Singapore since the 19th Century in its DBS Singapore Gallery.
Richard Walker was born in Yorkshire, England in 1896. He moved to Singapore in 1923. As Art Master of Government English schools, he was tasked with preparing students for art papers in the Cambridge Junior and Senior Examinations and to train art teachers. He taught many canonical Singapore artists such as the watercolourist Lim Cheng Hoe. He also began classes for Malay-speaking art teachers in the 1930s. By 1937 his position was amended to Art Superintendent, Singapore Schools. He played a critical role in early art education in Singapore. From 1942-45 Walker was interned in Changi Prisoner of War Camp. In the camp, he held art classes, conducted lectures, and painted. He was also the camp sign-writer and provided the lettering on the graves of prisoners who died.
Did you know?
From surveys of 949 World War II infantrymen, researchers at Cornell University deduced that the soldiers’ reliance on prayer increased dramatically – from 42 per cent to 72 per cent – as combat intensified.
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