April - June 2010 Vol 3 Issue 02 ISSN: 1793-5261
EXPLORE. DREAM. DISCOVER
Weighing in for Posterity
Nurturing the Future of Generations to Come APRIL - JUNE 2010
The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and Rules the Empire: Great Women of the Mughal Era page 14
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contents 10. Art Goes Online @ The Gallery Page
The NHB’s collection of artefacts and artworks go online and interactive at The Gallery Page of SGCOOL.
14. The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and Rules the Empire: Great Women of the Mughal Era
Invisible yet indomitable, wives, mothers and empresses exercised true power in the courts of the Mughal Empire. Nicola Kuok reveals what goes on behind the screens, as these women guided and inspired emperors through centuries of war, peace and posterity.
26. Singapore 1960: A Confluence of Language, Culture and Politics
A brave new era awaited Singapore in 1960, as a fresh government sought to forge a Malayan identity and culture through language as well as the beliefs and values shared by the island’s different races. Jason Toh and Priscilla Chua reveal the socio-political threads that underline an upcoming exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore.
34. Scenes from a Cinematic Past: Ming Wong’s Life of Imitation 2
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P Ramlee meets Wong Kar Wai meets Douglas Sirk in an award-winning multi-media installation by Ming Wong at the Singapore Art Museum.
38. Power to the People: A Helping Hand for Singapore’s Heritage Ecosystem
Museums are no longer the only players in Singapore’s heritage scene. Today, museums are working with new partners and private individuals to introduce heritage-themed products and packages such as books, games, fashion and tours to the public. Marcus Ng surveys the development of this heritage ecosystem and the role that NHB has played in nurturing this environment.
46. Bringing Families Together: Children’s Season at the National Museum of singapore and the singapore art museum
Skills you can’t learn in school are what the National Museum as well as the Singapore Art Museum offer to children this upcoming holidays with a season of programmes that combine education, entertainment and fun for the whole family.
56. February 15: The Day to Remember
Through stamps, postmarks, covers and postcards, the Singapore Philatelic Museum charts the fall of Singapore to the Japanese on 15 February 1942 and the following three-and-a-half years of pain and suffering.
64. Burned Bodies and Butterflies: Charting the Shifts in FX Harsono’s Art from 1975 to 2009
From provocation to introspection, the work of Indonesian contemporary artist FX Harsono spans a vast range of emotions and approaches that reflect the artist’s relationship with his nation, identity and community. Tan Siu Li shares what visitors to a new exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum can expect.
68. preserving singapore’s national monuments
Singapore’s National Monuments stand as architectural landmarks as well as visual reminders of our heritage and the communities that built, used and lived among these buildings. Foo Min Li and Joyce Lee introduce the work of the Preservation of Monuments Board and Singapore’s six newest gazetted National Monuments.
Abode of Peace: Brunei Between Tradition and Modernity
Amanda Chan muses on the changes and constants that make Brunei Darussalam a unique place where the past is treasured even as the nation plans for a sustainable future.
High Living Downtown
From insurance office tower to iconic city suites, 2 Finlayson Green has received a new lease of life as a prime residential address in the heart of Singapore’s financial district.
News from NHB museums and institutions in Singapore.
Highlights from recent acquisitions by our museums.
Author Adeline Foo spills the beans on antics of Puteh the little Nonya as she explores Peranakan culture and Singapore’s pioneer artists in a charming series of illustrated children’s books.
Current and upcoming events and exhibitions you can expect from our museums and institutions.
We take a light-hearted look at the sights and scenes of Singapore in the 1960s that will prove familiar names to bona fide babies of that swinging decade.
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Volume 3, Issue 2
“Is there business to be made from heritage and is there any heritage to be found in business?” This was a question posed to me recently by a friend. What do you think?
Marcus Ng Editor
Take for instance, an exhibition in a museum. Every time one is opened, it creates jobs for a whole host of varied professions. From the curators, researchers and designers who create the exhibition to the educators who produce educational and enrichment programmes and enriching experiences, enough jobs are created. But it does not stop there. The conservators involved in the conservation work, the lighting and humidity control specialists, the editors, the people behind the IT interactives, the art handlers, transport companies, other service providers such as workshop facilitators, authors – the list just goes on. Even the restaurants and museum shops make money out of heritage. And then, if you have an event, all these people plus the advertising agencies, the public relations people, the carpenters, fabricators, also get employed because of heritage. Now on the question of whether there is heritage in business – Many of our home-grown businesses today are known as heritage brands not only because they have been around for years but also because they have made heritage into a business and in the process become a heritage institution of sorts. One of our best loved coffeeshop brands, Ya Kun, turned the humble local breakfast of toasted bread with kaya (coconut jam), half-boiled eggs and local coffee into a multi-million dollar business. Another local traditional chinese medicine brand, Eu Yan Sang, has also turned tradition into a successful business. The list goes on.
Soo Hui Wah
Tan Bee Leng
Norman Lai Art director / designer
This issue of BeMSUE is about this interesting topic – how heritage can become a viable business and how it can be turned into a million-dollar industry. The National Heritage Board plays a key role in nurturing our fledgling heritage industry and making it vibrant through funding incentives, networking opportunities and mentoring and sharing of ideas. You could say that our efforts really go towards weighing in for posterity so that we can nurture the future of generations to come. Till July, let us leave you with one question to think about – “What’s Your Cultural DNA?” Read the July issue to find out more.
Ms Thangamma Karthigesu
Amanda Chan Priscilla Chua Foo Min Li Hong Bei Yu Nicola Kuok Joyce Lee Patricia Levasseur
Alice Mendoza Marcus Ng Katharyn Peh Syed Muhd Hafiz Tan Siu Li Jason Toh Lucille Yap
COVER The Mughal emperor Jahangir weighing his son Prince Khurram [later Shah Jahan] on his 16th birthday, against bags of money for distribution – a royal event celebrated by the whole palace though the ceremonial weighing was attended only by men. Mughal India, c. 1615–25. Image courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum. (1948.10-9.069) Back cover A pair of gold ear ornaments set with rubies, diamonds and emeralds. India, probably Mughal. Probably early 17th century. Image courtesy of © The al-Sabah collection, Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait. printer alsoDominie Press BeMUSE magazine is published by the Education and Outreach Division of the National Heritage Board. If you have any feedback or would like to contribute an article, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org © National Heritage Board, 2010 All right reserved. Views of writers do not necessarily reflect the views of the Publisher. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means, without prior permission in writing from the Publisher and copyright owner. Whilst every case is taken to ensure accuracy of the information in this publication, the Publisher accepts no liability for damages by misinterpretation of information, expressed or implied, within the pages of the magazine.
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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Image courtesy of ÂŠ Walt Disney.
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Group photo of participants from ASEAN countries with NAS staff, showing off their certificates.
National Archives hosts Workshop on Preservation of Recorded Heritage for ASEAN Countries A firm believer and practitioner in continuous learning, the National Archives of Singapore (NAS) not only holds regular training for its staff and other civil service officers who manage corporate records and archives, it also seeks to promote the sharing of knowledge within the region and with the rest of the world.
Based on positive feedback and requests received from the participants, NAS plans to implement two types of training courses in the future. The first would be a more general introductory course to cater to new or entry-level staff, with the objective of exposing them to a wide range of archives management practices and processes. The second would be an advanced course for experienced archivists, with more time devoted to in-depth discussion, hands-on sessions and the latest developments (including techniques used) in the archival world.
From 8-19 March this year, 17 archivists and two librarians from nine ASEAN countries were in Singapore for a two-week “Workshop on Preservation of Recorded Heritage”, jointly conducted by NAS, State Archives Administration of China and Renmin University of China. Jointly sponsored by Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and China’s Ministry of Commerce, under the Singapore-China Third Country Training Programme, the Workshop’s main objective was to provide participants with an overview of a whole spectrum of archives management work. This allowed participants who usually focus on one aspect of preservation or conservation work to be exposed to as many areas of archives management as possible in their role as well-rounded archivists. Combining both theory and practice, the Workshop was purposefully planned to include an interesting mix of lectures, hands-on sessions, social programmes and learning journeys to the Asian Civilisations Museum, the Heritage Conservation Centre, NAS’ World War II galleries and purpose-built repository, as well as Singapore’s Supreme Court (Technology Courtrooms). 6
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Participants trying their hand on removing excess fibre from document after the leafcasting process at NAS’ Archives Conservation Laboratory.
Sharing Singapore’s Culture with the World The National Heritage Board (NHB) ended 2009 with a splash, making waves in several high profile international conferences. At the second Forum d’Avignon (a unique international forum revolving around culture, economy and media) held in Avignon, France, a 300-strong audience from all over the world was introduced to Singapore’s unique cultural experience, shared by NHB CEO Mr Michael Koh. Held from 20-21 November 2009, the Forum discussions and debates focused on the theme Culture, economy, media – the cultural strategies for a new world. Mr Koh was invited to a roundtable session which shed light on the areas of culture and architecture in a 21st century metropolis, in particular, the integration of culture to shape modern cities. The Forum, which was opened by Mr Frédéric Mitterrand, French Minister of Culture and Communication, attracted a host of high-profile individuals which included world-renowned architects, award-winning film directors, and media strategists. Over in Tokyo, the International Council of Museums Asia Pacific (ICOM ASPAC) Conference (7 - 9 December 2009) saw the participation of representatives from the National Museum of Singapore, The National Art Gallery, Singapore and the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, National University of Singapore. Under the conference theme of Rethinking of Museums’ Core Value and Regional Heritage, these delegates presented their experiences and respective areas of expertise to over 120 participants. This included a behind-the-scenes look at the setting up of the highly anticipated National Art Gallery which promises to further enhance Singapore’s standing on the world stage.
Mr Frédéric Mitterrand, French Minister of Culture and Communication addressing the participants at Forum d’Avignon 2009. (Photo courtesy of the Forum d’Avignon).
From left: Architect Mr Paul Andreu (from France) and NHB CEO Mr Michael Koh at Forum d’Avignon 2009. (Photo courtesy of the Forum d’Avignon).
Life’s A Stage Photographs and design by Stanley Yap Text by Evelyn Teng Published by Splash Productions Pte Ltd Retail price: $35 (incl. GST) Photographer Stanley Yap possesses a sensibility for beauty and story in the simple things in life. This fine talent shines through in this delightfully nuanced collection of photographs on the Ong Si Mui Hokkien Opera Troupe, one of only a handful wayang (Hokkien street opera) groups remaining in Singapore. From opera make-up and hair accessories to facial expressions and body language of pain, joy and fear, the details in these pictures beautifully distil the rigour of the craft and the devotion of its performers. Stanley’s interest in this subject was piqued when he caught the troupe’s performance one evening in 2007. Though there were only a few people in the audience, Stanley says, he could see that the elderly opera performers were enjoying themselves on stage. He was touched by their sincerity and dedication. Following the opera troupe around for a month, he caught on camera, photojournalistic style, whatever piqued his curiosity – the drama on stage, the daily life backstage, the audience in front of the stage. “I came as a total stranger, and I walked away a big fan,” says Stanley, of his experience. And that is what he hopes his photographs will help do – entice people to stay and watch if they come across a wayang performance, and move a few hearts for this vanishing art. APRIL - JUNE 2010
Books titled “Malay Language in One Month (Malaiyu Yiyue Tong)” and “25 National Language Lessons” Collection of the National Museum of Singapore
Lim: Awak hendak ka-mana, Tan? (Where are you going, Tan?) Tan: Saya hendak ka-Happy World. (I am going to the Happy World.) The above Malay-English phrases come from Lesson 3 of “25 National Language Lessons” (bottom left), a booklet that was published in conjunction with the launch of Singapore’s first-ever National Language Week in January 1962. Along with other commonly used Malay words and phrases, the booklet was prepared by the Institute of National Language and Culture with the aim of enabling as many citizens as possible to participate actively in the National Language Week, and more importantly, to carry on using the Malay language beyond the campaign. Deemed the National Language by the Singapore Government, Malay was regarded as the language to help foster a common Malayan identity among the people of Singapore. Like its counterpart in Malaya, “Malay Language in One Month” (top left), the booklet featured 25 lessons designed to help non-Malays in Singapore to pick up the language. Given the bilingual nature of these lessons, verbal interaction between non-Malay and Malay readers could also play a part in breaking down communal barriers, with cultural unity attained in the process. In the immediate years after Singapore achieved self-government in 1959, finding ways to forge a Malayan identity and a Malayan culture that would unite the different races of Singapore was always on top of the government’s agenda. And learning Malay for all – the National Language; the language of Malayans – was one of them.
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Lamp Post Boxes Collection of the Singapore Philatelic Museum
These post boxes are recent additions to the Singapore Philatelic Museum (SPM) collection. Shipped all the way from the United Kingdom, these boxes are examples of the types of lamp boxes used in Singapore before 1965. Unlike the two Singapore lamp post boxes handed over to SPM by Singapore Post in 1994, the Royal ciphers of Queen Elizabeth II – EIIR – are clearly displayed on the face of these boxes. The Royal ciphers were removed in the Singapore versions when Singapore became an independent republic. The smallest type of post boxes in use, lamp post boxes were first used in the United Kingdom in 1897. It started when the people of London campaigned for posting facilities within their residential areas. These small boxes were introduced and were attached to lamp posts, thus giving rise to the name “lamp post boxes”. Such boxes were also installed on or imbedded into walls, attached to telegraph poles, or placed on their own free-standing metal pedestals. The use of these boxes became very popular, especially in rural areas where the volume of postings was low. At SPM, one of the newly acquired post boxes sits prominently on the ticket counter. It is used as a special cancellation collection box. Visitors who wish to have their mails cancelled by unique SPM datestamps can drop their mails into this box. The other box is on display in the changing exhibition, “At the Post Office with Max and Phily”.
A Copy of the “Beauties on an Outing” by Li Gonglin Pu Ru (溥儒) Collection of the Asian Civilisations Museum
This painting in the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) entitled ‘A Copy of the “Beauties on an Outing” by Li Gonglin’ was executed by the late Qing (1644-1911) master painter, Pu Ru 溥儒 (1896-1963). Better known as Pu Xinyu (溥心畬), Pu Ru was the great grandson of the Daoguang emperor (r. 1821-1850) and the cousin of the last emperor, Pu Yi 溥仪 (r. 1909-1911). His family background provided him with many opportunities to access the imperial collection and to imitate ancient masterpieces. Based closely on the original work by the Northern Song (960-1127) painter Li Gonglin 李公麟 (1049-1106), Pu vividly depicts nine fair ladies in gorgeous dresses on horseback. The painting features fine delineation of details and rich colours typical of the realistic figure painting popular in the Tang dynasty (618-907). Li’s copy illustrates Du Fu’s 杜甫 (712-770) poem on the famous sister of Yang Guifei 杨贵妃 (719-756), Lady of Guo. However, according to Pu Ru’s inscription, his painting represents the story of another Chinese beauty – Wang Zhaojun 王昭君 in the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), whose marriage to the king of Xiongnu resulted in peace between China and Xiongnu for over 60 years. Pu Ru’s ‘misunderstanding’ of Li may be intentional due to his moral values – Lady of Guo was notorious for her lavish lifestyle and improper relationship with Emperor Xuanzong 玄宗 (r. 712-756). In contrast, Wang Zhaojun was always praised for her self-immolation in the arranged marriage with the Xiongnu ruler.
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Art Goes Online at The Gallery Page Amanda Heng Another Woman 1996 Mixed Media, Variable dimensions Born in 1951, Amanda Heng was one of the founding members of The Artists Village (TAV), a seminal alternative artists’ collective in Singapore. Her multidisciplinary practice began with her art education in LASALLE College of the Arts in 1986. Her active participation in the local arts scene coincided with the formation of TAV in 1987. Since her participation in TAV’s inaugural exhibition, The Open Studio Show, in January 1989, Amanda has been one of the leading contemporary female artists in Singapore. Her works delve into various issues like gender roles and communication within human relationships in an urban environment. To add another dimension to her works, these ideas intersect between eastern and western values and traditions giving multiple readings into her practice. For Another Woman, Amanda’s personal identity and her relationship with her mother become the focal points into her investigations into the positioning of women within family structures. In an alternative display of the work in the ongoing exhibition, Classic Contemporary: Contemporary Southeast Asian Art from the Singapore Art Museum Collection, Amanda utilises photography and assemblages of objects as a means of investigating memory, and in the hope of acquiring a deeper understanding of her self-identity. Amongst her other works within the SAM collection are She and Her Dishcover, Missing and Singirl.
By Syed Muhd Hafiz Assistant Researcher Singapore Art Museum Images: Singapore Art Museum
Singapore Collections Online or SGCOOL is the first online repository of artefacts and artworks in Singapore which makes highlights from the National Heritage Board’s (NHB) collections available to the public. Audiences from Singapore and all over the world can now view cultural treasures and historical artefacts from the comfort of their own homes. From time to time, you can view and appreciate the digital collections of other non-NHB museums in SGCOOL. Over time, we will also be releasing more artefact and artwork images from our own collections periodically. The SGCOOL website is a project developed in tandem with our Integrated Museum Collection Management System (IMCMS). As an on-demand service, IMCMS today delivers a comprehensive range of services to NHB’s museums and institutions. SGCOOL provides a user-friendly way of accessing IMCMS’ database of digitised artefacts and artworks. An initiative from the researchers at the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), the Gallery Page extends the exhibition space beyond the museum walls, furthering discussions after your museum visit. This section will highlight artefacts and artworks from the NHB collection, including those on display in the museums, making the collection more accessible for students and art enthusiasts. Do visit the website at www. sgcool.sg to enrich your art experience!
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Salleh Japar Mechanised Learning, 1993 Mixed Media, 95 x 59 x51 cm Born in 1962 in Singapore, Salleh Japar is best known for his installation works, usually calm and meditative but providing thought-provoking commentaries on notions of the self and societal issues. Salleh began his art education in 1983 at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. He gained prominence in 1988 as part of a 3-man exhibition, titled Trimurti, along with fellow diploma graduates Goh Ee Choo and S. Chandrasekaran. Espousing a ‘new artistic expression’ rooted in Eastern traditions and philosophies, the exhibition proposed an alternative to prevailing contemporary discourses that were seemingly rooted in Western ideas and concepts. Made of found objects and ready-mades, Mechanised Learning is a complex series of interactive objects, of which there are some mechanical parts that can be worked into motion. With the drill violently boring a hole in a stack of books, one of which is Oxford University Press’ ‘The Principles of Art’, the work suggests a certain enforcement in the process of receiving knowledge, which is perhaps rendered mechanically by virtue of a result-oriented educational system. The plaster cast head usually utilised in still-life art classes also hints of a tension with the limits of rationalist inquiry as the basis of true education. Salleh’s other works in the SAM collection include Born out of Fire, Fitrah/Human Nature and Gurisan-Gurisan Maghrib (Lines Between Twilight).
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By Nicola Kuok Assistant Curator Asian Civilisations Museum images: Asian Civilisations Museum
The Hand that Rocks the Cradle and Rules the Empire Great Women of the Mughal Era Through the new exhibition, The Treasury of the World, the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) has given us the opportunity to bring our visitors back in time to the glorious Mughal Empire that ruled much of South Asia from 1526–1858. This exhibition, drawn from the al-Sabah collection of Kuwait, glitters with an array of over 400 pieces of jewelled art. The displays include weaponry, dining ware, ceremonial courtly items, inscribed gems and jewellery. The lavishness of these artefacts is awe inspiring, particularly when we recall that the Mughals began from the humble surroundings of Fergana (an area bordering modern day Kyrgyzstan) in Central Asia. The Mughals were a proud warrior race descended from Timur (1336-1405), who founded the Timurid dynasty and is known as Tamerlane in the West, and the Mongol ruler Chingis Khan (c. 1162-1227). Over the centuries, the Mughals created a vast empire spanning over 1.25 million miles across what is now Northern and Central India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Theirs was an empire of great wealth, colourful tales and legendary characters who star in a drama of romance and intrigue.
Behind the screens ... As we assembled the exhibition I couldn’t help but feel that an important part of Mughal history was missing. The landscape of history has been largely dominated by men. This was no different in the Mughal period when public life was a largely male domain. Throughout the exhibition, one might notice that the majority of the artefacts were made for the use of men, and that the magnificent images of Mughal courtly life depict royals, courtiers, foreign emissaries, merchants and petitioners who are again, all men. Where then were the women? The answer to that is that they were there – watching, but shielded from sight by geometric screens known as jali. Then, women were largely seen as commodities to build political alliances through marriage, and the bearers of sons. Their significance was measured by their relationship with the emperor or the relationship of their family with the emperor. However over the course of Mughal rule, a succession of exceptional women emerged who were often the guiding, and sometimes driving, forces behind the throne of the mighty Mughals.
(Right) The Mughal emperor Jahangir weighing his son Prince Khurram (later Shah Jahan) on his 16th birthday, against bags of money for distribution – a royal event celebrated by the whole palace although only men attended the ceremonial weighing. Mughal India, c. 1615–25. Image courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum. (1948.10-9.069) 14
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Mughal jali or lattice screens were a ubiquitous part of traditional Indian architecture. Sandstone jali from North India, 16th -17th century. Image courtesy of the Asian Civilisations Museum (1995-00605) 16 APRIL - JUNE 2010
Among the most desirable activities for ladies of the court were religious studies. This miniature Qur’an features a white nephrite jade cover inlaid with gold and set with rubies and emeralds. The pendant case is enamelled with champlevé and set with diamonds, rubies and emeralds. India, Deccan or Mughal, 1674-1675. Image courtesy of © The al-Sabah collection, Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait.
Life in the harem Many tales of extravagant debauchery in the imperial harem (or zenana) were often perpetuated by foreign courtiers in the Mughal courts. It is easy to understand that their imaginations were fuelled by the knowledge that the emperors kept around 250-300 wives and concubines. But as they were not allowed to venture into the emperor’s private quarters, their sources of information came largely from the gossip of the bazaar and other courtiers. It is true however that the ladies of the harem did live in relative luxury. Confined to life within the walls of the harem, their needs were provided for in every way. They were given excellent education and had access to the best medical care in the kingdom. Sequestered within the inner sanctum of the palace, the ladies of the harem had many long hours to pass each day which they mostly spent beautifying themselves, sampling delicacies, and indulging in intoxicants. The royal ladies, concubines and their female companions also enjoyed playing games to pass the time. Some of the popular games in the Mughal court were shatranj (chess), chandal mandal, chaupar and pachisi (variations of the modern board game ludo), ganjifa (cards) and ankh michauli (blindman’s bluff ). However, the ladies of the harem were also artistically and intellectually adept. They were skilful designers of jewellery and clothes; composers of music and poetry (sometimes writing under the pen name ‘Makhfi’ or concealed one); articulate in Qur’anic recitation and storytelling; and accomplished painters and dancers. They were economically and socially conscious too. Some of the cannier and wealthier ladies owned ships and dabbled in overseas trade to further supplement their income. Others put their time and wealth towards charity and building works.
It was during the golden age of the Mughals that a few exceptional women arose from behind the veil of the zenana. Renowned for their political cunning, courage, diplomatic prowess, wisdom, perseverance and fortitude, these women have been immortalised through the memoirs of the emperors, court records, letters and travel journals of courtiers and emissaries of the period.
The Great Mughal Rulers Babur (1483 - 1530) r. 1526 - 1530 Humayun (1508 - 1556) r. 1530 - 1540 and 1555 - 1556 Akbar (1542 - 1605) r. 1556 - 1605 Jahangir (1569 - 1627) r. 1605 - 1627 Shah Jahan (1592 - 1666) r. 1627 - 1658 Aurangzeb (1618 - 1707) r. 1658 - 1707 APRIL - JUNE 2010
Huqqa (water pipe) smoking was a common pastime in the Mughal court and often followed the end of each meal. As mouthpieces were not shared, huqqa smokers usually had their own. The imperial workshops created exquisite mouthpieces like this gold one, enamelled in green and set with rubies and diamonds. India, probably Hyderabad, Deccan, late 17th–18th century. Image courtesy of © The al-Sabah collection, Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait.
The Mughals adored perfumes and scented oils. The emperor Akbar (1542–1605) even established a perfumery department within his workshops which created concoctions using musk, ambergris, rosewater, aloe wood and sandal paste to please the noses of the royal household. This miniature cosmetics bottle set with rubies, emeralds and diamonds comes from North India, c.1600–1633. Image courtesy of © The al-Sabah collection, Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait.
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A gold archery ring enamelled with the image of a lady playing a flute. India, probably Hyderabad, Deccan, c.1700. Image courtesy of © The al-Sabah collection , Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait.
Protector of the throne Maham Anaga (d.1562), foster mother of Emperor Akbar “... [She was] a marvel of sense, resource and loyalty” (Abul Fazl, mid-late 16th century vizier and author of the Akbarnama – the memoirs of Akbar) Akbar, the third Mughal emperor, came to the throne at the age of 13. As he was young and unable to control the unruly empire, he depended almost exclusively on his trusted guardian and confidante Biram Khan to rule in his stead as regent. Biram Khan had served both Akbar’s grandfather Babur, as well as his father Humayun. It is to his credit that Akbar’s ascension to the throne was a smooth one as Biram Khan did his best to lay the early foundations of the empire for the boy king. It was only through the manoeuvrings of Akbar’s foster mother Maham Anaga, that Akbar’s reliance on Biram Khan, a man affectionately known to him from childhood as “Khan Baba’ (father khan), was gradually broken. As Akbar grew older and more rebellious, Maham Anaga encouraged him to seize the reigns of his kingdom back from Biram who had by then become a powerful force in his own right. At the age of 18, with Maham Anaga’s assistance, Akbar broke away from Biram Khan. She orchestrated a plan to remove him from Biram’s immediate influence. On the pretext of going on a hunt and then to visit his mother, Akbar set off with his retinue, taking any possible contenders to his throne with him as he left Agra. Maham Anaga had quietly been recruiting allies for Akbar and arranged for the defences of the fortress at Delhi to be strengthened to protect Akbar from Biram Khan’s men.
Mediator and advisor Salima Sultan (d.1612),
one of Emperor Akbar’s chief empresses Akbar’s reign was fraught with courtly intrigues and rebellions. When his adored son Jahangir rebelled, it distressed him greatly. His heartbreak was further compounded when shortly thereafter Jahangir engineered the murder of Abul Fazl, one of Akbar’s dearest courtiers and the author of his memoirs the Akbarnama. This drove a further wedge in their three-year long feud. Salima Sultan Begum, one of Akbar’s chief empresses and his favourite wife, took it upon herself to effect reconciliation between the two men. Leaving the harem, she took an elephant, a horse and a robe of honour as gifts for Jahangir in Allahabad. Once she had an audience with the young prince, she berated him and shamed him into contrition. The errant prince was led back to Agra by Salima, whereupon she handed him over to Akbar’s mother Hamida who threw the prince at his father’s feet to beg forgiveness. Through their collective efforts, Akbar and Jahangir were reunited. The ladies of the harem were also well versed in matters of state. They often attended the durbar or throne room, concealed behind lattice screens surrounding the halls, where they would listen to the petitions of those who had an audience with the emperor. On occasion, the begums (as Muslim women of high rank were titled) were known to speak up to offer their views or to plead for clemency on a petitioner’s behalf. Ironically, when Jahangir later became emperor, his son Khusrau too rebelled against him. After quashing the rebellion, Jahangir and his amir (officers) were deciding on whether to execute Khusrau’s accomplice and father-in-law, Mir Aziz Koka. Salima Begum spoke out from behind the screens, summoning the emperor up to the harem. His respect for the wisdom and seniority of the dowager empress compelled Jahangir to listen and heed her advice.
Later, all of Biram Khan’s attempts at reconciliation with the emperor were thwarted by Maham Anaga whose schemes saw Biram effectively exiled from the court as he was sent by Akbar on pilgrimage to Mecca. Whether Maham Anaga really intended to protect Akbar’s throne from possible usurpation, or whether she was jealous of Biram’s power and control over Akbar, is debatable. What is without a doubt, though, was her devotion to Akbar. She was completely subservient to his will. When Maham Anaga’s own beloved son Adham was executed by Akbar for the murder of the courtier Atga Khan, she neither lamented nor protested Akbar’s decision – simply replying “You have done well”. This formidable woman, once allied to the most powerful men at court, was so grief-stricken that 40 days after Adham’s execution, she too died.
These game pieces were made with cowrie shells, dipped in gold and each painted with a highly detailed and unique bird. They may have also served as dice – the value of which was calculated by whether they landed face up or down when thrown. India, Mughal or Deccan, late 16th – early half of 17th century. Image courtesy of © The al-Sabah collection , Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait.
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This pen box consists of a cylindrical container for ink and a matching pen case for the calligrapher’s reed pen. Carved from pale nephrite jade, it is set with emeralds and rubies in a delicate floral pattern. India, Mughal, c.1650. Image courtesy of © The al-Sabah collection , Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait.
The power behind the throne Mehrunissa (1577–1645), Emperor Jahangir’s chief empress “In music, in dancing, in poetry, in painting, she had no equal among her sex. Her disposition was volatile, her wit lively and satirical, her spirit lofty and uncontrolled” (Alexander Dow, early-mid 18rh century officer with the East India Company, and author of the History of Hindostan) Arguably the most influential woman in the empire, Mehrunissa was a legend in the Mughal court. She was of Persian ancestry and her father had come to India to serve in the court of Akbar. Mehrunissa was a renowned beauty who married Jahangir in 1611 at the age of 34 – an unthinkably late age at the time. She was his twentieth (and last) wife and he, her second husband. But in each other they found contentment and in their marriage Jahangir claimed to have finally found domestic bliss. Mehrunissa would later be known by her title Nur Jahan (Light of the World), and after the death of Salima Begum, she was given the title of Padshah Begum – the chief empress of the realm. With this title came tremendous power. The chief empress often played an advisory role in matters of state. The emperor’s royal seal was usually kept in her possession. Thus this gave her the opportunity to review all important documents, letters and imperial decrees. Mehrunissa was a talented artist, an adept designer, an accomplished poet and possessed great skill in the design of architectural monuments. Beyond that, she also proved a wise administrator. She sat with Jahangir in the balcony of the jharoka, a public assembly to listen to nobles 20
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make their petitions and she often gave him advice on the ruling of the empire. When he was too ill or too inebriated from the excessive consumption of wine, Nur Jahan lovingly nursed him back to health while ruling in his stead. Nur Jahan issued imperial decrees and had coins minted in her own name. By all accounts from foreign as well as local courtiers, she was competent to govern the Mughal Empire. She was also renowned for her compassion. Jahangir’s courtier, Mutamid Khan records that during her reign, she befriended over 500 destitute or orphaned girls, arranging marriages and providing dowries for them. A wily tactician, Nur Jahan also attempted to protect her power in the court by placing her family in high positions within the Mughal government. She formed a junta or alliance with her father, her brother Asif Khan and Jahangir’s favourite son Shah Jahan. However the winds of fortune were fickle in the Mughal court – sometimes favouring Shah Jahan as Jahangir’s successor to the throne, and at other times his brother Shahryar. By marrying her niece Arjumand to Shah Jahan, and her daughter Ladli to Sharyar, she hoped to cover her bases and insure her future. Perhaps the incident that best reflects the mettle of this exceptional lady was one in which the emperor Jahangir was abducted by his traitorous courtier Mahabat Khan while encamped on the East bank of the Jhelum river. The royal family, unaware of what had transpired during this time, crossed over to the West bank before the alarm was raised. However in the hurried abduction, Mahabat Khan had either forgotten to capture the empress as well or had not counted her as a significant threat. Nur Jahan seized the opportunity to rally the imperial forces and mount a rescue mission back across the river. She joined the army in the battle charge, seated in a covered howdah (carriage) on the back of an elephant, and carrying her infant granddaughter and a terrified nursemaid. However, the mission was a disaster – with both the elephant and nursemaid wounded, and the army largely scattered, she was forced to retreat. Finding herself in a predicament, Nur Jahan selflessly crossed the river to surrender herself so that she could be by her husband’s side in captivity. (Right) A painting of Nur Jahan seated with Jahangir and Prince Khurram (later Shah Jahan). India, Mughal dynasty, c. 1624. Image courtesy of the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC (F1907.258)
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Beloved wife and mother Arjumand (1593 – 1631), Emperor Shah Jahan’s chief empress
later conferred the title of Mumtaz Mahal (Beloved Ornament of the Palace) upon Arjumand and made her his chief empress. She would undoubtedly have made her mark on history as her aunt Mehrunissa had done, if she had lived longer. Sadly, four years after Shah Jahan’s ascension to the throne, Arjumand died while bearing their 14th child. Shah Jahan was so heartbroken by the loss of his beloved wife that he built the greatest mausoleum in the world, the Taj Mahal as a testament to his love for her.
“He did not feel towards the others onethousandth part of the affection that he did for Her Late Majesty.” (Inayat Khan, early 17th century chronicler of Shah Jahan’s court) The Mughal empresses and princesses were no strangers to hardship and often had to stoically endure long periods in exile or captivity with their husbands or suffer extreme discomfort and danger to life on the run during long periods when their husbands staged coups against the emperor. Humayun’s wife Hamida lived in exile with him, as did Khusrau’s wife Khalifa during his imprisonment and Shah Jahan’s wife Arjumand Banu Begum during his rebellion. Shah Jahan was as dependant on Arjumand as his father Jahangir had been on Mehrunissa (Nur Jahan). Chroniclers in Shah Jahan’s court record that she was “his intimate companion, colleague and close confidante in distress and comfort, joy and grief ”. So great was his love for Arjumand, that Shah Jahan could not bear to be separated from her even when on campaign – an awesome feat considering that she spent most of their marriage in a succession of pregnancies. Shah Jahan
Pendant with a cameo portrait of the emperor Shah Jahan set with rubies. India, Mughal, c.1650–1660. Image courtesy of © The al-Sabah collection, Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait.
Gold cup enamelled with motifs of grapes and poppies. It is likely that these cups would have been used to drink a mixture of wine and opium. India, probably Mughal, 2nd quarter of 17th century. Image courtesy of © The al-Sabah collection , Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait. 22 APRIL - JUNE 2010
Devoted daughter Jahanara (1614–1681),
Emperor Shah Jahan’s favourite child “Her father loved [her] to an extraordinary degree, as most lovely, discreet, loving, generous, open minded and charitable. She was loved by all…” (Niccolao Manucci, mid-17th century Italian traveller and author of Storia do Mogor –History of the Mughals) After the death of Mumtaz Mahal, the devastated Shah Jahan came to rely heavily on their eldest daughter Jahanara for companionship. In addition to taking custody of the imperial seal from her late mother, Jahanara also took on the responsibility of caring for her father and her younger siblings. Shah Jahan and Jahanara were completely devoted to each other. She personally supervised every dish that was served to her father, and tended to him to the exclusion of everything else when he was ill. In turn, when Jahanara suffered severe burns as a result of a near fatal accident, the grief stricken emperor administered her medicines, diet and the changing of her bandages himself, curtailing all his public duties to tend to his daughter. She was bestowed the title Sahibat al-Zamani (Lady of the Age) – a fitting honour for one who took an active role in charity work, financing the construction of mosques, public gardens and the Chandni Chowk (the central bazaar) of the city of Delhi. Jahanara openly supported her brother and heir apparent, Dara Shikoh, as successor to the Mughal throne. Had Dara been successful in his bid for the throne, Jahanara’s political influence would have been much greater in the Mughal court. Alas, Shah Jahan was overthrown and incarcerated by his son Aurangzeb in 1658 in the Agra Fort. Jahanara voluntarily opted for imprisonment alongside her father so that she could continue to be his carer. She lived in the fortress for eight years until Shah Jahan’s death in 1666.
A steel elephant goad with gilded silver decoration and handle in carved rock crystal. India, Mughal or Deccan, c. first half 17th century. Image courtesy of © The al-Sabah collection , Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait. Nephrite jade pendant inlaid in gold with the name of the emperor Shah Jahan. India, Mughal, dated 1637 – 1638. Image courtesy of © The al-Sabah collection , Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait.
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The real treasures of the Mughal Empire Within this brief space, it is impossible to include all the noteworthy women of the Mughal Empire. For instance, I have failed to mention others such as Gulbadan Begum, the sister of emperor Humayun who authored his memoirs, the Humayunama, as well as Zebunissa, the literarily accomplished and articulate daughter of emperor Aurangzeb. Few pictures survive of these wonderful ladies, largely because of their lives of seclusion within the harem. But from accounts within and beyond the palace, we know that they were gifted with beauty, intellect, creativity and compassion. Were it not for the silent support of the fairer sex, it is highly doubtful that the Mughal empire would have enjoyed the long and illustrious history, nor the romantic and academic interest that it still continues to inspire today. Though the coffers of the Mughal dynasty overflowed with great riches and fabulous gems, there can be little doubt that the real treasures of the empire were its women.
(Right) Gold hair plait ornament set with diamonds, rubies and emeralds. India, Deccan or Mughal, c. 18th century. Image courtesy of © The al-Sabah collection , Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait.
Armbands set with navaratna or nine auspicious stones. These are ruby, diamond, pearl, coral, zircon, sapphire, chrysoberyl (cat’s eye), yellow topaz and emerald. India, perhaps Hyderabad, 18th – early 19th century. Image courtesy of © The al-Sabah collection , Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait.
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Finger ring with rotating and bobbing bird set with rubies, emeralds, chrysoberyl cat’s eyes, diamonds and a single sapphire. India, Mughal or Deccan, c.1600 – 1625. Image courtesy of © The al-Sabah collection , Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait.
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A Confluence of Language, Culture and Politics By Jason Toh Curator National Museum of Singapore and Priscilla Chua Assistant Curator National Museum of Singapore images: National Museum of Singapore
Politics and the struggle for one’s Independence have always been the defining corner-stone of the post-World War II chapter in the Singapore Story. Whilst before, tears were shed in that inevitable moment of anguish, hope and optimism were brimming in the air in 1960. That year, according to the then new Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, would be a year of consolidation as opposed to the year before which was a year of decisive change. There was certainly much to consolidate and improve upon. Calls for a better and brighter future were projected to the people by the new Government and the print media trumpeted the ideas of independence through Merger with Mother Malaya. Singapore was embarking on a brave new social experiment, transforming herself from being a subject of a colonial empire into an independent nation with her own identity. Culture was seen by her new leaders to play a significant role in uniting the people of the different races and ethnicities. Of the 1, 611,900 population in 1960 Singapore, 1, 213,600 were Chinese, 222,800 were Malays, 137,300 were Indians, 12,200 Eurasians and 26,000 others. Her racial mix was to be a source of contention throughout her quest to merge with Malaya. In the minds of people then, there was no distinction between Singapore and Malaya. In fact, in the official transcript of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s New Year speech in 1960, time was recorded as ‘Malayan time’.
“If 1959 was a year of decisive change, let 1960 be a year of consolidation. […] Let us look forward to progress in the year ahead. Through hard work, faith and a little good fortune, may 1960 bring more happiness to more of us.” – Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in his first New Year Day speech to the nation
(Left) Oil painting titled “Swearing-in of Mr Lee Kuan Yew as Prime Minister of Singapore on 5 June 1959” by Lai Kui Fang, 1997, NMS collection
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Piano belonging to the late Encik Zubir Said, composer of the Singapore National Anthem, 1900s, donated by the owner, NMS collection
The Politics of Language
Riding on the fervour of having achieved self-rule in 1959, the Government’s immediate task was to unite the different races of Singapore, which had been previously divided into separate enclaves during British colonial rule. The late Mr S. Rajaratnam, (1915 to 2006) Singapore’s first Minister for Culture, in his September 1960 article ‘Malayan Culture in the Making’ published in Petir (the official magazine for the People’s Action Party) outlined the following point: “The possibility of racial conflict is a real one and potentialities for it have increased rather than decreased as a result of self-government in Singapore and merdeka (freedom, independence) in the Federation. This is particularly the case in a democratic society where popular attitudes and sentiments shape the course of events.” The concern for Singapore’s cultural evolution and the integration of multi-ethnic communities in a plural society was a top-down initiative for the new socialist-conscious Government. The establishment of the Dewan Bahasa dan Kebudayaan Kebangsaan (Institute of National Language and Culture) in 1960 was indicative of the important roles language and culture had to play in nation-building. A common language, in particular, was a popular tool used by the Government at that time in its attempt at forging cultural unity, via a common Malayan culture. It was also through language that the awakening of a national consciousness – in the form of a shared Malayan identity – was starting to be seen within society in Singapore during the early 1960s. With genres ranging from educational materials to the philosophical, as well as literature and commemorative union and school alumni magazines, there was a great diversity of books that were read by the masses in Singapore during the 1950s and 1960s. While a vast majority of these were Chinese 28
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books, hence reflecting the ethnic make-up of the population then, what was perhaps more striking was that a great number of the content already illustrated a sense of belonging to Singapore and, in the larger sense, Malaya. Through the songs and poems that were written, the tone was clear that Singapore and Malaya were now regarded as the new homeland, and such literary expressions could be interpreted as the emergence of a consciousness that had begun to identify itself with the Malayan culture. Even as the concept of a Malayan culture and identity was taking shape on the ground, the Government recognised the need to actively promote the use of the National Language and to make its learning accessible to as many people as possible. Understandably, Malay was designated the National Language, and under the leadership of the late Mr Rajaratnam, Malay lessons were designed and compiled into booklets of instruction for non-Malays to pick up the language. Books such as 25 National Language Lessons were published with the common objective of popularising Malay, the National Language, across the different races in Singapore. As these instructional booklets provided both English and Chinese translations of frequently-used Malay words and phrases, it allowed for inter-racial communication and such interaction would play a part in breaking down communal barriers. The notion of harnessing the power of language to create a united Malayan culture was most resonant in the newspapers of the day. Selected articles from Nanyang Siang Pau, Berita Harian and mostly The Straits Times from the year 1960 give a good representation of the fundamental role language played in nation-building efforts. Headlines such as ‘Languages to break communal barriers’ and ‘Way now clear for Language Institute’ were common themes in the papers throughout 1960. As the articles would inform readers, the Government embarked on a nationwide project to propagate the use of the Malay language
A book titled “Mastering the Malay Language in One Month (Malaiyu Yiyue Tong)”, Late 1950s, NMS collection.
among non-Malays through various mass mediums that included textbooks and books on learning Malay, as well as radio programmes in the National Language. The setting up of the Institute of the National Language thus helped to manage and coordinate the work as the Government sought to foster a multi-racial and multi-cultural Malayan society that the people of Singapore could call home.
The Politics of Culture
To understand the need to create a unified Malayan culture as quickly as possible in self-governing Singapore, one first needs to understand that as an immigrant society, colonial Singapore was composed of segregated and self-contained racial and ethnic communities that was transient in nature. As a form of effective social control, the colonial authorities ensured that each of the people had their own spaces within the colonial structure and this was best exemplified by the 1822 Town Plan of Singapore where each community group was allocated land based upon their ethnicity as well as their trade. This pecking order allowed for specific communal cultures to be developed that linked these immigrants back to their homeland, be it in China, India, the Malay Archipleago or Europe. In self-governing Singapore, this divisive mindset had to be changed especially in the light of the racial riots of the 1950s and early sixties. To the late Mr Rajaratnam, Malayan culture was defined as shared practices, beliefs, attitudes and values among the Chinese, Malays, Indians and Western-educated alike who all subscribed to a new form of democracy operating in a common economic sphere. Similarities that could bring about common ground to the different races were advocated
A booklet titled”25 National Language Lessons”, 1962, NMS Collection.
“For us the creation of a Malayan culture is a matter of practical politics. It is as essential for us to lay the foundations for a Malayan culture, as it is for us to build hospitals, schools and factories and provide jobs for our rapidly growing population.” – S. Rajaratnam, Petir magazine, September 1960 rather than differences that differentiated one from the other. An example would be the commissioning of the National Anthem ‘Majulah Singapura’ (Onward Singapore) by the late Encik Zubir Said (1907-1987) – the first shared cultural entity of a newly shared Singapore for everyone. Hearkening all citizens to move forward with their country, the rousing lyrics were meant to be simple and easily understood by all, especially the non-Malay population. This idea of a unified Malayan culture was nothing new but a crystallisation of a cultural concept that had existed through time in Singapore and Malaya but had not been articulated by anyone previously. Malayan culture could be seen on the outset APRIL - JUNE 2010
Oil painting titled “Malay Wedding” by Georgette Chen, 1959, NMS collection.
Oil painting titled “National Language Class” by Chua Mia Tee, 1960, SAM collection.
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Coloured postcard of the Haw Par Villa (Tiger Balm Gardens), 1960s, NMS collection
as a hybrid culture borne under the influence of the interactions of two or more cultures. In multicultural places like Singapore and Malaya, communal cultures are not self-contained and thus cannot exist in its pure form. For example, a Chinese who lived through the 1960s is more likely to know how to speak Malay (or bazaar Malay) to his non-Chinese friends, eat prata at the road-side stall and wear a Western shirt and pants to work. Malayan culture was meant not to be bound by history or tradition as it looks not to a past for inspiration but draws on the influences of the present. Multicultural and multi-racial in nature, the Malayan culture was a forward thinking yet practical (in Singapore’s case) concept at a time when segregation and racial inequality were worldwide phenomena. The development of a consciousness of a shared Malayan culture was equally vital. Besides having a common language to promote common understanding among the different races, the notion of a Malayan consciousness or identity was manifested in the everyday life through popular films, fashion and the arts. To be conscious of being Malayan meant that one needed to look beyond ones skin-tone or religious affiliations. Communal (or racial) barriers had to be broken and one was no longer Chinese, Indian, Malay or Eurasian but Malayan.
Road Map to Singapore and the Federation of Malaya, 1960, NMS collection.
Colonial society’s emphasis on class divide was no longer valid in the new socialist Order of the day. Instead, the self-worth of a united People gave rise to poetry like that of the late Ee Tiang Hong’s ‘Song of a Young Malayan’ published in his book of poems The Many Faces of I in 1960. In the poem, he attempts to try to find a new post-colonial voice while writing in the language of the colonialists. This was one of the first English educated responses to being and feeling Malayan. Through its syntax, one can even detect the first resonances of a localised form of English which Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans now term as Singlish. In the visual arts, artists took inspiration from their tropical environment and local indigenous themes to create artworks that celebrated beauty in the everyday life of the ordinary. An outdoor kampong (village) wedding, a Satay seller plying his ware to the swaying of coconut trees along the sandy beach, still-life of quench-thirsting tropical fruits such as the pineapple and the pomelo – works by artists such as the late Georgette Chen, Choo Keng Kwang and Lee Sow Lim form the legacies of our shared Malayan past. Such an idyllic lifestyle of an idealised past might seem far removed from our current realities but in 1960, such works promoted the very essence of Malayan culture – that of cross-cultural fertilisation through tolerance and appreciation of other cultures and practices.
A year on the cusp of change
To the people of Singapore who participated in this new social experiment of being transformed into new Malayan citizens in the early 1960s, having a shared Malayan culture and a common language were not sufficient to stoke the flames of communalism. The inevitable happened and on 9 August 1965, Singapore became an independent country on its own.
A copy of Her World magazine, 1962, NMS collection.
In the aftermath of this historic event so well captured in celluloid for posterity, the late Mr Rajaratnam tirelessly crafted the National Pledge, an oath of allegiance to Singapore typically recited by Singaporeans especially in schools after singing the National Anthem. For him, Singapore’s strategy for survival was hinged upon the “concept of a multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-lingual society [which] will develop in us the values of tolerance, sympathetic curiosity about other people, most APRIL - JUNE 2010
A pair of jade lions, 20th century, Aw Boon Haw Jade Collection, NMS Collection
Porcelain coffee cup and saucer, 1960s, NMS collection
important of all, a sense of affinity with people who differ from us in race, language or religion”, sentiments no doubt brought about by the failed dream of a pan-Malayan nation encompassing Singapore. Representative of the psychology of a new nation coming into being, both our National Anthem and National Pledge interestingly feature a common word – happiness. This is a simple word yet in reality not a very easy belief system to attain. Fifty years on in the year 2010, we are still grappling with the same issues surrounding language, culture and politics although the circumstances differ from those encountered in 1960. Singapore is once again at the cusp of change and it is a timely reminder for all of us to look at ourselves closer and perhaps learn how to sing our National Anthem properly and also start to understand deeper the significance behind our National Pledge – two of our national symbols that are truly Singapore. To be held from 3 June till 22 August 2010, the special exhibition Singapore 1960 focuses on the cultural forces at work behind our new Nation. The exhibition gallery will be transformed into a vibrant and colourful ‘live’ show set where over 300 artefacts from the National Museum’s collection are presented to reveal the emergence of a semblance of a Singapore society amid the political rumblings in the year 1960. Singapore 1960 opens to the public on 3 June and lasts till 22 August at the Exhibition Gallery 1 (Basement), National Museum of Singapore. Admission is free. References: Eds. Chan Heng Chee & Obaid Ul Haq, S. Rajaratnam: The Prophetic and the Political, ISEAS: 2006 Irene Ng, The Singapore Lion: A Biography of S. Rajaratnam, ISEAS: 2010 Straits Times, Jan – Dec 1960 Singapore Government Press Statement, Text of a Broadcast over Radio Singapore by the Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, on January 1, 1960 at 7.10pm
Modern-style batik sarong kebaya, Mid1960s, NMS collection 32
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Photograph of a night scene at the Happy World Amusement Park by Dr Carl Gibson-Hill, 1950s, NMS collection
Gelatin silver photographic print of a Satay seller by Lee Sow Lim, Late 1950s, NMS collection
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Scenes From a Cinematic Past: Ming Wongâ€™s
By Patricia Levasseur Assistant Curator Singapore Art Museum and Alice Mendoza Project Assistant Singapore Art Museum images: Singapore Art Museum
Designed by Ming Wong and hand-painted by Mr Neo Chon Teck Life of Imitation 2009 Billboard painting, acrylic emulsion on canvas 222 x 229 cm Artist collection 34
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(Top) Ming Wong In Love For The Mood 2009 3 channel video installation, shot on HD, 16:9, in colour with audio 4 mins looped Artist collection
(Left) Ming Wong Filem-Filem-Filem (photo series) 2009-2010 Polaroid 8.9 x 10.8 cm Artist collection
To escape either from the mundane and frenetic pace of city-living, or from a too-relaxed and seemingly repetitive lifestyle in the boondocks, one watches a movie. Nowadays, one does not need to go all the way to the cinema to watch a film. We can re-create the cinematic experience at home through gigantic TV monitors and powerful sound systems, the mini screens of portable DVD players or even the newest generation of mobile phones. Nevertheless, for most film buffs or cinemaphiles, going to the cinema to watch a movie is an inimitable experience. Cinema attendance in Singapore is still going strong, especially with most cinemas being located in shopping complexes, which allows cinema goers to conveniently indulge in other forms of leisure like shopping, eating, playing video games and so on. However, once upon a time in the Singapore of the 1950s and 1960s, the cinema stood alone – the focus of a magic that allowed one to enter a make-believe world. There were no designer shops or video game arcades to distract film goers; it was just entering a dark room and being transported to a fantasy world for the next one-and-ahalf to two hours. The exploration of the Golden Age of Singapore cinema in the 50s and 60s provides the main theme of Ming Wong’s Life of Imitation – a multi-media installation consisting of video works, documentary films, billboard paintings and photographs. Curated by Tang Fu Kuen, this work was exhibited at the Singapore Pavilion at the 36
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(Right) Ming Wong Four Malay Stories 2005 4 channel video installation, shot on DV, 4:3, in black/white with audio 25 mins looped Artist collection
53rd Venice Biennale in 2009 and won its Special Jury Mention award. From 22 April to 22 August 2010, the Singapore Art Museum restages this award-winning exhibition with a new design and additional exhibits. To play up the theme of the cinema, the entrance and foyer of SAM will be re-created to resemble an old cinema – including eight painted cinema billboards done by Singapore’s last surviving billboard painter, Neo Chon Teck. Once regarded as just “entertainment banners”, the billboards, to quote curator Tang Fu Kuen, have become “inimitable works of art”. In the exhibition, three video installations by Ming Wong will be presented. Life of Imitation (2009), which provides the title for the entire exhibition, is a re-presenting of Imitation of Life (1959), a melodrama by Hollywood director, Douglas Sirk. It features three men in drag, of Chinese, Malay and Indian ethnicity, taking turns to play a black mother and her ‘white’ daughter in a scene where the daughter vehemently
Sherman Ong Mr Neo Chon Teck, last cinema billboard painter in Singapore 2009 Video documentary 3.46 min Artist collection
refuses to acknowledge that she has black roots. The title of the second video work, In Love for the Mood, which was also made in 2009, references Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000). In Ming’s version, a Caucasian actress plays both the male and female roles of the two star-crossed lovers, originally played by Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung. The actress, who does not speak Cantonese, attempts to intone in Cantonese by repeating Ming’s offcamera prompts. They re-enact a scene from Wong’s movie in which Maggie Cheung’s character, Mrs So, uses Tony Leung’s character, Mr Chow, as a standin for her husband as she rehearses the way she will confront her actual husband about his infidelity. Four Malay Stories (2005) is the third video installation featured in the exhibition. This particular work pays homage to legendary actor and director, P. Ramlee, who is considered as the wunderkind of Malay cinema of
the 50s and 60s. This film features a compendium of some of P. Ramlee’s most popular movies, in which Ming attempts to learn Malay lines to portray a spectrum of characters from four classic works by P. Ramlee: Ibu Mertua Ku / My Mother-in-Law (1962), Labu dan Labi / Labu and Labi (1962), Doktor Rushdi / Doctor Rushdi (1971) and Semerah Padi / The Village of Semerah Padi (1956). The exhibition also features Filem-FilemFilem (2008), which is Ming’s charting of a photo-journey from Singapore to Malaysia, during which he captured Polaroid images of old cinemas that epitomised what Tang Fu Kuen terms the “architecture of entertainment”. Built to draw the masses for an evening of entertainment, the buildings boast grand designs with modernist Art Deco, Bauhaus and International Style features that had been adapted for the tropical climate in Asia. Another component of the exhibition are rare artefacts belonging to private collector Wong Han Min. These artefacts,
which have been lovingly reconstructed, depict the evolution of local cinema buildings in the previous century, from old movie tickets and cinema reviews to colourful posters and painted handbills. Finally, the exhibition showcases ‘creative documentaries’ by Singapore-based film-maker, Sherman Ong, whose works feature interview encounters with individuals whose deeds and aspirations make up Singapore’s collective film memory, namely – Neo Chon Teck (the island’s last cinema billboard painter), Wong Han Min (the aforementioned private collector of cine-memorabilia), and a movie-ticket seller. Through this exhibition, the Singapore Art Museum is providing an opportunity for audiences in Singapore to view the nation’s one-and-only submission to the 2009 Venice Biennale: a retrospective celebration of the inimitable experience of going to the cinema and seeing the world up on the silver screen.
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Scenes from the National Museum’s Night Festival 2009. Images courtesy of National Museum of Singapore.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE:
A helping hand for Singapore’s heritage ecosystem
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Mr. Eugene Tay was having drinks with author Adeline Foo at a café by the Asian Civilisations Museum one day. Joining them in lively conversation were two staff members of the National Heritage Board (NHB). The banter “drifted from books to history” and Mr. Tay recalls that at some point, he shot off his mouth “about how the young today need more than books to engage them and how cool it would be to have a board game on Singapore’s history.” That remark turned out to be an ‘Eureka’ moment. For the talk turned to the NHB’s Hi P initiative. After hearing about the heritage funding scheme, Mr. Tay found himself facing the question, “Why don’t you do it?” According to Mr. Tay, who is the director of a creative writing school called Monsters Under the Bed, the challenge was a no brainer: “the rest, as they say, is history.” What emerged after more than a year of designing and testing was Journal Singapore, a strategic board game based on Singapore’s past milestones. Launched this January by Monsters Under the Bed (MUtB), the game lets players assume the roles of local pioneers and personalities as they manoeuvre through the landmark events that shaped Singapore from the colonial era to independence in 1965. 2
What does Hi2P do? Hi2P funding is targeted at private-sector projects that showcase Singapore’s heritage both locally and abroad, and provides an incentive for the development of new and innovative heritage and museum products. The programme also serves to encourage private players in the heritage scene to upgrade their capabilities and collaborate in joint incentives where there are mutual synergies.
The brain child of MUtB and co-developer Outpost Gaming Studios, Journal Singapore is one of the newest projects to benefit from Hi2P, short for the Heritage Industry Incentive Programme. Launched in September 2008 following a pilot stage in 2007, Hi2P (pronounced as ‘Hip’) is a NHB initiative that provides seed funding for private museums and heritage ventures, with $8 million earmarked over the period from 2008 to 2011.
Approved projects receive from Hi2P up to 50% or $100,000 (whichever is lower) of development costs, which includes the following areas: capability development in skills, knowledge and know-how; heritage and cultural product development; marketing and branding; research and content creation; and technology and innovation.
The aim of Hi2P and other related schemes is to foster a vibrant heritage ecosystem where individuals and enterprises with creative ideas for heritage-related products and services can
For more information, visit the Hi2P website at: http://yesterday.sg/hi2p/
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Journal Singapore is a role playing game based on Singapore’s history and pioneers. Images courtesy of Monsters Under the Bed.
receive support to kick-start their plans and sustain their initial efforts. Underpinning these programmes is the Renaissance City Plan III, through which the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA) seeks to transform Singapore into a place where citizens and visitors alike can work, play and learn amid a thriving hub of heritage, arts and culture.
Finding new ideas from Singapore’s past Singapore may lack ancient icons such as great walls and grand temple complexes. Nonetheless, the island’s vibrant past, from the legacy of British rule to the unique amalgamation of local and immigrant cultures, offers a treasure trove of ideas and images that have inspired a new generation of entrepreneurs as well as aficionados who seek to unearth and share fresh nuggets of local history. Adeline Foo, who witnessed the conception of Journal Singapore during that fateful day, is one of the first beneficiaries of Hi2P funding. Through Hi2P, the NHB supported her writing of a series of children’s books on the life of a Peranakan family as seen through the eyes of Puteh, an 40
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inquisitive young Nonya. The first two books, The Kitchen God and The Beaded Slippers, were published in conjunction with the opening of the Peranakan Museum in April 2008. Puteh returned for more adventures in two further books, Chilli Padi and The Amulet, published in 2009. Painter, poet and sculptor Tan Swie Hian, 66, was the focus of a Hi2P project that resulted in a Chinese language book, Aesthetic Theories of Works of Tan Swie Hian, that sheds light on Cultural Medallion-winning artist’s body of work and his artistic philosophies. Complementing the publication was an art exhibition at the Tan Swie Hian Museum at Sims Avenue by local artist Raymond Lau, which was also supported by Hi2P for its role in exposing more people to one of Singapore’s most renowned multidisciplinary artists. Hi2P also helped to fund an exhibition titled Inroads; Lim Tze Peng’s New Ink Work, which was held at the Art Retreat, a private art museum from 18 August to 4 October 2008. The exhibition, a joint collaboration with collector Mr Koh Seow Chuan, who is currently the Chairman of the National Art Gallery, Singapore, was an opportunity to introduce a new generation to Lim (b. 1923), a pioneer Singapore artist and Cultural Medallion winner known for his realistic landscape paintings and ink calligraphy.
More active pursuits resulting from Hi2P’s first year include a guided tour of Singapore’s World War II sites on an open air bus as well as walking tours along the Singapore River by tour companies City Tours and Journeys Tours & Travel Services, respectively.
Growing Singapore’s cultural landscape One could regard schemes such as Hi2P as both a result and natural extension of a more mature and heterogeneous cultural landscape. For decades, the arts and heritage scene in Singapore was dominated by state or educational entities such as museums and universities. Their priorities and public activities reflected the urgent and overwhelming task of nation-building in a society that faced a sudden independence. But as Singapore grew in prosperity and confidence, a hunger emerged for rediscovering the nation’s past and exploring the traditions and values of yesteryear, perhaps as a necessary counterpoint to the nuts and bolts of material success. Recognising the need to promote a sense of national identity through heritage as well as address a palpable demand for more sophisticated and better quality exhibitions and galleries, the authorities laid the foundations for the present stable of museums and other heritage institutions managed by the National Heritage Board. As Mr Lui Tuck Yew, then Senior Minister of State of the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA), put it during the launch of Hi2P in 2008, heritage “serves as a unifying force for Singaporeans in our multi-cultural and multi-racial society” and as a source of “cultural ballast and inspiration.” Surveying the local scene, Mr Lui noted then that Singapore’s heritage ecosystem had come a long way from just one institution, the former Raffles Museum, to a diverse landscape of 55 national monuments plus 52 museums and galleries that drew more than 5.2 million visitors in 2007. The landscape has continued to grow in the year since with six new National Monuments gazetted in late 2009 and a new record of more than 6.5 million museum visitors in 2008. “Beyond the museums and galleries, other players in Singapore’s heritage scene include conservators, exhibition fabricators, curators, collectors, art logistic handlers, historians, researchers and other related businesses,” added Mr Lui. “If we cast the net wider, the list encompasses publishing firms, media companies, travel agencies, retailers and even restaurants. Collectively, this interconnected web of people, private and public organisations make up our vibrant, diverse and unique heritage ecosystem.” “By all accounts, this is an extremely encouraging development for a young modestly sized nation like Singapore,” remarked Mr Lui, who pointed out that the 52 museums and galleries that make up Singapore’s Museum Roundtable offer a great variety of themes from history, science, art and culture to science, healthcare, water and even toys.
Singapore’s Museum Roundtable Spearheaded by the NHB, the Museum Roundtable is a collective effort with the goal of fostering a stronger museum-going culture and positioning Singapore’s museums as unique destinations that stay relevant amid the changing times. The 52 members now work together to organise two key events in the annual heritage calendar: International Museum Day (which takes place every May) and Explore Singapore!, a year-end extravaganza of special tours, performances and festive events at museums across the island. These endeavours to make heritage accessible and fun have clearly borne fruit, as shown in the NHB’s 2008 Heritage Awareness Index. The 2008 Heritage Awareness Survey1 provides a heartening picture of a steady gain in heritage awareness amongst the public, who expressed growing knowledge and appreciation of local heritage as well as a greater willingness to become involved in heritage activities. The survey also revealed strong support for the government to invest in heritage, with 91% of respondents endorsing the government’s efforts to boost the museum and heritage landscape.
Forging public-private partnerships The task of developing Singapore’s heritage ecosystem entails a partial break from the past, when museums, notably the major institutions operated by the NHB, were the key drivers of heritage projects and events. But as the broader ecosystem is still at a fledgling state of development, the NHB has felt it necessary to help seed the growth of new players through active funding or the sharing of know-how. In the latter field, the Heritage Conservation Centre and Singapore Art Museum, for instance, work with private art handlers, framers and conservators to raise their skill levels and thus expand the talent pool in the sector. Getting started, even when you have a great idea, is always the toughest step. And more so in a business environment where sexier sectors like technology and life sciences enjoy the lion’s share of attention from bankers and investors. Through schemes such as Hi2P and an inter-agency exercise to provide affordable sites for integrated private museum and art facilities (see box story), the NHB is seeking to lower the entry barriers and financial hurdles that keep new heritage brainwaves from reaching the market. According to Mr Lui, Hi2P serves to fuel private and people-sector led projects that will add greater vibrancy and dynamism to Singapore’s cultural scene. “By seeding the development of private entrepreneurial endeavours, we hope to encourage a greater sense of heritage ownership among business players,” he stated. “I hope that the Hi2P will spur the emergence of refreshing heritage and museum-inspired ideas. These can take the form of new heritage tours and the production of mass-appeal products such as board games. The possibilities are endless.”
1 . The key findings for Heritage Awareness Survey 2008 were derived from a questionnaire survey of 1,000 Singaporeans, using face-to-face interviews conducted from August to September 2008. A study commissioned by NHB and carried out by the National University of Singapore’s Department of Geography, HAS 2008 follows two previous surveys conducted in 2002 and 2006.
The figures from the HAS serve as heritage indicators used for the derivation of the Heritage Awareness Index (HAI). The HAI reflects how Singaporeans view their level of personal involvement with heritage activities, how much they value the role of local heritage, their confidence in imparting heritage knowledge, and their personal interest in cultural traditions and customs. The higher the index, the greater the overall levels of heritage awareness among Singaporeans. The HAI in 2008 reached an all-time high of 6.34 points (out of 10) in 2008, up from 5.24 in 2002.
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The launch of Eu Yan Sangâ€™s exhibition and book on Eu Tong Sen, a projected supported by NHB via Hi2P. Images courtesy of Eu Yan- JUNE Sang International Ltd 42 APRIL 2010
By September 2009, Hi2P had garnered 19 heritage-related projects and dispensed $1.16 million, with the private sector injecting another $2.39 million. Hi2P’s line-up has grown not just in size but in scope, with the latest batch featuring companies as diverse as a fashion label, game developers and a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) stalwart.
Several of these projects were showcased at the NHB’s second Business of Heritage Conference on 16 September 2009, which gathered more than 200 heritage industry practitioners, industry service providers, private entrepreneurs and professionals for a day of learning, capability-building and networking. For some, the business of heritage is literally about child’s play. Besides Journal Singapore from MUtB, Hi2P also spawned three portable card games featuring the Peranakan Museum, the Asian Civilisations Museum and World War II artefacts from Memories at Old Ford Factory and Reflections at Bukit Chandu. Dubbed MatchUp Cards – Singapore Heritage Series Editions, the games were designed by Write@Work Communications and involve 2-6 players who try to match up as many complimentary cards as possible. There is an added twist at the very end, but everyone’s a winner in a uniquely Singapore creation that combines heritage trivia and fun for all ages.
Images courtesy of Adeline Foo.
Traditional values, modern retelling
A number of toy museums now dot Singapore’s heritage ecosystem. But what’s missing, according to Jennifer Loh and Sumitra Pasupathy of Explorer Asia Holdings, is an actual children’s museum that would serve as a “play-based space that is interactive and based on the arts, culture and nature.” Hi2P supported Explorer Asia by helping to fund a feasibility study for a Singapore children’s museum, which Ms Loh and Ms Pasupathy have named Playeum, The Play Museum. “Financial support from Hi2P enabled us to conduct large scale research to start to understand community needs, as a way to help us tailor the new children’s museum to what the community wants,” said Ms Pasupathy. “It also enabled us to hire a leading expert in children’s museums to assist us towards this goal.”
One doesn’t have to go all the way downtown to come face to face with the living legacy of one of Singapore’s foremost pioneers in business and philanthropy. Today, Eu Yan Sang TCM clinics are found throughout Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, where they deliver traditional remedies and healthcare services that integrate the best of eastern and western medical philosophies.
Meanwhile, Adeline Foo has continued her prolific run with illustrated children’s books that introduce Singapore’s pioneer artists such as Georgette Chen. Drawing upon artworks in the Singapore Art Museum and featuring once more Puteh the little Nonya, the books were published by Ethos Books with the support of Hi2P. Another local publisher specialising in Asian themes, Select Books, received Hi2P funding for three guidebooks for children aged 9-14. Written in the form of an explorer’s journal, the Hike It! series features walking tours of three heritage districts: Bras Basah/Waterloo Street, the Singapore River and Fort Canning.
“We needed guidance in putting together and preserving our rich heritage via an exhibition,” recalls Cecilia Soh, Corporate Communications Manager for Eu Yan Sang, “and also to capture the story in print.” After learning about Hi2P during the 1st Business of Heritage Conference in 2008, her team approached the NHB and secured Hi2P support for the exhibition, Path of the Righteous Crane: The Life and Legacy of Eu Tong Sen, which was held at the National Library Building from 22 July to 18 September 2009. Accompanying the exhibition was a new book of the same title by writer Ilsa Sharp, which charts Eu’s life against the historical backdrop of Singapore and Malaya in the early 20th Century.
The values of the company’s founder, Eu Kong (1852?–1890), and his son, Eu Tong Sen (1877–1941), continue to guide Eu Yan Sang to this day. Thus, when Eu Yan Sang celebrated its 130th anniversary in 2009, the company wanted to create an exhibition to tell the public about the life of Eu Tong Sen and his contributions to the community.
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Carving room for creative spaces Culture needs space to thrive, both socially and physically. Besides laying the ground for the sowing of new ideas through Hi2P, NHB also unveiled an initiative that allows for the use of State properties as niche arts and heritage facilities.
Space availability is a key challenge for private museum operators, says Mr Fu. “We have been advocating for the government to make available land or buildings for gallery or museum use,” he revealed. “So we are very grateful that NHB and SLA have answered our call to make land available with this unique initiative.” According to Linda Gallery’s Director, Ali Kusno Fusin, the Loewen Road site will allow the gallery to “bring in large scale exhibitions
and there will be a great outdoor space and sculpture area for family-oriented art activities.”
The other successful AIM bidder is Daniel Teo & Associates (DTA), which has formed a joint venture called 222 Queen Street (222QS Pte Ltd) Launched in collaboration with the with Andrew Lau, Director of Old Singapore Land Authority (SLA), School, an independent arts centre the Assistance in Infrastructure located at the former Methodist for Museums (AIM) scheme made Girls School at Mt Sophia. “Our joint passion and specialty lies in the renovation Linda Gallery proposes to create a unique museum for and re-adaptation usage of old buildings,” says Asian contemporary art with family-friendly programmes Rachel Teo, Business to expose visitors to works by internationally renowned Development Manager artists. Besides showcasing the owner’s comprehensive of DTA. “222QS has envisioned a space that collection, the museum will bring in selections from is constantly evolving prominent overseas collections as well as curate exhibitions and will have a strong by promising local and foreign contemporary artists. Some dance as well as visual art element.” areas of the facility will be designed for children and youth
to explore the world of art and aesthetics, while a planned café and museum shop will add a relaxed, art-infused atmosphere for visitors. available three locations in prime areas through a Request-for-Interest (RFI) exercise. Since the scheme was announced in October 2008, the NHB and SLA have received at least nine proposals to develop, operate and manage museum and art facilities at the sites and two successful bidders were chosen in September 2009. One of the sites, at Loewen Road near the chic arts and lifestyle precinct of Dempsey, has been awarded to Linda Gallery, a private art gallery with a focus on modern Indonesian paintings as well as Chinese contemporary art. Established 20 years ago, Linda Gallery set up an auction house in 2009 and according to the gallery’s manager, David Fu, “having a museum is part of our group vision to be an integrated player in the visual art scene.”
which would not have been possible previously due to space constraints.” Mr Fu adds that Linda Gallery seeks to complement national collections with a dynamic line-up of shows that “tap widely on works available from our connections with private collectors and artists as well as other museums of contemporary art in Asia.” Describing the location as being “very conducive for arts activities”, Mr Fu says Linda Gallery plans to make full use of the lush green spaces around the building, which he praises for its “good ceiling height, unique architecture and a mezzanine floor that offers a good view of the main exhibition hall.” The museum will also be different from others in Singapore in two ways, he reveals: “We will be open till late at night to cater to the Dempsey crowd,
Eu’s story turns out to be a scintillating tale with thrilling elements such as murder by poison, revolutionary politics, fast cars and the manoeuvring of no fewer than 11 wives. At the same time, Eu proved to be a loyal subject of the British who served on the Malay Federal Council from 1909 to 1920, actively campaigned against gambling and the opium trade and contributed a fortune to educational and social causes.
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222QS will occupy the premises of the former Catholic High School (Secondary) at Queen Street, a site which Ms Teo describes as a “cultural and heritage hub” and “ideal location to house our vision of an evolving arts centre and to contribute to the cultural heritage of Singapore.” Earlier, 222QS had hoped to create a film museum at the site, but due to funding issues, the company will open instead three private museum spaces to show artefacts from private collectors, foundations and corporate collections. According to Ms Teo, DTA has assembled a strong mix of dance and art-related tenants to create “a constant buzz” with a suite of activities to attract the public. “On the first level, we will have F&B and retail concepts that will work strongly on the same dance and art elements.”
It was this heady mix of a compelling personal history guided by a sense of mission to care (‘Yan Sang’ means ‘benevolence’ in Cantonese) that encouraged the NHB to back the exhibition and book via Hi2P. “We hope to offer lessons on the cultural values that guided the life of Eu Tong Sen and the company,” remarks Ms Soh. “We have received very positive comments from the public and our business partners that both the book and exhibition are inspiring and educational.”
Heritage-themed shirt designs by NewUrbanMale.com, another Hi2P project. Images courtesy of NewUrbanMale.com.
Keeping history hip and in fashion It doesn’t stop at books, exhibitions and museums. Instead of sticking merely with the tried and tested, Hi2P has supported a number of projects that, while not traditionally high-brow, add a hip quotient to Singapore’s heritage. The recipient line-up in 2009 had a ‘retro’ touch in a book that chronicles the musical journey of Jerry Fernandez, founder of Neu Faces, a popular band in the 1970s and 1980s. Published by Comdesign Associates, To be a Rock but Not to Roll charts the life of Mr Fernandez, a multi-talented singer, band leader and dee-jay, amid the colourful backdrop of Singapore’s local music scene from the 1960s to the 1990s. A riot of colours, too, adorn heritage-themed T-shirts and tank tops launched by homegrown fashion label NewUrbanMale.com (NUM). Featuring traditional games of Singapore such as chapteh and congkak, NUM’s designs for its Balik Kampung series were researched and developed with the support of a Hi2P grant. Another collection, dubbed I Museums, puts the spotlight on local museums in bold proclamations of affection for Singapore’s heritage icons. Describing NUM as a company that is always “on the fashion forefront,” NUM Director Shenzi Chua believes that the collaborative T-shirt series achieves the goal of blending heritage well with fashion and at the same time, “reaching out to affluent shoppers and tourists in Singapore.” Hi2P support, he adds, “definitely pushed the project to a higher level” and allowed NUM “to create a more elaborate concept to integrate with Singapore’s heritage.” Hi2P is also a promising channel for smaller companies with fresh ideas, says Mr. Tay of MUtB. “Smaller businesses are more daring and would definitely bring a different dimension to Singapore’s heritage,” he states. Accepting the grant and challenge to make history fun was “a mammoth responsibility,” he recalls, and the MUtB team “had to go back to the drawing block many times and do intensive market research” to come up with a viable product.
The result, as Mr. Tay puts it, is a game that involves “more strategy and thought compared to Monopoly” but is simple enough to be learnt in five minutes. “We want to retain a sense of history simulation that requires some thought,” he explains. “History and stories don’t actually seem all that engaging, unless someone can really empathise with the problem and react to historical events with awe or pity. Interactivity, a way to make it really matter to the individual, is key.” Positive reviews have been streaming in for Journal Singapore. Mr. Tay recalls that while the process of developing the game was undoubtedly “painful” as it was the very first heritage board game in Singapore, NHB “hasn’t been anything but pleasant to work with”. Stressing that Hi2P is “no free lunch”, Mr. Tay believes would-be applicants should be well aware of what is available in the market (“Let’s not reinvent the wheel”, he quips) and not be afraid of making modifications midstream. “Someone may just decide that you’re right and that the new changes are better,” he says. Adopting a closely consultative approach would dispel the common impression that partners such as NHB are inflexible and draconian. “Remember, Hi2P wants to help you,” he states, pointing out that the entire scheme is aimed at “helping people like us help ourselves.” Old mindsets, it seems, must change in order to make the most of opportunities in a business and cultural environment that seeks to cultivate a vibrant heritage eco-system. “People’s mentality need to be altered,” concludes Mr. Tay on a light-hearted note with a solution that’s true to his calling. “Perhaps we can propose making a board game to help NHB achieve that.”
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Bringing Families Together:
Children’s Season at the National Museum With quality family time becoming more precious in our fast paced life, how are you planning to spend this coming school term holiday with your children? We invite you to join us in the Children’s Season at the National Museum of Singapore as we enter our third exciting year! Themed Colourful Journeys, audiences can gear up for a new season of creativity and imagination through the power of stories. Uniquely holistic in approach, Children’s Season gives families opportunities to experience the rich heritage of local and foreign cultures through different mediums and immersive environments.
By Katharyn Peh Manager, Programmes National Museum of Singapore images: National Museum of Singapore
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Our objective is to enable parents and caregivers to embark on new learning experiences with their children in the Museum. On another level, we hope to challenge our young visitors with a supportive learning environment that encourages them to discover and develop their skills in creative and critical thinking, reasoning and inquiry, in addition to developing their oral and visual communication, social and interactive skills, as well as their cultural awareness.
Life-long learning at the Museum Children’s Season is a perfect family platform that comes with engaging activities for all ages as well as educationally rewarding benefits. The National Museum’s stimulating environment gives high value and importance to informal learning – learning that results from social, family, hobby or leisure activities – which forms a large part of an individual’s life outside formal learning in schools. What’s more, the activities are designed to get parents to be actively involved together with their children, be it in the process of art making, watching a performance or appreciating and exploring an object. This makes the most of the family visits to the Museum. We also offer diverse forms of informal learning through differentiated activities
Image courtesy of © Walt Disney
to support children of all abilities. These activities promote their creative capacities, hence allowing parents to discover how their children’s creativity can be best nurtured. Young participants learn best in the process of having fun. Thus, all our programmes are carefully hand-picked or developed to create opportunities for communication, building relationships, making meaningful connections with the material culture (objects, art, artefacts, specimens, documents, etc.) in the museum and encouraging the children to think about their social and cultural environment. Families can start to embrace a positive and self-directed attitude towards life-long learning in the Museum, where the exhibits, objects, works of art and even the building itself provide a rich and creative learning experience that goes beyond schools.
So what can visitors expect in this Children’s Season at the National Museum? Children’s Season is collaborating with the ACE! Festival, a performing arts festival organised by I Theatre, a family and youth-oriented performance group, to bring you double the fun and creativity under one roof. It’s all about embarking on meaningful and interesting journeys to other places, cultures, ideas, memories and new discoveries.
Carnival of cinema and theatre The family carnival is back with a vengeance with two days of free fun-filled activities and roving acts on 29 and 30 May. For the first time, families can also look forward to an outdoor cinema special on the nights of the 28 and 29 May as we bring back all time favourite classics, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and
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Children’s Season 2009. ©National Museum of Singapore
(Sing-a-long) Mary Poppins, where the audience will get to sing along to the catchy and famous tunes of the musical.
and The Cherry Blossom, which tells of a faithful white dog who helps his owner through tough times.
You can also choose from a host of performances that will bring you around the world, starting with The Dandelion’s Story – “Nothing God made is useless”, a delightful best-selling Korean fairy tale about a doggy-poo deemed useless and disgusting by everyone, but is welcomed by a dandelion seed. Or let British troupe Toto Tales take you through a traditional African tale in the Legend of the Magnificent Moon.
Those with older children and teens will like to discover how I Theatre craftily interweaves several versions of a timetested fable in The Girl in the Red Hood. If music is your thing, get the whole family to enjoy one-of-a-kind fusion tunes of Javanese gamelan with Western and Asian instruments in Play it Easy by Gamma:rays – this upbeat concert will get you and your family grooving and jiving on the floor.
Next, you can fly to France with Antoine and The Paper Aeroplane, a magical theatre experience of mime and music based on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s three-day desert sojourn after his 1935 plane crash, which prompted his writing of The Little Prince. Listen too to the heart-warming Japanese tale of Shiro
Get hands-on with your inner child
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Our popular parent-child workshops and family tours are in season again! Highlights this time include artistfacilitated workshops like Message in a Bottle and Fun with Fabrics, where parents can explore using everyday
objects like containers, envelopes, parcel boxes or fabrics to create meaningful family projects with their children. If you like model-making or creating your own interactive storybook with your child, then Build-out-of the Box: A Diorama Story Workshop or Book-making: An Interactive Storybook Workshop is for you. For a fun-filled tour with a difference, get your whole family to join the Explore, Imagine and Create Family Tour. Every weekend during the Children’s Season, the National Museum will have different activities that include a craftmaking corner and story performances for all ages. Our signature thematic interactive art corners will also make a comeback this year; we are working with three local artists to create three different corners responding to themes of creating and collecting stories and personal memories.
Children’s Season 2009. ©National Museum of Singapore
As you can see, the National Museum is a choice destination for families looking for quality and engaging programmes that will fuel the love of learning in children. What makes the Children’s Season unique from other children’s festivals is that we embrace a holistic approach to learning where we value both informal and formal leaning equally; and we create opportunities for visitors to contribute or respond to the material culture in the museum by acknowledging that both children and adults are equally valued contributors to our shared and evolving heritage.
With so much to do and see, be prepared to spend a whole day or more at the National Museum this holiday! “Colourful Journeys: Children’s Season at the National Museum is on from 14 May to 13 June 2010, with the interactive corners up till 30 June 2010. For a full listing or the programmes, ask for a Festival Guide to be mailed to you by emailing us at nhb_ email@example.com with your name and mailing address, or check for updates on www.nationalmuseum.sg. Ticketed performances and workshops are sold via SISTIC.”
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Childrenâ€™s Season at the Singapore Art Museum Children have the innate ability to create art and studies have found that art helps develop the learning potential of a child. To introduce contemporary art to children in an interactive, supportive and fun family environment, the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) is proud to present our inaugural Childrenâ€™s Season for the coming school holidays. For two months starting from 14th May, the entire SAM at 8Q will be transformed into magical art gardens featuring art works inspired by nature by both Singapore and international artists. Titled Art Garden, this is the first exhibition designed especially to showcase contemporary art in ways that are appealing to children.
By Hong Bei Yu Assistant Manager (Programmes) Singapore Art Museum images: Singapore Art Museum
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Theodore Watson and Emily Gobeille, Funky Forest, 2007, Interactive video installation, Artist collection.
Cultivating funky forests A stunning highlight of Art Garden is Funky Forest, a beautiful and interactive work in which the movements and actions by young visitors will cause streams to ‘flow’ or stimulate trees to ‘grow’. This new media work conveys through play, the potential impact of human action on nature. An immersive interactive ecosystem for young children, Funky Forest is designed by American artists, Theodore Watson and Emily Gobeille. Watson’s work ranges from creating new tools for artistic expression, experimental musical systems, to immersive, interactive environments with full-body interaction. Gobeille is an artist and award-winning designer whose work is always playful, imaginative and teeters on the line between reality and fantasy.
Blooming flowers Another captivating work is Floribots by Australian artist Geoffrey Drake Brockman. Featuring over 100 robot flowerpots with telescopic stems and origami flowers, each individual flower performs its life cycle in a single act. Beginning as a green bud it grows to full height and blooms pink and yellow. Soon afterwards, the bloom withers and returns to a bud state. This interactive work responds to movement from visitors via special ‘lookout flowers’ and adopts different moods such as a sleep mode or excitement mode, depending on the visitor’s interaction with the exhibit. Floribots is a popular work that has been exhibited at the National Gallery of Australia where it won the Macquarie Bank People’s Choice Award. Brockman has held major exhibitions including the Goddard de Fiddes and exhibited at various exhibitions, including The Biennale of Electronic Arts Perth, Collaborative Concepts in New York and The Hooper Gallery in London. Geoffrey Drake-Brockman, Floribots, 2005, paper, textile, stainless steel, lacquered MDF, electric motors, electronics, microcontroller installed, 140 x 770 x 370 cm, Artist Collection. 52
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Joo Choon Lin, From Green to Brown to Black to Brown to Green, 2009, production still, Artist Collection.
Come Out and Play at 8Q! To create our special Art Garden, SAM worked with some of the most exciting young artists in Singapore. Among them is Joo Choon Lin who has participated extensively in several group exhibitions, including the Roppongi Art Night at the Mori Art Museum in Japan, and the 17th Stuttgart Festival of Animated Film in Germany. Jooâ€˜s unconventional use of stop-motion animation, made from multiple and meticulously executed drawings incorporates live action and localised context to create narratives that blur fact and fiction. With the attention grabbing title STOP in here and get into the MOTION!, Joo invites her visitors to become part of her installation in the three rooms which she has created for her animations. APRIL - JUNE 2010
Dawn Ng Walter 2009 PVC helium float 4x6m Private Collection
Walter and His PLAYGROUND Another enchanting showcase at the Art Garden is by Dawn Ng whose debut solo collage exhibition, Singapore Cuts was held in 2009. Her work, Massive Attack, was exhibited as part of the Singapore Art Show 2009 at the Singapore Art Museum. Drawing inspiration from her personal childhood memories, Ng has created Walter, a curious colossal rabbit. The incongruence of Walter’s presence at SAM creates a sense of wonder and surprise to all who chance upon him. Walter is the artist’s celebration of the ordinary and everyday in Singapore as wonderful and unique. Ng has also created Walter’s Grass Playground, where toddlers could play with conical grass cushions of different shapes and texture. This creative playground encourages toddlers to learn about colours and shapes, as well as develop psychomotor skills as they have fun rearranging the cushions.
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Children experimenting with a variety of materials in hands on art and craft workshops.
Books and short films Art Garden is supported by information labels and an activity book designed for children. After an active tour, visitors can also unwind by watching short films by Singapore and Asian directors in the Moving Image Gallery, or draw and read picture books from the National Library collection at the Workshop Space.
This event is part of the National Heritage Board’s International Museum Day 2010.
Don’t miss Art Garden at SAM - a must-see this holiday season. Art Garden: Children’s Season at the Singapore Art Museum is held from 14 May to 18 July 2010 at SAM at 8Q (located at 8 Queen Street). For more information, please visit www.singaporeartmuseum.sg.
Contemporary Art for Children The Singapore Art Museum (SAM) believes that awareness and appreciation of contemporary art should begin in the early stages of a child’s development and aspires to provide this to as many children as possible, especially to those who may lack the means to afford such programmes. Towards this aim, the Deutsche Bank Art Bus programme was conceived by SAM and Deutsche Bank. Launched in October 2009, the programme provides preschoolers and school children the access to art education and the avenue to develop their understanding and appreciation of contemporary art. The Deutsche Bank Art Bus provides free transportation for children to and from the Art Museum. Deutsche Bank’s sponsorship also helps to subsidise the cost of the art programme, keeping fees affordable for children, or free to children from charity organisations. Beginning with an interactive guided tour or story-telling session held in the galleries, children get the opportunity to create art through a hands-on art activity. Conducted by experienced facilitators, each workshop is tailored to suit the young age of the audience, with a range of art activities from puppet making to food art. The Deutsche Bank Art Bus programme has been well received by children and bookings for this programme have been overwhelming. The first of its kind in Singapore, the Deutsche Bank Art Bus programme is a platform that has been established to introduce art to children so as to nurture and develop their interest in the subject.
SAM has also identified new spaces within the Museum to be developed as a Learning Gallery and Workshop Space to grow programmes for children and families. APRIL - JUNE 2010
By Lucille Yap Senior Curator Singapore Philatelic Museum images: Singapore Philatelic Museum
February 15, 1942 was the start of the darkest period in the history of Singapore. Singapore, which was under British rule then, fell to the Japanese Imperial Army on that day. The pain and sufferings of the Japanese Occupation lasted for about three-and-a-half years and ended on 12 September 1945. Today, February 15 serves as a solemn reminder of this momentous day. It is also marked as Total Defence Day to remind the people of Singapore of the importance of maintaining operational readiness to defend the nation, not only in times of war, but also in any national crisis. 56
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British Surrender Postcard, 1942 Japanese postcard showing the British surrender party led by General A.E. Percival, General Officer Commanding Malaya, making their way to General Tomoyuki Yamashita’s headquarters at the Ford Motor Factory. General Yamashita led the Malayan invasion campaign that culminated in the fall of Singapore on February 15, 1942. Collection of Prof Cheah Jin Seng.
Syonan-To Cover, 1943 A cover from the War Tax Department in Singapore sent to a resident in Singapore, which was renamed “Syonan-To” or “Light of the South”. The “Dai Nippon” overprinted Straits Settlements stamp was cancelled in 1943 by the Syonan datestamp. Collection of Singapore Philatelic Museum.
On 15 February 1942, the British surrendered to the Japanese Imperial Army at the City Hall. Singapore was renamed Syonan-To or Light of the South, and was designated as the capital of Japan’s southern region which is mainly Southeast Asia. During the early period of the Japanese Occupation, existing pre-war Straits Settlements stationery and documents, such as receipts, forms, legal documents and envelopes, were used for day-to-day administration and transactions.
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The Japanese propaganda machinery was extensive and aggressive. Their aim was to instil an Asian consciousness and pride within the community. They preached an exciting mission of Asian equality and co-operation within a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere to comprise Japan, China, Manchuria and Southeast Asia. The press, radio and cinemas were harnessed to this purpose, and the Japanese considered education as the most effective form of propaganda. Leaflets and pamphlets were often disseminated by the Nippon Propaganda Department that was housed at the Cathay Building. Japanese Propaganda Flyer, 1942 Flyer distributed by the Japanese Army asserting that the Americans and English were enemies of the people of Asia, and that they should be reported or brought to the Japanese Army to be interned. Anyone who did so would be rewarded. Collection of Prof Cheah Jin Seng.
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Postal services in Singapore resumed on 16 March 1942. The quick victory did not give the Japanese enough time to print new stamps. Pre-war Straits Settlements stamps were hurriedly overprinted with a red double-frame “SEAL OF POST OFFICE OF MALAYAN MILITARY DEPARTMENT”. The overprint was an announcement of the Japanese victory over the British. It also signified the change in government. The overprint was applied across the portrait of King George VI, then sovereign head of the British Empire, as a sign of Japanese supremacy.
Pre-War Straits Settlements Stamps overprinted by Japanese Post Office Seal, 1942. Collection of Singapore Philatelic Museum.
Pre-war Straits Settlements stamps were recalled from the various post offices throughout Malaya to be overprinted. These stamps were collected at two centres – Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. The overprinted stamps were reissued at the General Post Office and 10 sub-post offices. The overprint was done by hand. Human errors and inaccuracies resulted in a wide number of varieties.
In May 1942, the earlier Post Office Seals were replaced by Romanised overprints “DAI NIPPON 2602 MALAYA”. “Dai Nippon” literally means “Great Japan”. Unlike the Seals which were applied by hand, these overprints were produced by machines. The Japanese strongly desired to lead a united Asia under the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere campaign. They tried to promote a pan-Asian identity and used this vision as a platform to oppose the West. All English signboards were replaced with Japanese ones. People were encouraged to watch Japanese films. Eventually, in November 1943, British and American movies were banned from Singapore cinemas. “Dai Nippon” Overprints, 1942. Collection of Singapore Philatelic Museum.
To be in line with their campaign to promote a greater Asian identity and eliminate Western influences and the use of the English language, the Japanese threatened to ban the use of English in postal correspondence and telephone conversations. In January 1943, stamps that were overprinted with English texts, “DAI NIPPON - 2602 - MALAYA”, were replaced by overprints in Kanji characters,
“Kanji” Overprints, 1943. Collection of Singapore Philatelic Museum. APRIL - JUNE 2010
Commemorative postmarks of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd anniversary of the fall of Singapore. Collection of Singapore Philatelic Museum.
8 Dec Japanese Commemorative Postcard, 1944. Collection of Singapore Philatelic Museum.
First Pictorial Stamp Issue, 1943. Collection of Singapore Philatelic Museum.
To help further establish an Asian Identity, preparations for a new stamp issue to replace the use of pre-war Straits Settlements stamps began in December 1942. A stamp design competition was organised in Singapore for the first time. In April 1943, the overprinted Straits Settlements stamps were withdrawn and replaced by a new pictorial definitive series. It was also the first time that Singapore issued pictorial stamps. New stamps in 1, 2, 3, 4 and 8 cent denominations were produced from the competition. The remaining values were designed by the Postal Department. Cash prizes were awarded to the winners: $100 for 1st prize, $50 for 2nd and $10 for any other design used. The stamp designs featured local scenes and activities such as rubber tapping, tin dredging and mosques. These stamps were printed by Kolff of Batavia (Jakarta today), which also printed Occupation issues for North Borneo (today – state of Sabah in Malaysia) and Burma (Myanmar today). As part of the Japanese propaganda effort, pictorial commemorative postmarks were used in Singapore to commemorate the 1st, 2nd and 3rd anniversary of the fall of Singapore on every 15th of February. This series of postmarks was called “Rebirth”. Also, to propagate the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere’s ideology and to celebrate the Greater East Asia War, pictorial commemorative postmarks were used throughout the Japanese Occupied territories on every 8 December during the three years of the Occupation. The date commemorated the first landing of the Japanese troops at Kota Bahru on the northeastern coast of Malaya.
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Savings Campaign Stamp Issue, 1943. Collection of Singapore Philatelic Museum.
Rebirth of Malaya Stamp Issue, 1944. Collection of Singapore Philatelic Museum.
The Japanese Occupation was a period of hunger and malnutrition for most of the people in Singapore. Food was scarce as Singapore depended on imported supplies which were disrupted by the war. To regulate the food supply to the people, the Japanese introduced food rationing. Queuing up for food supplies became a way of life for most people. But most people remained hungry because the amount given was inadequate. “Saving Campaign” stamps were issued on 1 September 1943. These stamps were issued to encourage savings and growing of one’s own food to combat acute food shortages and the excessively high prices of essential foodstuff and commodities offered by the black market. This campaign was accompanied by the launch of the first Savings Week from 1-7 September 1943 by the Malayan Postal Savings Bank.
Pictorial postmarks were also used during this period to promote savings. The first Savings Week saw the issue of the first pictorial postmark to commemorate savings reaching one million dollars. This was followed by the second Savings Week from 1-7 May 1943; the third Savings Week from 1016 October 1944; and a fourth commemorative postmark was used from 16-22 July 1945. Despite the effort to promote self-sufficiency by growing food and encouraging savings, the response was so poor that a second issue of stamps named “Rebirth of Malaya” was launched on 15 February 1944.
Savings Campaign Pictorial Postmark, 1943. Collection of Singapore Philatelic Museum.
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When the British surrendered, the Japanese military authorities in Singapore had to deal with about 80,000 Allied soldiers and 2,000 members of the civilian militia who were to be interned. Many of the Allied soldiers had arrived in Singapore just a few days before the defeat. During the war, no communication with the Allied forces was possible. Communication resumed only
after 17 June 1942. The General Post Office in London put out an internal circular stating that mail would be accepted for POWs and civilians in the Far East and how such mail should be addressed. The tracking of the POWs became the role of the Bureau of Record and Enquiry (BRE) in Changi POW camp managed by the British POWs instead of the Japanese. By the end of the war, more than two millions items of mail had passed through the BRE at Changi.
Throughout the war, the Red Cross Society, YMCA and the Catholic Church worked tirelessly to help provide the missing links to the POWs and civilian internees and facilitate communications between them and their families. Sometimes mail followed POWs from camp to camp and took several years to reach their addressees. But many mails never reach their addresses as they were probably lost or destroyed.
Prisoner-Of-War (POW) Letter, 1943. Collection of Singapore Philatelic Museum.
Prisoner-Of-War (POW) Postcard, 1943. Collection of Singapore Philatelic Museum.
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Photograph of Lord Mountbatten and the Japanese Delegation, 1945. Collection of Prof Cheah Jin Seng.
On 6 August 1945, the first atomic bomb was dropped by the United States over the city of Hiroshima and three days later a second one fell on Nagasaki. On 15 August, Japan surrendered unconditionally and the Japanese troops in Singapore laid down their arms. On 12 September 1945, the Japanese delegation led by General Seishiro Itagaki formally surrendered to Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander in Southeast Asia, at the City Hall. But it was a vastly different Singapore and a changed Southeast Asia to which the Commonwealth troops returned in 1945. Singapore at the end of the war and Occupation faced a new and turbulent future that would steer her away from over a century of British rule towards independence and the birth of a new nation.
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Burned Bodies and Butterflies: Charting The Shifts In FX Harsonoâ€™s Art From 1975 to 2009 In the middle of an exhibition gallery, on top of a tray of sand, is a row of what appears to be charred human torsos suspended on wire frames. The bodies lack heads and limbs, and are split down the middle. Beneath each torso is a pair of charred shoes, blackened with soot, neatly laid out. The installation resembles a morgue, or a line-up of dead bodies.
Centre: Burned Victims, 1998, Performance video, Artist collection
by Tan Siu Li Assistant Curator Singapore Art Museum images: Singapore Art Museum
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In an opposite gallery, a dining table stands in the middle of the room, surrounded by paintings on the walls. The table is covered with white linen, and set for an elaborate meal, with cutlery and chinaware meticulously arranged according to upper-class standards of decorum and fine dining. At first glance, the charming bourgeois tableau of this gallery appears to be a far cry from the horror and trauma of the charred human remains in the other gallery, and it is difficult to reconcile how these two works could have been produced by the same artist. However, on close inspection, the bowls and plates on the dining table are filled not with food but with butterflies, skewered with needles â€“ at once beautiful and horrific, in its intimations of death and violence.
Bon Appetit 2008 Installation with table, cloth, chairs, tableware, needles and butterflies Dimensions variable Artist collection
The Voices Controlled by the Powers 1994 Installation with wooden masks and cloth Dimensions variable Artist collection
Both installations are part of the exhibition FX Harsono: Testimonies. This survey show, which pays tribute to one of Indonesia’s foremost contemporary artists, presents some of Harsono’s most seminal works, beginning from his earliest artistic endeavours in 1975, to his most recent series of works made in 2009. The exhibition galleries hence provide an opportunity to chart the shifts in Harsono’s art, as it has evolved from the strident social commentary of the 1970s and 1990s to the introspective questioning of the 2000s.
installation, a pile of severed mouthpieces, open as if in a silent scream, lie in a heap at the centre. The upper halves of the masks – the heads and the eyes – remain standing watchfully, arranged in a strict configuration, surrounding the pile of ‘mouths’ at the centre. The sense of oppression is palpable, and ominous.
“Social and cultural issues cannot be detached from the creation of art work: creativity in art must be able to reflect social issues, as well as raise the audiences’ awareness... At this point, my art is a form of expression trying to remind the audience of the problems we are facing together...” ~ FX Harsono, 1994 Burned Victims was made in the wake of the May 1998 racial riots that erupted in Jakarta, and which subsequently led to the end of former President Suharto’s ‘New Order’ regime. The mayhem, which included looting and burning of shops, claimed over a thousand lives and resulted in the destruction of thousands of vehicles and buildings. In one particularly horrific incident, which inspired this artwork in question, the rioting mob sealed off all the exits of a shopping centre and set the building ablaze. As a result, everyone trapped inside was burnt to death. Hence, in his installation, in an almost photo-journalistic fashion, the artist presents to his audience the scorching image of the victims’ bodies, to elicit horror and condemnation of civil violence. In another work from the 1990s, Harsono, in his quest for social justice, presents an image that powerfully conveys the haplessness of the people and state suppression of free speech. The Voices Controlled by the Powers (1994) is a macabre arrangement of wooden masks on a piece of black cloth, meant to mourn the banning of Tempo, a leading news magazine in Indonesia, for its allegations of Government corruption. In this
By the early 2000s however, Harsono’s subject matter and strategies of representation had shifted considerably. Bon Appetit illustrates this, especially when juxtaposed with the rough-and-ready presentation of earlier works such as Burned Victims. Nonetheless, while Harsono’s later works are much more aesthetic, they have not departed entirely from his earlier concerns with victimisation and unequal power relations. In the 2000s, however, the victims in question are more specific: the vulnerable butterflies that are pinned down or burned in his later works refer not to the rakyat (common man) in general, but specifically to the Chinese diaspora in Indonesia. The needles that proliferate in Harsono’s works also carry on the artist’s exploration of pain and violence, but this time it is a different kind of pain, because the needle functions as a metaphor for discrimination. Rather than the violent brutality of dismembered limbs and burned bodies, the pain from a pinprick of a needle is much more subtle, even invisible, but repeated over time, serves to wear down the spirit of its victim. It is a pain that Harsono himself is all too familiar with, being of ethnic Chinese descent. His works dating from 1998 onwards draw largely from his well of personal experience, and are hence more introspective in spirit, their motifs and symbols more personal and ambiguous compared to the direct and forceful narratives of earlier works. “After Suharto’s regime fell, a culture of violence bared its claws upon our society. An indifference to the people’s fate on one hand and narrow-minded partisanship on the other made me feel sickened by the situation. This nausea and pessimism gave me a strong push to leave social themes behind. I felt I had lost my orientation towards morals, ethics and even nationalism. If they were all still being voiced, I felt them as empty slogans with no meaning at all. In the time that followed, I felt that I had lost my footing and felt alienated among my own community. This was the community APRIL - JUNE 2010
that I had once considered as the marginalised people I had to fight for through my art. I then felt alienated from the people I had considered to have a similar vision for change. The nakedness and simple-mindedness revealed through their actions, brought me to the point of asking, ‘who are they, really?’ In a period of change like this, I am trying to see myself all over again...” ~ FX Harsono, 2003 In the wake of the tumultuous events that marked the end of the Suharto years in Indonesia – specifically the May 1998 riots in Jakarta that impacted the Chinese community – Harsono sought to re-evaluate and re-define his artistic practice, along with his role as an artist and position as a Chinese Indonesian in society. This served as the impetus for his subsequent explorations of self-identity and personal history in his work from the 2000s. In a poignant performance, Rewriting The Erased (2009), the artist sits at a table with paper, ink, and a brush. Slowly Harsono begins to write his name in Chinese, character by character. He repeats this, placing each sheet of paper with the three Chinese characters on the floor, and starts to write on the next sheet, until the entire floor is papered over with his name. With this meditative work, Harsono seeks to remember – and reclaim – an aspect of his identity and personal history which has been lost or erased. Being of Chinese descent in Indonesia meant that Harsono, like many others, were cut off from their Chinese ‘roots’ and culture through a series of government policies aimed at fully assimilating Chinese immigrants into Indonesian society. These measures, implemented during Suharto’s New Order regime, included requiring all Chinese
Rewriting The Erased 2009 Installation and performance video Artist collection
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to change their names to Indonesian-sounding ones, and the closure of Chinese schools, press and organisations. The end of Suharto’s New Order in 1998 witnessed a lifting of these former restrictions, and Chinese in Indonesia were once again able to use their original names. Now that Harsono is free to reconnect with this forgotten, or repressed, aspect of himself, he seems to question, through this work, if that past still holds any significance for him, or is it, when revisited, simply a series of empty and meaningless gestures, taking shape as ideographs from a language and culture that Harsono can only half-understand? The gestures of the artist are filled with both pathos and power, as he attempts to reclaim a past that is at once intensely personal as it is politically inflected. While Harsono’s works from 2009 ‘close’ this survey exhibition of four decades of artistic endeavour, they by no means signal the end of his artistic journey. Two black-and-white diptychs and a documentary video which investigates the exhumation of Chinese mass graves around the artist’s hometown of Blitar hold the promise of a new chapter of artistic development for Harsono, who has recently ventured into a dark chapter of Indonesia’s past which intersects with his personal history. Harsono’s new body of work raises afresh these episodes in Indonesian history, incessantly pressing for answers and investigation, both personal and political.
“Through the pictures, parts of the dark history that were almost laid to rest, were beginning to be disclosed.” ~ Hendro Wiyanto, Indonesian curator
(Top) Preserving Life,Terminating Life #1 2009 Diptych, acrylic and oil on canvas, thread 200 x 350 cm Artist collection
(Bottom) Preserving Life,Terminating Life #2 2009 Diptych, acrylic and oil on canvas, thread 200 x 350 cm Artist collection
FX Harsono Born 1949 in Blitar, East Java, FX Harsono is one of Indonesia’s foremost contemporary artists. As a student, he was actively involved in various art collectives, the most notable being the Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru (New Art Movement), which he helped established in 1975. Dissatisfied with prevailing artistic conventions, the GSRB sought to introduce new ways of making and thinking about art to the public, and their inaugural exhibition in Jakarta in 1975 shocked several members of the art community while earning praise from others. In the 1990s, Harsono gained international recognition for stark and compelling installations that critiqued the Indonesian political regime. His work was included in several important survey exhibitions of contemporary Southeast Asian art, including the groundbreaking 1996 Traditions / Tensions exhibition which travelled from New York to Vancouver, Perth and Seoul. 1998 proved to be a turning point as Harsono abandoned strident social critique for more subtle metaphors of representation. In the 2000s, the conflicting aspects of his identity – a Chinese Indonesian of Catholic faith – begin to surface in his work more prominently. Now a lecturer at Pelita Harapan University, the artist continues to be a keen observer, commentator and critic of the evolving social and cultural landscape in Indonesia. APRIL - JUNE 2010
National Monuments ‘We may wake up one day to find our historic monuments either bulldozed or crumbling to dust through neglect. As new Singapore is being built, we must not let the worthwhile part of older Singapore disappear’
By Foo Min Li Assistant Manager (Research & Education) Preservation Monuments Board & Joyce Lee Assistant Manager (Policy & Communications) Preservation Monuments Board images: Preservation Monuments Board 68
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Are Singapore’s National Monuments just old buildings and structures? Think again. Our buildings and structures are permanent landmarks in a constantly changing landscape. They serve as a reminder that Singapore has always been at the crossroads of trade routes, attracting immigrants from all nationalities and walks of life. Singapore’s 61 National Monuments in particular stand testament to Singapore’s growth and development since its colonial days. They give Singapore’s landscape a sense of history and time and are preserved under the Preservation of Monuments Act (revised in 2009). However, these buildings and structures are undoubtedly subjected to wear and tear. Hence, what and who keeps them alive? The Preservation of Monuments Board The Preservation of Monuments Board (PMB) is the custodian of Singapore’s National Monuments. Formed in 1971 with the parliamentary reading of the Preservation of Monuments Act (PMA), PMB is tasked to identify monuments worth preserving, that are of historic, traditional, artistic, architectural, archaeological, social and national significance. The PMB was born out of a realization that Singapore needed to preserve parts of its past as the nation moves forward with new developments. This was reflected in Mr Edmund William Barker’s, the thenMinister for National Development, speech at the reading of the Preservation of Monuments Bill in 1971.
Former St James Electric Power Station, 1930. (Source: Lee Kip Lin Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore)
The task of preserving monuments is a mammoth one which cannot be assumed by one party. Preserving the physical aspects of the monuments requires a multi-agency effort as well as cooperation from members of the public and monument owners, who are more aware of the day-today conditions of the monuments. At the same time, the preservation of the memories and symbolic aspects of the monuments are equally important, as they may provide a deeper understanding of the monuments’ existence and uses. For instance, places of worship such as the Sri Mariamman Temple and St Andrew’s Cathedral are now well-known tourist attractions but the preserved memories inform us that these were also places for social bonding and networking for the immigrants in early Singapore. Therefore, the preservation of the symbolic aspects of a monument adds depth to the identity of the monument while the preservation of the physical aspects of a monument adds depth to Singapore’s landscape. What makes a Monument? Perhaps our Singapore Monuments may not possess the age nor be of such massive scale as their foreign counterparts. However, the term ‘monument’ denotes that these are structures, sites or remnants of significance. For a community, this anchors formation, its roots to its past. Does knowing our past form the basis for knowing our future? Thian Hock Keng started as a humble attap structure but it is revered today as a significant site of memory. Wandering through its tiled courtyards, one cannot but be reminded of Singapore pioneers who might have found solace or offered thanksgiving at that very same site. The PMB first identifies a building or structure worthy of preservation based on the abovementioned criteria. After which, the Board conducts researches on the monument and evaluates the potential monument according to the following
considerations: historical and architectural interests, social value, collective memory and rarity. Buildings or structures that qualify for preservation are then proposed to the Minister of Information, Communications and the Arts for approval. To ensure that the monuments maintain their characters and are maintained over the years, the Act (of 2009) stipulates that National Monuments cannot be demolished or changed in any major way. From the common perspective: Why preserve? There is a constant debate between keeping the old and making way for new buildings, between knowing a country’s past and moving into the future: Why preserve the old when we can have taller and bigger buildings? Where do the old buildings or structures stand in Singapore’s quest to move towards becoming a global city state? These are some of the challenges which the PMB faces daily while working towards its mission - whether proposing and convincing stakeholders of the need to preserve a building or structure or convincing them to take proper care of these Monuments. Setting aside the economics of preservation, the value of a historic building cannot be measured by its monetary value alone. The stories it holds within and beyond its walls, the interconnectedness of these buildings with Singapore’s growth as a country and the people who still reside in these places are some of the intangibles that render a monument worthy of preservation. At the same time, it is understandable that not everyone espouses similar views. For instance, “significance” is subjective and there are competing needs to maximise land usage in Singapore. What good would it do if we preserve a three storey historical building, when a towering skyscraper APRIL - JUNE 2010
could be built in its place? On the other hand, what would differentiate Singapore from other countries if we had only skyscrapers in our urban landscape? Would we feel that there is something missing? Worse still, would Singapore become a place without a past, should these old buildings and structures disappear? Preservation is a two-way process. While the PMB preserves as much as it can, the public also has to understand the rationale behind preserving a building for all posterity. Meet the National Monuments! Bearing these in mind, why not take some time to be a tourist in Singapore? Uncover the gems that give our country its unique flavour. For instance, take a leisure walk around the city or cycle around. Do you know that a majority of our Monuments are situated near each other and at least 20 of them are located within or near the city area? Although it is easy to visit these Monuments, what many may not notice is that these historical buildings are a rare breed in an increasingly built up city. In addition, a Monument’s location in relation to its surroundings also provides an avenue for scholars and heritage enthusiasts to explore life in colonial Singapore. Preservation, a continuing process The act of preserving a monument never stops. It is an ongoing process even after a building or structure is gazetted. This process involves preserving both the physical and symbolic aspects of the monuments. This involves constant negotiation and interaction with the stakeholders, technical consultations as well as photographic documentation and reporting which are all essential parts of the process. Without the support of our stakeholders, preservation would be much more of a challenge
Former St James Power Station, 2010. (Source: Preservation Monuments Board) 70
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in the face of Singapore’s rapid development. The PMB hopes to increase the awareness levels for these monuments and through educational programmes, forge a critical link between our past and our future as Singaporeans. It is after all, the inculcation of a mindset that it is vital to preserve our built heritage as well that will ensure our architectural heritage comes to be valued. A full listing and profile of Singapore’s National Monuments and the PMB can be found at www.pmb.sg! The 6 newly gazetted National Monuments If you are thinking about getting out and exploring Singapore’s built heritage, why not start with the six new National Monuments which were gazetted on 11 November 2009. Former St James Power Station at No. 3 Sentosa Gateway, Singapore 098544 (Currently also known as the St James Power Station) Do you know that this one-stop nightlife destination was once a real power station? It is Singapore’s first municipal power station and was declared open by Governor Sir Hugh Clifford on 7 November 1927. The Power Station was and is still distinguishable by its distinctive red brick walls. It is the only historical industrial building in Singapore with triple level arch-shaped windows. The voluminous space in the interior, which is now used for the night clubs, was initially designed to house the huge machinery for generating electricity. Gas turbine generators were added after its opening to expand its capacity. It was officially reopened by Minister of Finance Dr Goh Keng Swee in 1960 and functioned as a power station until the 1970s, with the opening of the Jurong Power Station in March 1970.
After the power station was decommissioned in the 1970s, the machineries were removed. The space was converted for use for the club when the Power Station underwent restoration and conversion for adaptive re-use in 2005. How to get there? - By train: Alight at Harbour Front Station (within walking distance) - By bus: 10,30,57,61,65,80,97,100,131,143,145,166,855,30E, 97E,NR1 and NR6 Church of St Teresa at 2 Bukit Purmei, Singapore 099865 Officially opened on 7 April 1929, the Church of St Teresa is located on Bukit Purmei, which means “beautiful” or “fair hill” in Malay. Part of the Church’s beauty can be found on its stained glass panels which depict the story of St Teresa. The Church is modelled after the Romano-Byzantine design of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Montmartre, Paris and has excellent exterior and interior composition of detailing, ornamentation and craftsmanship. The Church was originally built to serve the Hokkien-dialect Chinese Catholics in the Kampong Bahru area including the port workers; it also catered to the Catholics in Havelock Road, Cantonment Road, Trafalgar Street, Outram Road, Alexandra Road and Pasir Panjang. As part of its mission, the Church initiated the establishment of Catholic Schools in Singapore, such as the Carmelite Convent, St. Teresa’s High School and Catholic High School.
Church of St. Teresa in Kampong Bahru, 1989 (Source: National Archives of Singapore)
How to get there? - By train and bus: Alight at Harbour Front Station and board bus 61, 143 and 166 to head to Kampung Bahru Road - By bus: 61,124,143 and 166. Alight at Kampung Bahru Road (before/ after Bukit Purmei, depending on which direction you are coming from) Bowyer Block at the Singapore General Hospital at 11 Third Hospital Avenue, Singapore 168751 Today’s Bowyer Block is known as the SGH Museum and its iconic clock tower is distinguishable from afar. Formerly known as the Upper Block, the Bowyer Block was renamed in honour of Doctor John Herbert Bowyer (the Chief Medical Officer who died during the war) after the war in 1946 when the Singapore General Hospital reopened as a civilian hospital. Prior to that, the Hospital functioned as a military hospital and the Bowyer Block was painted red and white (the colours of the red cross) to reflect that function. The Bowyer Block is an important physical reminder of the two landmarks in Singapore’s medical history, one of which is the opening of the new General Hospital by Sir Laurence Guillemard on 29 March 1926. The Singapore General Hospital was established in 1921 and is Singapore’s oldest hospital. Its medical facilities were upgraded with the establishment of a new hospital building which featured three main blocks known as the Upper, Middle and Lower Blocks. These blocks were renamed Bowyer, Stanley and Norris Blocks respectively to memorialise three doctors who were closely associated with the hospital and who died during the Second World War.
remaining of the three medical blocks as the other two blocksStanley and Norris- were demolished during the Hospital’s upgrading in 1975. Today’s Bowyer Block is half of what it used to be as an arm of the block was demolished to make way for the Hospital’s car park.
In particular, the Upper Block (Bowyer Block) was built with a portico and a clock tower by architect, Major P.H. Keys, It is the
The Bowyer Block has been readapted for use as the SGH Museum.
Statue of St. Teresa, undated. (Source: Preservation Monuments Board)
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Bowyer Block, Undated (Source courtesy of SGH Museum)
How to get there? - By train: Alight at Outram Park MRT Station (within walking distance) - By bus: 33,63,174,174E. Alight at Outram Road and walk over to 1st Hospital Drive Keng Teck Whay at 150 Telok Ayer Street, Singapore 068608 Built between 1847 and 1875 by 36 members of Hokkien Chinese heritage, Keng Teck Whay was constructed using traditional Chinese building methods and materials. It is of the min-nan architectural style, which originates from the southern part of Fujian Province in China. The beauty of the building can be seen in its Pavilion, which is a combination of an octagonal upper floor resting on a square plan with a perimeter of intermediate space, which is unique in Singapore.
Keng Teck Whay, Undated (Source: Preservation Monuments Board)
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This building is a living testament to the founding membersâ€™ efforts. Contributions and membership is presently limited to the descendents of the founding members. Collectively, Chung Wen Pagoda, Thian Hock Keng Temple and Keng Teck Whay contribute to the rich assembly of traditional Chinese buildings on Telok Ayer Street.
Command House , 2010. (Source: Preservation Monuments Board)
Note: Keng Teck Whay is for exterior viewing only. How to get there? - By train: Alight at Telok Ayer Station (under construction) - By bus: 57,131,167,532,533,534,535,536,542,543,548,549,550,555,5 56,557,558,559,560,561,563,564,565,569,700. Alight at Cecil Street, Prudential Tower and walk to Telok Ayer Street. Command House at 17 Kheam Hock Road, Singapore 298791 Formerly known as ‘Flagstaff House’, this colonial period building was designed by architect Frank Brewer, who is known for his work on several other colonial style buildings in Singapore. Built in the 1930s, this house had several notable residents and was an important witness to Singapore’s past:- Command House served as the official residence of 16 successive General Officers Commanding (GOC) of Malaya and Singapore between 1938 and 1971. Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Supreme Allied Commander of South East Asia Command, resided there in 1946. Following the British military’s withdrawal from Singapore in 1971, the house became the official residence of the Speaker of Singapore’s Parliament, Dr. Yeoh Ghim Seng who lived there until 1989. It later served as a venue for State Functions by former Singapore President Ong Teng Cheong (1993-1999). The House has beautiful architectural features. Built as a colonial period residence, incorporating features from the late Arts and Crafts design movement, the House was designed for tropical living: it has a large overhanging roof, the rooms are well ventilated by large doors, windows and vents, and the verandas provide plenty of shelter from the sun. An interesting feature of the bungalow is that the side wings are angled forward as if to embrace and welcome visitors. Note: the House is for exterior viewing only. How to get there? - By bus: 48,66,67,151,153,154,156,170,171,186. Alight at Dunearn Road (before/ after Kheam Hock Road, depending on which direction you are coming from) and walk along Kheam Hock Road to the House.
An Aerial View of the Former Raffles College, c. 1938. (Source: Raffles College Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore)
Former Raffles College at 469 Bukit Timah Road, Singapore 259756 (Currently known as the National University of Singapore Campus at Bukit Timah) Officially opened on 22 July 1929 by Sir Hugh Clifford, Governor of the Straits Settlements, Raffles College was dedicated to “the promotion of arts, science and learning and the provision of higher education for students without distinction of sex, race, nationality or religion.” The first institution on higher learning available in Malaya, the campus was designed by Cyril A. Farey and Graham D. Dawbam of London, who were the winners of a British Empire-wide architectural competition in 1922. The College was merged in 1949 with the King Edward VII School of Medicine to form the University of Malaya, the precursor to the National University of Singapore. The former college buildings which have been preserved are Oei Tiong Ham Building, CJ Koh Law Library, Manasseh Meyer Building, Federal Building, Eu Tong Sen Building and Li Ka Shing Building, together with the Upper and Lower Quadrangle which serves as a green space between the buildings. How to get there? - By train: Alight at Botanic Gardens Station (under construction) - By bus: 48,66,67,151,153,154,156,170,171,186. Alight at NUS/ Jacob Ballas Children Garden Bus Stop and walk into the campus. APRIL - JUNE 2010
Abode of Peace Brunei Between Tradition and Modernity
By Amanda Chan Manager, International Relations, Corporate Communications and Industry Promotion With contributions from: nur azlin bte salem, oral history specialist, national archives of singapore Siti Nurliyana bte Taha, Officer, Museum Project, Malay Heritage Centre Ong Zhen Min, Assistant Curator, The National Art Gallery of Singapore IMAGES: Daniel Teo (NHB BOARD MEMBER), Siti Nurliyana bte Taha and Ong Zhen Min 74
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An oxymoron – that was my sentiments towards Brunei Darussalam, when I was first told of the visit to be made. It is a country which is so near, yet one which I know very little about. It should also be a country with which I ought to feel a certain sense of connection, as I have relatives who are Bruneians. Yet, in another way, my relatives are almost complete strangers now. Even if I were to see them on the streets of Brunei, I would not recognise them. With a mixed bag of feelings and without a clear sense of what to expect, I embarked on my 4-day sojourn in Bandar Seri Begawan, capital of Brunei Darussalam, from 10 - 13 January 2010.
Brunei Darussalam – an exceedingly beautiful name, it means the abode of peace. Just the name itself conjures images of what one expects to see upon landing. Peace is something mankind has been seeking – peace with oneself, peace with one’s environs, peace with one’s fellow men. Yet, it is always elusive. Perhaps over the course of my 4-day visit, I may be able to experience some form of peace, even if it is just momentarily and still this-worldly. As a society, Brunei is traditional, yet modern. The Islamic faith permeates just about every aspect of the country. From the state flag and state motto, the Islamic way of life is apparent. Even in the face of modernisation, the country has not lost sight of its Islamic faith. It seeks a balanced approach towards modernisation while meeting the requirements of the faith. This is truly admirable. While the world continues to debate about the impact of globalisation and modernisation on the traditional ways of life, Brunei seems to be walking on this tightrope with relative ease. The country is very aware that its key economic drivers, oil and natural gas, may be exhausted in due course. Hence, to develop sustainable economic strategies, it is looking to alternative channels of growth. On the back of its Islamic faith, the country is looking to develop Brunei into a hub for Islamic banking, halal food, cosmetics and medicine processing. What a perfect solution to the demand of survival and keeping the faith alive!
The power of faith in art and architecture History has proven the power of faith in leading artistic development. In Brunei, this has also been the case. The Islamic faith has inspired art and cultural developments; Islamic-inspired geometric designs, calligraphy, floral and vegetal scrollwork are used extensively in the traditional arts and crafts of kain tenunan Brunei (Brunei brocade), seni hisan kayu (woodcraft), anyaman (weaving), silver and brass smiting and songkok making. At the Malay Technology Museum and Brunei Arts and Handicrafts Training Centre, one can see the ingenuity and fine artistry of Bruneian craftsmen from early Brunei to present. What impressed me even more is that the Sultan does not commission a royal workshop, but looks to the Brunei Arts and Handicrafts Training Centre to produce royal ware. Such direct and practical support from the Sultan to the promotion of locally made traditional arts and crafts injects a strong boost of confidence towards the status of traditional arts and crafts in this increasingly modernised world.
Built by the 28th Sultan of Brunei, the Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque is an impressive monument. It dominates the sky line behind Kampong Ayer and its golden dome is its architectural signature.
Faith has also inspired some of the most beautiful architecture in the land, including mosques, such as the Jame’ Asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque. Built in 1988 and endowed by the current Sultan, Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, the Jame’ Asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque is the largest mosque in Brunei. It is aesthetically impressive – the male prayer hall alone covers 60,000 square feet, can accommodate 3,500 worshippers at any one time and is decorated with a 24-carat gold plated crystal chandelier. However, it stays true to its purpose – to serve the faith. APRIL - JUNE 2010
The magnificent interior of the Jame Asrâ€™ Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque reflects the power of faith to inspire beautiful works ofAPRIL art in honour the One who creates. 76 - JUNEof2010
The design of the mosque harkens worshippers to the fundamentals of the faith – the courtyard features five fountains, which are symbolic of the five pillars of faith in Islam and the five daily prayer times. The dome in the main prayer hall is decorated with Qur’anic calligraphy; reminding the congregation of the teachings of the faith. Function and form are both well-served in this magnificent building. Besides being a gathering place for congregational prayer and learning, the mosque has an extensive library carrying 22,000 books spanning over 5,000 titles on Islam. To all with a spiritual hunger, this library will most certainly provide the manna of spiritual nourishment! The Sultan, in addition to being the Head of State, also acts as a spiritual beacon to the Bruneians. His Majesty contributes directly to the people’s rich cultural experience by putting up his extensive private collection, particularly on Islamic materials and objects which include walking sticks (which serve as a reminder of man’s mortality), Korans and prayer beads, for public viewing. The Sultan’s collection can be viewed at the Islamic Art Gallery in the Brunei Museum as well as the Islamic Gallery in the State’s Mufti Office. Through the displays of the Sultan’s collection, these galleries aim to remind the people of their Islamic heritage and legacy for the future generations. Through this, the Sultan as ruler of the land, acts as a spiritual inspiration to the people.
Tourism that benefits the community Being aware of the value of their cultural heritage and with the need to seek alternative avenues of economic development, Brunei has begun to look at tourism, weaving in the historical and cultural experience, as a new revenue stream. While Brunei is not readily equipped with tourism infrastructure, it is looking at experiential tourism to impress foreign visitors. The Tourism Department has positioned Kampong Ayer, the birthplace of Brunei and also the world’s largest living water village dating to 10th century AD, as a tourism hotspot. Kampong Ayer is slated to be the first touchdown spot for tourists, in order that they gain an understanding and appreciation of Brunei’s beginnings before proceeding to see Brunei in the present.
(Top) The world’s largest living water village, dating from the 10th C AD. While rich in history, the village has been upgraded with modern amenities, such as sewage system, fresh water and electricity supply. Nonetheless, it has not lost its tranquility and idyllic heartbeat. (Bottom) A morning of warm and sincere Bruneian hospitality, at Kampong Sungei Matan.
Experiencing the traditional way of life, trades and crafts is also promoted a tourism encounters. In partnership with local communities, the Tourism Department develops kampong visits and home-stays as part of the tourist experience. In this area, community involvement in tourism development is a key strategy to success, as exemplified in the Kampong Sungei Matan model. In partnership with the village headman, who is elected into office by the villagers of Kampong Sungei Matan, the Tourism Department is developing eco-tours and home stay programmes for tourists. Such programmes benefit both the tourists and the villagers. As the tourists get a better understanding of the Bruneian way of life, the revenue generated contributes to the improvement in the well-being
of the village, funding public works improvement, subsidies for formal and informal education, and the building of communal facilities such as a library and internet facilities in the village headman’s home, which also doubles as a community centre. Indeed, this is a win-win strategy which benefits both the tourists and the local communities! Inter-government agencies partnership is also critical in tourism development. This is seen in the engagement of the Tourism Department with Brunei Museums in promoting Brunei as a tourist destination. One significant project is the Tasek Merimbun Heritage Park, recognised as one of eleven ASEAN Heritage Parks and Reserves. It is promoted as an eco-tourism destination APRIL - JUNE 2010
(Top) Realistic presentation of the traditional way of life â€“ a display at the Malay Technology Museum shows the extraction of sugar cane juice; a rather labourious task. But certainly a sweet treat to enjoy! (Left) Finely crafted congkak game set â€“ lovingly fashioned by the artisans at the Brunei Arts and Crafts Training Centre. (Right) A perfect blend of artistry and function - fine basketry crafts on sale at a craft centre. 78
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under the Heart of Borneo initiative, a collaborative effort that spans Brunei, Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak) and Indonesia (Kalimantan) under the banner of “Three Countries, One Conservation Vision”. Community participation also features in its improvement projects; the Tasek Merimbun village headman and the villagers, civic and students groups are all involved. To complement the tourism development efforts, there is also an attempt to connect the past to the present, such as through the Malay Technology Museum and the Brunei Arts and Handicraft Training Centre. While the visitors see the traditional way of life, trades and skills in the Malay Technology Museum, they see how some of these trades continue to thrive and are promoted in the Brunei Arts and Handicraft Training Centre.
Syaifuddin works primarily in the realist style, drawing his subject matters from his environment and focusing on the life of the people and scenery in Brunei. He has held one solo show at Rainforest Gallery to date, and currently teaches art courses at the gallery.
As we make our way to the airport at the end of the visit, a sense of anomalous familiarity re-emerged. The roads of Bandar Seri Begawan are so similar to Singapore’s, and the luscious greenery reminds me of home as well. The culture,language and food – so recognisable. The distinct difference is the absence of traffic, even though it was a work day and even in the downtown of the capital. Serenity delivered with a comfortable pace of life…. This is as close as you can get to peace on earth!
It impresses me that Brunei holds the view that culture and arts are considered key indicators of economic development in Brunei’s quest for alternative sources of sustainable growth. Unlike traditional growth economic models where culture and the arts are relegated to the backwaters, I regard the Brunei model of growth as enlightened!
Seeking out contemporary artists Perhaps one area where Brunei is lacking in is in the area of contemporary art development. Little is known of current artistic developments. Local artists appear to work in solitude; keeping to their own circles and away from the radar of the official channels. While there used to be artist group-initiated exhibitions, these have lapsed in recent years. With such a background, in addition to the lack of research on Bruneian artists, the history and extent of art development in Brunei is not known. As such, it is difficult for one to learn more about the local contemporary art scene, except through visits to private galleries such as Rainforest Gallery, which represents a few Bruneian artists. One of the artists represented by Rainforest Gallery is Syaifuddin Badaruddin. Syaifuddin was born in Makassar, South Sulawesi, and is now a resident in Brunei Darussalam. The artist specialises in the art of soil painting; his artworks are created through a technique of coating the canvas with a layer of wet soil and shaping it to form the details.
A Brief History of Brunei Covering a total area of 5,700 sq km, Brunei is located in Southeast Asia on the northern coast of Borneo; almost completely surrounded by Malaysia. The country’s population stands at about 280,000, with Malays forming the majority (64%), followed by Chinese (20%). The predominant religions are Islam (63%) and Buddhism (14%). Malay is the official language, but English and Chinese are also spoken. From the 14th to the 16th centuries, Brunei Darussalam was the seat of a powerful sultanate extending over Sabah, Sarawak and the lower Philippines. Thus, the current Sultan represents one of the world’s oldest continuously ruling dynasties. By the 19th century, however, sultanate had been whittled away by wars, piracy and the colonial expansion of European powers.
Brunei became a British protectorate in 1888 and a Residential System was established in 1906, in which a British Resident represented the British government and advised the sultan in all matters except Malay customs, traditions and Islamic religion. Internal self-government was established in 1959 with a written constitution. In 1971, this arrangement was amended to give Brunei full internal independence except in defence and external affairs. In 1967 His Highness Sultan Haji Sir Muda Omar Ali Saifuddien abdicated in favour of his son Pengiran Muda Mahkota Hassanal Bolkiah. On 1 January 1984, Brunei resumed full independence and the Sultan took office as Prime Minister, Finance Minister and Home Affairs Minister, presiding over a cabinet of six.
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high living downtown Ascott Raffles Place Singapore
Boasting 18 storeys upon its completion in 1955, the 81.7m-tall Asia Insurance Building at 2 Finlayson Green was once uncontested as the tallest building in Southeast Asia. Designed by Ng Keng Siang, the first Singapore architect to join the Royal Institute of British Architects, this elegant Art Deco style building once housed offices and was a prominent symbol of Singapore’s growing commercial power and financial clout after the difficult years immediately following the Second World War. Today, the building has been transformed from the inside out into a 20-storey block of upscale serviced apartment suites and renamed the Ascott Raffles Place Singapore. This instance of adaptive reuse in the heart of Singapore’s financial district was judged to meet the strict restoration principles required by the Urban Redevelopment Authority for its annual Architectural Heritage Awards (AHA) and was thus named a Category A winner in 2009. Restoration projects in this category cover National Monuments as well as full conserved buildings in Singapore’s historic districts and good class bungalow areas. APRIL - JUNE 2010
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Recognising the landmark as an iconic reminder of Singapore’s post-war development, The Ascott Limited purchased the building with the idea of restoring it to its former glory and converting it into its flagship service residence. The drastic change in use and the need to preserve the integrity of the original design raised a number of issues during the redesign stage. Taking panes with the exterior One of the most important aspects of the project was the restoration of the building’s unique and prominent exterior. To restore the original Travertine stone panel claddings on all of the building’s façade, the project team from RSP Architects Planners & Engineers used a technique called pin-restraint. This involved delicately fastening back each piece of panel to the original wall while expertly reuniting cracked fragments with parent panels. The original fluted columns and UV-bleached Nero Portaro stone panel claddings along the ground floor walkway were also carefully handpolished to restore the marble to its original sheen. A major rescue effort was involved in the building’s antiquated window frames with brass handles. These frames were repaired and restored with sensitivity, and had their original panes replaced by high-performance glass panels that offer superior sound and heat insulation for residents. Grandeur from the ground up A new drop-off portico welcomes guests at the ground floor, who ascend from the street level stone steps to the entrance lobby on a wide, double-bullnose staircase that combines grandeur and a fluid, natural sense of movement. Internally, the lift system was consolidated for greater efficiency. Instead of two separate lift cores at the sides of the building as before, arriving guests now find themselves naturally directed towards one centrally located lift core. This has also permitted the creation of new spaces such as a restaurant and lounge at the first- and second storey podium. The old and new have been tastefully juxtaposed at a revitalised rooftop. Two
new storeys were added, and as a result of a skyline study, the architects enveloped these levels in a reflective glass box. The additional floors effectively ‘disappear’ when viewed from outside, hence preserving the building’s original form.
building’s original stainless steel crown. The original brass mail chute and the intricate motif design on the stair railings from before were also adapted and replicated as a decorative air-conditioner grille in every apartment.
A crown of lights and elegance To enhance the building’s presence in the urban night scene, cool white cathode lights were added along the horizontal fins and stepped crown, making the building visible along the riverside. The street level colonnades now have cylindrical pendant light fixtures that complement the architecture as well as provide lighting along the five-foot way.
Such thoughtful touches and injection of inventiveness have succeeded in giving a new shine and life to a handsome old building designed by one of Singapore’s pioneer architects.
Recreational facilities are situated at the high floors, taking advantage of the building’s stepped design and to minimise visual encumbrance. A state-of-the-art infinity pool (a swimming pool with a ‘vanishing’ edge) add new lustre to the
We thank The Ascott Limited and RSP Architects Planners & Engineers (Pte) Ltd for permission to use the photographs.
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with Adeline Foo
Author, mother and budding screenwriter Adeline Foo dons all these hats in her pursuit of stories that bring to life the cultures and creatures of Singapore. Perhaps best known for introducing Puteh, a precocious little Nonya, to audiences in Singapore and abroad, Ms Foo made her debut in the heritage scene in 2008 with a quartet of illustrated children’s books about Peranakan life.
of Samsui women,” she said of this illustrated chapter book, which was also published under the First Time Writers & Illustrators Publishing Initiative. “So I decided to write about something that I know, which is my Peranakan heritage, and it has to be a picture book, because the flavours of the culture are so colourful and vibrant.”
The four titles – The Beaded Slippers, The Kitchen God, Chilli Padi and The Amulet – offer charming and colourful accounts of Puteh’s adventures as she explores her family’s home and history, celebrates traditional festivals and enjoys scrumptious Peranakan treats. A sleeper hit with both parents and young readers, the books have travelled all the way to the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany and Singapore Day in Melbourne.
The seed was sown, but it was a serendipitous encounter that sparked the idea for one of the first two books in Ms Foo’s Peranakan series. “It actually started with a snippet about the Kitchen God that I came across in the library,” she recalls. “I read about the Kitchen God that’s worshipped a few days before the Lunar New Year. People would pray to the god and try to bribe him by sweetening his mouth with honey and hopefully he will rise to heaven to report on the family he’s watching over favourably.”
A mother with three children, aged 4, 6 and 9, Ms Foo has nearly 15 years of experience in advertising and public relations. Her plunge into the world of children’s books came in 2006 when she received a First Time Writers & Illustrators Publishing Initiative Award1 to pen a series on the native wildlife of Singapore. “After that I went on no-pay leave to spend more time with my kids,” she told BeMUSE, adding that her decision to juggle writing and homemaking has the full support of her employers. “My bosses see that I have a passion for writing,” she said. “There are so many children’s books out there,” Ms Foo observes. “But a local one, and one peculiar to a certain culture, is not really available. And to encourage a mom to spend her money, your books must appeal to a certain niche and offer a unique selling point in advertising jargon. So I focus on what I know best, like native animals and Peranakan culture.” Not too long ago, few children’s books featured local heritage. One notable exception that Ms Foo recalls fondly is Samsui Girl by Ho Lee-Ling, which is about a young girl who learns what it is like to be a Samsui girl for a day. “I read her book and found that it was a unique way of presenting the historical aspects 84
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“When I read that I was thinking: it’s so funny! What would a kid think? Would a kid think that it’s true and really believe it?” Thus emerged Puteh’s adventures in The Kitchen God, in which the young Nonya tries to cover up her naughty antics by silencing the deity and ends up nearly burning down her grandmother’s kitchen. Later, in The Beaded Slippers, a pair of magical slippers transports Puteh to the past, where she learns how her grandmother spent her youth and the rituals and artefacts involved in a Peranakan wedding. For Ms Foo, the account is a case of art mimicking life, as the book is dedicated to her own grandmother, who was nicknamed ‘Puteh’ for her fair complexion. “In Peranakan culture, we use a lot of nicknames,” she remarks with a laugh. “My grandfather is called Itam (‘black’ in Baba Malay), so Puteh has a friend who is darker and nicknamed Itam.” Armed with these stories, Ms Foo convinced the National Heritage Board that the books would complement the activities and galleries of the thenunfinished Peranakan Museum. Excited by the possibilities, the museum’s team
also suggested that she apply for funding from the then-newly established Heritage Industry Incentive Programme (Hi2P). “I did the proposal, wrote the synopses and planned what we wanted to do with the books and how to market them,” recounts Ms Foo, who found the process similar to what she did during her advertising days. “It was not unlike doing a marcoms plan for a client!” “Nobody had any idea if these books would sell,” says Ms Foo of the uncertainties she faced then. “But because it was one of the first ten projects that got the funding, there was a lot of publicity. The media was interested and it was quite refreshing for them to see that children’s books can also be funded. Also, the Peranakan community has been very supportive – they have been buying and the books are doing quite well.” By March 2010, the four Peranakan books have sold an estimated 8,000 copies in total. Ms Foo also heaps praise on her illustrator, Lee Kowling, for the books’ enduring depictions of Puteh and her home. “The artist is not Peranakan, so she had to do a lot of research,” she explains. Using references loaned by the museum and the Peranakan Association, Ms Foo weaved stories around actual artefacts such as shoes, furniture and jewellery that would be on display, while the artist recreated settings based on archival photos. “In fact, one of the scenes was illustrated from a picture of a bedroom featured in Peter Lee’s book2 on the architecture of a Peranakan house,” reveals Ms Foo. “When [Mr Lee] saw the book, he was quite amazed.” The result clearly appealed to both Ms Foo and her readers. “Mothers prefer a style that is more organic, back to basics and less computerised,” she remarks. “The artist is a veteran in the field of illustration using water colour and her style sits very well with parents.” As a result, the author-artist partnership is continuing with Ms Foo’s next line-up of heritage-theme children’s books. “It was a no-brainer,” quips Ms Foo, who is
Ms Adeline Foo sharing stories from her books with students of United World College of Southeast Asia East Campus, 2010.
now seeking inspiration in the Singapore Art Museum’s collection of art by Singapore’s pioneering Nanyang artists. Puteh returns, now older and wiser, in the first title of the series, Georgette’s Mooncakes, which charts the origins of the Mid-Autumn Festival through the works of Georgette Chen (1906 - 1993), one of the founders of the Nanyang style of painting3.
“I was quite attracted to Georgette Chen’s life,” states Ms Foo. “She is the first woman [in Singapore] who’s a successful artist and she had no children, so I was wondering how her life was like. She was a very well-respected teacher, so her whole life was surrounded by children – students and painters – so maybe she has a story to tell.” In the book, readers observe the artist through the eyes of Puteh and a friend, who serve as her apprentices. “At the end of the story, she has a reflection where she yearns for a family and togetherness, and she finds that in her two students,” says Ms Foo of the relationship she imagines the artist forges with her young charges. Betraying a childlike fascination with personal nuggets that escape academic attention, Ms Foo shares how she was
tickled pink by one episode in Chen’s life. “She used to travel to many countries, and there would be people writing to her from these countries. She lived in a Siglap house where the postbox was quite accessible, so naughty children would steal her letters, tear off the stamps and throw the letters back. So she was complaining about letters that had all their stamps torn off – I found it so quirky!” “It’s quite amazing when you hear the voices of all these people who have passed on,” sighs Ms Foo. “Till today, I enjoy reading historical anecdotes, especially those that capture what life was like in the past. I am quite a kaypoh!” It’s a love she is trying to share with her two younger children. “My oldest kid thinks it’s boring, but my younger kids are more receptive to going to the museum and having fun, because I started them earlier when they were two to four.” But even her oldest child can’t resist the interactive exhibits and e-platforms installed in the galleries. “I think the way forward to packaging history is to use new technology,” she opines. “You can’t escape that. Books are for very young kids because you want to encourage them to read, but once they are 12 onwards, if anything, I would use films to tell a story.” Thus, Ms Foo is seeking to boost her craft with a Masters in Dramatic Writing at the New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts Asia. “I am working on a screenplay right now,” she reveals. “The idea that started me off was a historical anecdote in the newspapers about a group of cabaret women who set up a school for orphans.”
At the same time, Ms Foo is working on her next book in the Singapore’s pioneer artist series, which will focus on Cheng Soo Pieng (1917 - 1983), while Georgette’s Mooncakes is being translated to Chinese. She also hopes that her books will find an audience beyond Singapore. “I would very much like to see that happen, so that whatever we write is not just constrained to Singaporeans learning about our own cultures but about telling the world out there what we have to offer.” Citing the example of Mem Fox, an award-winning Australian children’s author, Ms Foo observes that when Fox started writing, “her publishers told her nobody wanted to read about koalas and kangaroos, but 50 years on, her books are well accepted all over the world.” It’s a change of heart that Ms Foo believes will come in time. “I think people would want to read about what Singapore has and this culture that is unique to this part of the world.” Endnotes: 1. The First-Time Writers & Illustrators Publishing Initiative is an initiative by the Media Development Authority and the National Book Development Council of Singapore to nurture new talents in the publishing industry. For more information, please visit: www.bookcouncil.sg/_publishing/ FTWIPI2009.php Peter Lee & Jennifer Chen, 1998. Rumah Baba: Life in a Peranakan House, Singapore: National Heritage Board, Singapore History Museum.
The Nanyang Style refers to the art practised by a group of post-war artists in Singapore who combined techniques from Chinese pictorial traditions and the School of Paris movement. ‘Nanyang’ means Southern Seas in Chinese, and the artists usually depicted subjects from Southeast Asian cultures and scenes.
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April - June 2010 Singapore Pavilion, Shanghai World Expo 17 May - 6 June 2010 Shanghai, China. The National Heritage Board (NHB) will be putting Singapore on the global stage with an exhibition at the Shanghai World Expo. From 17 May to 6 June 2010, visitors to the Singapore Pavilion at the Expo can look forward to an exhibition that illustrates the close relations between Singapore and China, starting from the early trade links, Chinese migration to Singapore as well as the ordinary men and women in Singapore who contributed to the Chinese Revolution and Sino-Japanese war efforts. Stories of Singapore’s early Chinese Pioneers – the entrepreneurs and philanthropists, the pioneer artists and the Peranakan Chinese – will be told at the exhibition. Visitors will also be updated on contemporary developments in cultural exchanges between the two countries which established diplomatic ties in 1990. With an anticipated daily visitorship of 20,000 per day, almost half a million visitors would view the exhibition during the display period. The exhibition ends off with a feature on NHB and its institutions to introduce to international audiences Singapore’s vibrant heritage and cultural sector.
International Museum Day (IMD) 2010 Various museums throughout Singapore 14 May - 23 May 2010 Indulge in a delightful heritage holiday as families and kids experience the fascinating cultural treasures of the world in Singapore!
Toshio Egawa to the museum two years ago. Produced mainly in the 18th century in English and European kilns, these wares reflect Japanese and Chinese influence. Porcelain from Japan and China were highly sought after in the West, where they were collected and proudly displayed in palaces and mansions.
different uses of the ubiquitous carrier bag, its role as a mobile advertisement, and also sheds light on the paper bag business in Singapore – a much forgotten trade that is still surviving today.
Treasury of the World: Jewelled Arts of India in the Age of the Mughals 12 February – 27 June 2010
Quest for Immortality – The World of Ancient Egypt offers an insight to the ancient Egyptian’s attitude to life and the afterlife, and the preparations they made to ensure their transition from earthly existence to immortality. With 230 artefacts spanning 4000 BCE to 950 CE, the exhibition endeavours to place tomb objects in their social, religious and artistic contexts, demonstrating the diversity and adaptability of an art that has prevailed both time and space.
Immerse yourself in the opulence of the legendary Mughal empire (1526 – 1858), one of the wealthiest and most powerful dynasties the world has ever known. Treasury of the World features a dazzling array of more than 400 exquisite jewelled works of art from Mughal India, drawn from the al-Sabah Collection in Kuwait. The rulers of the Mughal empire were so renowned for their lavish lifestyle, love of beauty and vast collection of precious objects that the Mughal emperor Jahangir was once described in a letter by the English Ambassador Thomas Roe as ‘the treasury of the world’. Learn about life in the Mughal court from the leisure pursuits, food and weaponry of the emperor and his royal household.
Testament of Tebaran 19 June – 18 July 2010 Held in conjunction with Month of Photography Asia 2010, this exhibition by acclaimed National Geographic Photographer Mattias Klum portrays the effects on the climate and the loss of biodiversity caused by extensive logging of the tropical rainforests of Borneo.
Centred on the theme I Love Museums – Kids’ edition, NHB invites you to explore Singapore’s diversity of museums and our enriching exhibitions and programmes in this annual cultural extravaganza. Bond with your little ones over museum carnivals. From engaging storytelling sessions, performances, craft workshops and dress-up corners to games and other interactive events, kids will be thrilled by a kaleidoscopic array of activities. In addition, look out for the well-loved Children’s Season 2010 – made bigger, better, and bolder for you – as part of the programme line-up.
So gather your family and friends for a fun day out! To top off the excitement, enjoy free entry to NHB museums and participating museums with the IMD’10 Open House Day on 23 May. For more information, visit www.museums.com.sg from 26 April 2010 onwards.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE
ASIAN CIVILISATIONS MUSEUM The Egawa Donation: A Collection of Japanese and Chinese-inspired Ceramics Till 13 June 2010 This exhibition showcases a collection of European ceramics donated by Mr. and Mrs. 86
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Ramayana Revisited: A Tale of Love & Adventure 15 January – 22 August 2010 The Ramayana is one of the timeless epic poems of India. It recounts the life of Rama, Prince of the Ayodhya kingdom, and his quest to rescue his wife Sita from Ravana, King of Lanka, with the help of an army of monkeys. This exhibition will feature paintings, textiles and shadow puppets associated with the Ramayana from across South and Southeast Asia.
THE BAG: Carrier bags in Singapore from the 1950s to the 1980s Till 18 April 2010 Paper carrier bags were first made locally in the 1950s for provision shops. Their survival was later challenged by plastic bags as the latter became increasingly popular in the 1970s. This exhibition showcases over 60 paper and plastic bags in the National Museum’s collection, many on display for the first time. Together with contextual photos, the display highlights the
Quest for Immortality – The World of Ancient Egypt Till 4 April 2010
SINGAPORE 1960 4 June – 22 August 2010 In celebration of 50 years of self-government, Singapore1960 will transform the National Museum’s exhibition galleries into a vibrant and colourful ‘live’ show set interjected with noteworthy and quirky news articles. By appropriating cultural spaces familiar to Singaporeans then such as the eclectic Haw Par Villa and the neon-lit ‘Worlds’ amusement parks, over 300 artefacts will be presented in the manner of art installations. Artefacts such as a 100-year old Strohmenger grand piano, sexy sarong kebayas, fully sequinned Chinese opera costumes, hundreds of popular vinyl records and publications and two pairs of sweat-stained boxing gloves were some of the icons that dotted Singapore’s socio-cultural landscape in 1960.
Surviving the Streets: Peddlers and Artisans in Early-Mid 20th Century Singapore 28 June – 22 August 2010 The streets of Singapore in the early to middle 20th century testify to the complex social and economic world of the people who dwelled here. Lurking in the corners, on the edges and in the darkened corridors were nameless entrepreneurs who included rickshaw pullers, hawkers, coolies, refuse collectors and petty traders. The exhibition is supplemented by a display of tools and an audio-visual footage of some traditional crafts – all set in the context of the various aspects of the social life.
SINGAPORE ART MUSEUM FX Harsono: Testimonies 4 March – 9 May 2010 FX Harsono: Testimonies presents a survey of artwork by one of Indonesia’s foremost contemporary artists. Born in 1948, FX Harsono played a pivotal role in the development of contemporary art in Indonesia, and continues to be actively involved in the art scene up till today. This exhibition traces the shifts in the artist’s
strategies of representation: from the groundbreaking conceptual works that re-defined art making during the Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru (New Art Movement) of the 1970s; to the politicallycharged installations of the 1990s and the artist’s recent investigations into issues of self, identity and personal histories.
workshops and enjoy short film screenings. Usual exhibition admission charges apply. Free admission for children aged 6 and below. Each child must be accompanied by an adult holding a valid exhibition admission ticket.
Ming Wong Life Of Imitation 22 April - 22 August 2010
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Danger Till August 2010
In Life of Imitation, Ming Wong revisits the Golden Age of Singapore cinema in the 1950s and 60s, an era of nation-building struggle and rapid modernisation. He re-reads ‘national cinema’ constructed through language, roleplaying and identity by re-interpreting films familiar to audiences spanning two generations, and which engage with performative notions of mis-casting and parroting. Through these video interventions, the viewer is presented with questions related to roots, hybridity, and the politics of becoming. The exhibition also unveils cinema posters by Singapore’s last surviving billboard painter; rare screen memorabilia of a private collector; and documentaries by film-maker Sherman Ong. The premiere of this exhibition was at the Singapore Pavilion of the 53rd Venice Biennale 2009 and it was awarded the Special Jury Mention by the Biennale. Ming Wong: Life of Imitation is curated by Guest Curator, Tang Fu Kuen.
SINGAPORE ART MUSEUM at 8Q Classic Contemporary: Contemporary Southeast Asian Art from the Singapore Art Museum Collection 29 January – 2 May 2010 Classic Contemporary shines the spotlight on the Singapore Art Museum’s (SAM) most iconic contemporary artworks in its collection. By playfully asking what makes a work of art “classic” or “contemporary” – or “classic contemporary” – this accessible and quirky exhibition aims to introduce new audiences to the ideas and art forms of contemporary art. A stellar cast of painting, sculpture, video, photography, performance art from across Southeast Asia are brought together and given the red-carpet treatment, and the entire SAM at 8 Queen Street building is transformed into a dramatic stage for these stars and icons. Yet beneath the glamour, many of the artworks also probe and prod serious issues – often asking critical and challenging questions about society, nation and the history of art itself.
Art Garden Children’s Season at the Singapore Art Museum 14 May to 18 July 2010 The Singapore Art Museum will host its inaugural Children’s Season in May. Young people will be introduced to contemporary art in an interactive, supportive and fun family environment. The entire SAM at 8 Queen Street building will be transformed into magical art gardens showcasing artist projects and artworks inspired by nature. Selected for their imagination and interactivity, these displays will be accompanied by captions to engage young visitors with the art works. Activity sheets inspired by the art works will enhance the children’s learning experience. Young visitors can also participate in a series of artists’
SINGAPORE PHILATELIC MUSEUM
Celebrate the Year of the Tiger at SPM with this fun and educational exhibition for children, and admire beautiful tiger stamps, including zodiac stamps from all over the world. Unravel interesting facts about this magnificent creature whose number has dropped greatly in the last century. Gain an insight into the plight of tigers in our world today, and find out what you can do to save wild tigers from extinction.
At the Post Office - with Max & Phily Till December 2010 For children aged 5 to 10 years, this exhibition introduces children to the post office as a service provider for the community. Children can learn the location of different countries on the world map, find out about the history of the post and see different types of mail boxes from around the world.
FEBRUARY 15: The Day to Remember Till June 2010 SPM commemorates the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II with a thematic exhibition of stamps, letters, postcards, postal notices and other philatelic materials from SPM and private collectors. The ideology and propaganda campaigns of the Japanese invaders, life of the people in Singapore during the Occupation, and memories of the pain and sufferings are told through the collection on display.
Bayanihan: Spirit of the Philippines Till 30 April 2010 Discover what defines the people of this country whose hospitality is legendary. Through beautiful stamps of Philippines and interactive displays, learn about the country’s rich and diverse culture, and journey through its breathtaking natural sites. Unravel the long and colourful history of the Philippines, by walking in the footsteps of her heroes. Plus, gain a rare insight to how everyday life was like in the Philippines in the early 1900s.
Football Fever! June – August 2010 Every four years, the world’s attention is riveted to the World Cup – the most watched and discussed sporting event in the world. Football Fever! unravels the interesting background to the world’s most popular sport, its development over time, and the different styles of play. Test your “footie” knowledge at our exhibition, and learn about the iconic footballers who have played their way into football history.
NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF SINGAPORE
1985 showcases the struggles, decisions and predicaments faced by Singapore in her second decade of independence. Singapore’s second decade was a time of both opportunities and obstacles, and the exhibition will offer viewers insights into the challenges and benefits reaped during this defining period for an evolving young nation. This exhibition will be at Ngee Ann Polytechnic from 28 June to 6 August 2010. For booking enquiries, please contact NAS at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 6332 7900.
PRESERVATION OF MONUMENTS BOARD Of Monuments and Memories From May 2010 onwards Feast your eyes on an artistic photography exhibition featuring 29 of Singapore’s National Monuments. Learn about the built heritage of Singapore as well as the special human interest stories behind their facades. Find out how our monuments served as the earliest form of community centres for people to take root, share and find refuge. Watch out for the exhibition at City Square Mall, VivoCity, Singapore General Hospital and the National Library Building. Visit www.pmb.sg for more details on the exhibition and venues.
MALAY HERITAGE CENTRE Malays in Early Photographs in Singapore and Malaya 22 April - 27 June 2010 Documentation, in a form of pictorials, of the culture, tradition and daily lives of the Malays, as indigenous people, was considered incumbent to understanding the region at the end of the 19th century. This exhibition focuses on Malays through the lens of Western photography as the latter began to capture the local landscape and social fabric of a budding nation. The photographs in this exhibition shed light on the specific style of Western photography that romanticised much of the landscape and its people.
Arts Weekend! 23-24 April 2010 This two-day event which surrounds the themes of photography and young Malay artists will include music performances, film screenings, workshops and dialogue sessions with various local young artists. In addition, be enthralled by a showcase of photography works that captured the visual attraction of Malay Heritage Centre and its community through the artistic use of colour, space and imagery.
Visit www.nhb.gov.sg or www.heritagecalender.sg for updates on NHB calendar of events. Please note that guided tours conducted by the Friends of the Museum (Singapore) and Museum Volunteers are available at NHB’s National Museums. For details on the timings at the various museums, please refer to NHB’ s website.
The Second Decade Nation Building In Progress: 1975 - 1985 Launched in August 2009 The second instalment of NAS’s nationbuilding travelling exhibition series, The Second Decade – Nation Building In Progress: 1975 – APRIL - JUNE 2010
Still Swinging: Fashion, Fun and Games in the 1960s ‘Xin Taohua Jiang (新桃花江)’ by Rita & Sakura (Ling Yun & Ying Hua / 凌云樱花), 1960s © National Museum of Singapore
Step back to a time when visiting Gay World meant a night of games, amusement and music for families and when a beehive, bell-bottoms and big, bold bags were must-haves to make an impression in town. If you find all these habits and hangouts both familiar and fun, it’s surely a give-away that you are bonafide Baby of 1960s! Malaya, Merdeka and the first man on the moon – the 1960s was a decade of political maelstroms and media milestones, as a nation on the cusp of independence wrestled with the unprecedented challenges of charting progress in a post-colonial world. Vietnam, the Beatles, JFK, the Berlin Wall, Elvis, The Cultural Revolution, Woodstock and Che Guevara – the Sixties marked a time of living on the edge. Increasingly affluent and affected societies probed new countercultural movements in music and social mores even as nations manoeuvred a diplomatic tightrope between a lukewarm peace and nuclear annihilation. The 1960s were by no means a groovy joyride but thankfully, the people of Singapore were largely insulated from the worst tensions of the Cold War. Industrialisation and urbanisation led to higher levels of disposable income1 and many women ventured from the parlour to the assembly plant. These socio88
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economic changes resulted in a new wave of mass consumption that borrowed from trends in the West but tacked on a distinctive local touch. For ladies on the go, it simply would not do to be seen in the loose-fitting outfits of a domestic existence. Hollywood and Hong Kong provided the inspiration, but local tailors and seamstresses churned out stylish garments to fit the tastes of Singapore women, who topped it with satin clutchbags and the almost ubiquitous beehive, a hair-do made possible and popular by the growing affordability of electric hairdryers. Meanwhile, trendy guys sported side-burns and bell-bottoms in an attempt to ape the heroes of Tinseltown and wow the girls on an evening stroll down a ‘Durian-less’ Esplanade. For young people flushed with cash and hungry for distractions, there was no lack of choice for things to do on a hard day’s night. On the silver screen at the Capitol at Stamford Road, the Lido at Orchard Road and the Jubilee at North Bridge Road, the likes of Marlon Brando and Audrey Hepburn shared top billing with local productions by the Shaw Brothers and Cathay-Keris Films as well as musical masterpieces by the undisputed king of Malayan cinema, P. Ramlee. Party-goers today might be surprised to learn that even in the Sixties, Kim Seng Road was already one of the most ‘happening’ places in Singapore. But instead of the discotheque Zouk, the action took place at the Great World Amusement Park, where cinemas, live revues and restaurants offered a night of fun and entertainment. Over at Kallang, Gay World offered a heady mix of cabaret, films, games and sport matches, while New World Park at Jalan Besar provided a career launchpad for local stars such as go-go singer Sakura Teng. And years before the stand-up antics of the Boom Boom Room, Wang Sa and Yeh Feng, Singapore’s comedic answer to Laurel and Hardy, brought the house down with laughter during their regular Musical Express shows at the Capitol.
Conveniently, the Magnolia Snack Bar at the Capitol offered frozen treats for hot and sweaty audiences. But for a proper tuck-in, folks would head up Orchard Road to Glutton’s Square for al fresco servings of ice kachang, sarabat, handmade noodles and sip fresh pints brewed at the Archipelago Brewery at Alexandra Road. Food for the mind was to be had at the red-brick National Library Building, which opened at Stamford Road on 12 November 1960. Those with a green bent would take refuge in the Botanic Gardens, which in the 1960s harboured a healthy population of wild monkeys. The more adventurous would hire a boat from Clifford Pier to the Southern Islands such as Kusu Island or Pulau Sakeng. These excursions were not all made for a day of fishing and picnics; many visited keramats or Muslim shrines on these islands to pray for favours. And though Sakeng is no more, the one at Kusu still stands, drawing seasonal crowds to this day. Much has certainly changed since the Sixties, as the decade’s lifestyles and landmarks fade into memory. But some habits never go out of date and it is not unthinkable that the opening of the Integrated Resorts (which in many ways are the modern incarnations of yesterday’s Great Worlds) will herald a new surge of casino hopefuls who will continue to pay homage to old shrines as their fellow gamers did 50 years ago in an era of innocent games and nostalgic decadence. Endnote: Singapore’s per capita GDP grew by S$1,300 in 1960 to nearly S$6,000 by 1975. Source: www. singstat.gov.sg/stats/themes/economy/hist/ gdp.html 1.
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Published by The national heritage board 90
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