Born in 1913
Lee Man Fong was 17 at the time of his father’s death. When his father passed away, he became the head of the family and had to take care of his seven younger siblings. It was during this period of his life that he started to think of wars and revolutions as causes of negative effects upon people’s lives. He painted animals, mostly pigeons, to create something soothing and calming, the opposite of wars and revolutions. In 1932, he moved to Jakarta, Indonesia, as the tension between nationalist groups such as Persagi (Persatuan Ahli-ahli Gambar Indonesia, or Association of Indonesian Draughtsman’s) and Indische- Holland kunstkring community stimulated him. In 1942, Man Fong was jailed because of his opposition to Japanese colonialism in Indonesia. After six months in jail, Takahashi Masao helped him gain freedom as the Japanese officer was interested in his artistic potential. In 1946, President Soekarno heard about Lee Man Fong when he had his solo exhibition in Jakarta. Lee Man Fong was appointed as the next presidential painter by Dullah and President Soekarno himself. The artist spent the remaining years of his life between Indonesia and Singapore until his death in 1988. Source: Kompas, June 1, 2001, an article by Agus Dermawan T.
Lee's father, Lee Ling Khai, was a Chinese freedom fighter in 1910s.
In 1916, Lee Ling Khai decided to migrate to Singapore to create a better living for his family. They made it there. Among his acquaintances was Dr Sun Chung-Shan. The revoluionary Lee got involved in politics and this drove his business to bankruptcy. Lee Ling Khai died of illness that was possibly brought by this even in 1930.
The President then knew that Man Fong was given Malino scholarship from Van Mook, the
Netherlands government and that many of his exhibitions were successful in Europe. The artist briefly returned to Indonesia, and went back to hold exhibitions from Den Haag to Paris. In 1952 he returned to Jakarta. The visit from Soekarno and Dullah, the official palace painter at that time, encouraged him to established Yin Hua (Chinese Artists Association in Indonesia) in 1955. The group organized numerous exhibitions in the region and in 1956, it was invited to exhibit in China.