The Singapore Story through 60 objects

As we reflect on the bicentennial of modern Singapore this year, we should not forget another significant milestone in our nation's history: Singapore's achievement of internal self-government in June 1959. This year marks its 60th anniversary.

To commemorate 60 years of self-rule, this graphic spread presents 60 objects from Singapore's various National Collections which, when taken together, provide a sweeping overview of the story of Singapore from the late first millennium, through the colonial period to the present.

The objects presented here are curated along five key sections:
A) Networks through Time, B) Colonial, C) Community and Faith, D) Art Historical, and E) Self-Government and Independence.

The narrative does not follow a simple chronology of key milestones in Singapore's history, but instead opts for a more complex, networked, hybrid approach blending chronology, geography, cultures and major themes.

Author

Kennie Ting, Director, Asian Civilisations Museum and Peranakan Museum & Group Director of Museums, National Heritage Board

Publication

Cultural Connections Volume IV 2019

Publisher

Culture Academy Singapore

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60 objects

In choosing the objects to be included, I have been guided by the following criteria: a) that these be objects in collections owned by publicly-funded national institutions in Singapore; b) that these be masterpieces of art, or pieces of historical and socio-cultural significance, with a particular focus on pieces representative of significant collections of objects in public holdings; c) that the graphic spread as a whole is community-inclusive, by which I mean representing all ethnic communities and faiths in Singapore, with a particular effort made in representing the voices of women; d) that the spread be genre-inclusive, by which I mean representing a diverse variety of object types and art genres; e) that the spread places Singapore in the larger global, Asian and Southeast Asian context, emphasising that Singapore, and Singapore’s history, does not exist in a vacuum, but has always been open to and impacted by developments in the regional and global spheres; and finally, f) that the objects chosen are on physical display, as far as possible, in the permanent galleries of the institutions from which they come.

This story of Singapore told through 60 objects is thus unique, in that it is global, cross-cultural, multi-faith and inclusive, by which I mean it includes collections beyond the National Collection held by the National Heritage Board and displayed at the National Museums and Art Galleries. The narrative presented here also reaches back further than the now widely-accepted 700-year timeline of Singapore history. The goal of this spread is ultimately to defamiliarise; to allow our readers to see that Singapore history is rich and multi-dimensional, and that as a nation and a people, we possess a wonderful treasure trove in our museums, archives and libraries that we should preserve, cherish and celebrate.

A) Networks through Time

Situated at the midway point between China and India, Southeast Asia has been at the crossroads of maritime trade since the late first millennium. The Tang Shipwreck, excavated off the island of Sumatra, is testament to large-scale intra-Asian maritime trade taking place at least from the 9th century. At the same time, archaeological digs at Fort Canning and around the Singapore River provide evidence that Singapore in the 14th century was already a thriving trading settlement. There are also corroborating accounts in the Sejarah Melayu (The Malay Annals) of a Kingdom of Singapura paying tribute to the Majapahit Empire.

From the 15th century, Southeast Asia takes centrestage in a global tussle among the European imperial powers to secure a monopoly on spices, and thereafter, on luxury goods from the East, in particular Chinese export porcelain and Indian trade textiles such as those in the (former) Hollander Collection of Indian Trade Cloth. Singapore’s heritage as a cosmopolitan, East-West Asian port city has its antecedents in earlier port cities like Malacca (Melaka), Batavia (Jakarta), Manila, Canton (Guangzhou) and the cities of the former Coromandel Coast (corresponding in geography to today's Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh states), from which these luxury goods from the East were exported to the rest of the world.

Amidst this theatre of trade, war and colonialism came (English) East India Company operative, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, whose failed bid to secure the island of Java as a British colony became the impetus for his renewed search for a permanent British settlement in the lands (and seas) of the Johor-Riau-Lingga Sultanate.

Green Décor Hu Ewer with snake-shaped long handle and dragon head lid

Green Décor Hu Ewer with snake-shaped long handle and dragon head lid, North China, Tang Dynasty (618-907).
Tang Shipwreck Collection, collection of the Asian Civilisations Museum.

This large ewer is one of the finest ceramics found in the Tang Shipwreck and is the only one of its kind in the world.

Inscribed sandstone known as the “Singapore Stone”, Singapore, 10th–14th century

Inscribed sandstone known as the "Singapore Stone", Singapore, 10th - 14th century.
Collection of the National Museum of Singapore.

When the British arrived in Singapore in 1819, they found relics dating back to the 14th century. One of these was a sandstone boulder at the mouth of the Singapore River, near the present-day Fullerton Hotel.

Celadon dish, Longquan kilns, China, Yuan Dynasty, 14th century

Celadon dish, Longquan kilns, China, Yuan Dynasty, 14th century.
Collection of the National Museum of Singapore.

This celadon dish comes from a 14th century shipwreck discovered at Nipah Island, near the Raffles Lighthouse, in the 1980s.

Sejarah Melayu, Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, Singapore, c. 1840

Sejarah Melayu, Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, Singapore, c. 1840.
The Rare Materials Collection, collection of National Library, Singapore.

Edited by scholar, Munsyi Abdulllah (Abdullah Abdul Kadir) and printed in Singapore in the 19th century (c.1840), Sejarah Melayu is the first printed Jawi (Malay in modified Arabic script) version of a 17th century court text, Sulalat al-Salatin (Genealogy of Kings).

Tombstone, Malacca, mid-15th century, stone

Tombstone, Malacca, mid-15th century, stone.
Collection of Asian Civilisations Museum.

This tombstone dates to the heyday of Melaka's economic and political power in the pre-colonial period, before its capture by the Portuguese in 1511.

VOC dish, Japan, Arita, late 17th century, porcelain

VOC dish, Japan, Arita, late 17th century, porcelain.
Collection of Asian Civilisations Museum.

The underglaze-blue decoration of this dish centres on the Dutch Vereenigde Oost Indische Compagnie (VOC), or "United East India Company" monogram, which is circled by the long tails of two phoenixes.

Ritual Hanging, Coromandel Coast, India, early 18th century, cotton; painted mordant and resist dye

Ritual Hanging, Coromandel Coast, India, early 18th century, cotton; painted mordant and resist dye.
The former Hollander Collection of Indian Trade Cloth, Collection of Asian Civilisations Museum.

Large quantities of Indian textiles produced in various centres in Gujarat, the Deccan and Coromandel Coast were traded across Southeast Asia until the end of the 19th century.

Canton “Hong” Bowl, China, c. 1785, porcelain

Canton "Hong" Bowl, China, c. 1785, porcelain.
Collection of Asian Civilisations Museum.

Porcelain bowls of this type that depict the hongs (行) or trading companies of Western merchants at the port city of Canton (today's Guangzhou) were produced by Chinese artisans for export to Western markets by way of Canton.

The History of Java, first edition [two volumes], Thomas Stamford Raffles, London, 1817

The History of Java, first edition [two volumes], Thomas Stamford Raffles, London, 1817.
John Bastin Collection, National Library, Singapore.

Raffles organised all the materials he had amassed during his time in Java into a survey and history of the island state, first published in 1817 as The History of Java. That same year, in recognition for his work on Java, Raffles was conferred a Knighthood by the Prince Regent (the future King George IV of Great Britain).

B) Colonial

The British settlement and colony of Singapore was established by treaty between Raffles, Sultan Hussein Shah and Temenggong Abdul Rahman. The signing of this treaty resulted in the division of the larger Johor-Riau-Lingga Sultanate, a powerful maritime kingdom, of which Singapore was once part of. William Farquhar, who was appointed as the first Resident, spent more time than Raffles in Singapore, and did more for the fledgling colony in his initial years. Singapore thrived through free trade and drew a cosmopolitan resident population from all across Asia and beyond.

In the course of the century and half that the British were in Singapore and Southeast Asia, they invested in surveying and collecting the region's natural history and cultural heritage, amassing large quantities of artefacts, specimens and drawings that were deposited at the former Raffles Library and Museum (today's National Museum of Singapore), established in 1887. The museum also plays host today to the much older William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings, commissioned by Farquhar himself in the early 1800s.

Southeast Asia during the colonial period of 19th to mid-20th centuries was divided and occupied by various European imperial powers: primarily the British in Singapore, Malaya, Burma (today's Myanmar) and North Borneo; the Dutch in the former Netherlands East Indies (today's Indonesia); the Spanish in the Philippines and the French in the former Indochina (today's Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos). The uneasy tension between colonial power and local agency is captured vividly in signature works of major Southeast Asian artists at the turn of the 19th century. This tension would fuel independence movements in the region post-World War II.

But for the time being, Singapore prospered as the foremost trading port in Southeast Asia. The advent of steam-ship and eventually air travel also established Singapore as a pre-eminent tourism destination in Asia, with the Raffles Hotel symbolising the grandeur and opulence of the East. The 1940s and '50s saw Singapore endure the atrocities of the war, the Japanese Occupation, and the aftermath. It was conferred City status in 1951.

Record of the 1819 Treaty of Friendship and Alliance, Singapore, 1841, ink on paper

Record of the 1819 Treaty of Friendship and Alliance, Singapore, 1841, ink on paper.
Collection of the National Archives of Singapore.

The Treaty of Friendship and Alliance was signed on 6 February 1819 by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, representing the British East India Company (EIC) and Singapore's Malay rulers, Sultan Hussein and the Temenggong Abdul Rahman.

Silver epergne presented to William Farquhar, Singapore and England, 1824, silver

Silver epergne presented to William Farquhar, Singapore and England, 1824, silver.
Collection of National Museum of Singapore.

This silver epergne was presented to William Farquhar, the first British Resident of Singapore.

‘Plan of the Town of Singapore’, also known as the “Jackson Plan”, Singapore, 1828, lithograph.

'Plan of the Town of Singapore', also known as the "Jackson Plan", Singapore, 1828, lithograph.
Collection of the National Museum of Singapore.

This is a lithograph of the original steel engraving published in 1828, which was prepared by Lieutenant Philip Jackson based on the plan that he drew up in 1822.

The Esplanade from Scandal Point, John Turnbull Thomson, Singapore, 1851, oil on canvas.

The Esplanade from Scandal Point, John Turnbull Thomson, Singapore, 1851, oil on canvas.
Collection of the National Museum of Singapore.

This is an oil painting by John Turnbull Thomson, who served as the first government surveyor in Singapore from 1841 to 1853. A self-trained artist, he produced a number of paintings which have become an important record of the early settlement.

Portrait of Sir Frank Athelstane Swettenham, John Singer Sargent, Singapore, Malaysia, England, 1904

Portrait of Sir Frank Athelstane Swettenham, John Singer Sargent, Singapore, Malaysia, England, 1904.
Collection of the National Museum of Singapore.

John Singer Sargent was the most celebrated portraitist of his time. This portrait, commissioned by the Straits Association, commemorated Sir Frank Swettenham's long service as Resident-General of the Federated Malay States and Governor of the Straits Settlements.

Black-capped Kingfisher, Malacca, early 19th century, watercolour on paper

Black-capped Kingfisher, Malacca, early 19th century, watercolour on paper.
William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings, gift of G. K. Goh, collection of National Museum of Singapore.

The William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings consists of 477 watercolours of flora and fauna indigenous to Malacca, Singapore and the Malayan Peninsula. It was commissioned by Major William Farquhar between 1819 and 1823, when he was the first Resident of Singapore.

Juvenile Malayan Tapir gaining adult colours (Tapirus Indicus), Sumatra, collected 1913, photo by Tan Heok Hui

Juvenile Malayan Tapir gaining adult colours (Tapirus Indicus), Sumatra, collected 1913, photo by Tan Heok Hui.
The former Raffles Library and Museum Natural History Collection, collection of Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

In the earlier part of the 19th century, Raffles and Farquhar were fighting over the credit for discovering the tapir. Raffles even went as far as to try to block Farquhar's account of the tapir from being published.

Kris, Palembang, Sumatra, 19th century, suasa, wood, copper, gold.

Kris, Palembang, Sumatra, 19th century, suasa, wood, copper, gold.
The former Raffles Library and Museum Ethnographic Collection, collection of Asian Civilisations Museum.

Krises have deep symbolic and ritual meaning in Malay and Indonesian culture. A kris' blade is typically wavy, and the number of waves can range from three to more than thirty.

Boschbrand (Forest Fire), Raden Saleh, Indonesia, 1849, oil on canvas

Boschbrand (Forest Fire), Raden Saleh, Indonesia, 1849, oil on canvas.
Collection of National Gallery Singapore. This work of art has been adopted by the Yong Hon Kong Foundation.

Raden Saleh (1807 or 1811–1880) is regarded as one of the most important 19th century artists from Java. Hailed as the "father of modern Indonesian painting", he is known for his Orientalist landscape and animal hunt paintings that are full of energy and emotion.

España y Filipinas (Spain and the Philippines), Juan Luna, the Philippines, 1884, oil on canvas.

España y Filipinas (Spain and the Philippines), Juan Luna, the Philippines, 1884, oil on canvas.
Collection of National Gallery Singapore.

España y Filipinas is an allegorical painting, using two female figures to represent the colonial relationship between Spain and the Philippines.

Raffles Hotel uniform top, Singapore, 1930s. Collection of the National Museum of Singapore

Raffles Hotel uniform top, Singapore, 1930s.
Collection of the National Museum of Singapore.

The Raffles Hotel began life as a large old bungalow known as Beach House in the early 1830s, built by Robert Scott.

Changi Prison cell door, Singapore, 1930s, metal

Changi Prison cell door, Singapore, 1930s, metal.
Collection of the National Museum of Singapore.

Changi Prison was built in the 1930s as a civilian prison for a few hundred prisoners. It was the last prison built by the British colonial government, and is best known for being an internment camp during World War II.

The Mace of the City of Singapore, Singapore, 1953, gold

The Mace of the City of Singapore, Singapore, 1953, gold.
Collection of the National Museum of Singapore.

Prominent Chinese philanthropist Loke Wan Tho, founder of Cathay Organisation, presented this mace to the city of Singapore.

C) Community and Faith

Multi-culturalism is a core facet of Singaporean identity and society. As a pre-eminent trading port in Southeast Asia, Singapore attracted, in the course of its history, ethnic and religious communities from all over Asia and Europe. Aside from the Malay, Chinese, Indian, Eurasian and various Peranakan communities—these ethnicities being themselves convenient amalgamations of many different sub-ethnicities—Singapore also welcomed Arabs, Jews, Armenians and Europeans.

Another important core facet of Singaporean identity and society is religious harmony, with Singapore being the most religiously diverse nation in the world. Singapore's Inter-religious Organisation today recognises 10 world religions in Singapore—the Baha'i faith, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, Taoism and Zoroastrianism.

This section attempts to capture and present the cultural and religious diversity of Singapore, with all ethnicities and faiths represented as far as possible. Alongside masterpieces of sacred art, material culture features strongly, with film culture being represented by the Cathay-Keris Malay Classics Collection, which was inscribed into the UNESCO Memory of the World Asia-Pacific Register (2014). In the spirit of inclusiveness, particular effort has also been made to feature the stories of women in the community.

Betel box, Riau-Lingga archipelago, mid-19th century, leather, lacquer, gold

Betel box, Riau-Lingga archipelago, mid-19th century, leather, lacquer, gold.
Collection of Asian Civilisations Museum.

The custom of chewing sirih, or betel, is an ancient one. It is widespread in Asia, with almost all countries of South and Southeast Asia having once practised or still practising this custom regularly.

Cheongsam that belonged to Singapore’s war heroine, Elizabeth Choy, Singapore, 1953

Cheongsam that belonged to Singapore's war heroine, Elizabeth Choy, Singapore, 1953.
Collection of National Museum of Singapore, gift of Elizabeth Choy.

This cheongsam with elegant floral prints was worn by Singapore's World War II heroine, the late Elizabeth Choy, when she attended Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's coronation on 2 June 1953 in England.

Chettiar marriage necklace (Thali / Kazhuththu Uru), Chettinad, Tamil Nadu, South India, 19th century

Chettiar marriage necklace (Thali / Kazhuththu Uru), Chettinad, Tamil Nadu, South India, 19th century.
Collection of Asian Civilisations Museum.

The Chettiars are a South Indian community in Singapore originating from Chettinad in Tamil Nadu.

Kebaya, Straits Settlements and Indonesian Archipelago, late 19th–early 20th century

Kebaya, Straits Settlements and Indonesian Archipelago, late 19th–early 20th century.
Collection of the Peranakan Museum, gift of Mr and Mrs Lee Kip Lee.

The sarong kebaya was the fashionable dress of Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. While it is most often associated with Nyonya women today, it was prevalently worn by women of all ethnicities in the early to mid-1900s. This item comprises two individual pieces.

Production still, Sumpah Pontianak (1958, Cathay-Keris Films), directed by B.N. Rao

Production still, Sumpah Pontianak (1958, Cathay-Keris Films), directed by B.N. Rao.
Courtesy of Asian Film Archive and Wong Han Min.

Pontianak (1957) by Cathay-Keris marked the birth of Malay horror films as a genre during the golden era of Singapore cinema.

Somaskanda, Shiva with Parvati and their son Skanda, Tamil Nadu, south India, Chola period, c. 1200, bronze

Somaskanda, Shiva with Parvati and their son Skanda, Tamil Nadu, south India, Chola period, c. 1200, bronze.
Collection of Asian Civilisations Museum.

This sculpture of a seated Shiva and his consort Parvati (also known as Uma) accompanied by their infant son Skanda is visualised in the Tamil Hindu tradition as a representation of an ideal divine 'family'.

Sculpture of Walking Buddha, Sukhothai, north-central Thailand, bronze 15th–16th centuries.

Sculpture of Walking Buddha, Sukhothai, north-central Thailand, bronze 15th–16th centuries.
Collection of Asian Civilisations Museum.

This image of the Walking Buddha or cankrama ('walking back and forth') is a classic image of the Sukhothai Kingdom (1200-1350), which is today idealised in the Thai psyche as a golden age where Buddhism, the land, and its people flourished under the rule of benevolent Buddhist kings.

Shrine with Sumatinatha, the fifth Jain Tirthankara, Gujarat or Kathyawar, India, 13th century, bronze inlaid with silver and copper

Shrine with Sumatinatha, the fifth Jain Tirthankara, Gujarat or Kathyawar, India, 13th century, bronze inlaid with silver and copper.
Collection of Asian Civilisations Museum.

Jains revere twenty-four Jinas, who have attained a state of bliss and transcendence. Jina means "liberator" or "conqueror".

Qur’an, Yemen, dated AH 1184 (1770), ink colours on paper, leather binding

Qur’an, Yemen, dated AH 1184 (1770), ink colours on paper, leather binding.
Collection of Asian Civilisations Museum.

This Qur’an from Yemen has a tan morocco binding with a stamped medallion. Its manuscript has 13 lines of text where the first, middle and last lines are written in red Muhaqqaq script and the other ten lines are in black Naskh script. The Muhaqqaq and Naskh scripts are part of the six classical cursive scripts.

Miniature New Testament, Armenia, or Armenian diaspora, early 18th century, leather binding, paper with ink, colours and gold leaf.

Miniature New Testament, Armenia, or Armenian diaspora, early 18th century, leather binding, paper with ink, colours and gold leaf.
Collection of Asian Civilisations Museum, gift of Paula, Lady Brown.

This miniature manuscript is written in Armenian. It contains the four gospels, supplemented by decoration in the form of illustrations, rubricated initials and borders, some in gold leaf.

Chesed-El Synagogue, Singapore, c. early 20th century, photograph

Chesed-El Synagogue, Singapore, c. early 20th century, photograph.
Collection of National Museum of Singapore.

Chesed-El Synagogue on Oxley Rise is one of two synagogues in Singapore, the other being Maghain Aboth Synagogue on Waterloo Street. Completed in 1905, it was designed by R. A. J. Bidwell of the architectural firm, Swan & MacLaren.

Hanging ornament, Punjab, North India, 19th century

Hanging ornament, Punjab, North India, 19th century.
Collection of Asian Civilisations Museum.

This dome-shaped hanging ornament is decorated with ornate patterns and floral vine motifs. It also features seated figures depicting the 10 Sikh gurus with the central and largest one being that of Guru Nanak Dev, with a sunburst halo encircling his head.

Repousséd silver box showing Zoroastrian scenes, Bombay, 19th century, silver

Repousséd silver box showing Zoroastrian scenes, Bombay, 19th century, silver.
Collection of Indian Heritage Centre.

Parsi silver shops in Bombay and Gujarat supplied the Parsi community with ritual articles. In addition, silver items were imported from southern China as well. This box comprises four silver panels lined with an aromatic wood and a silver hinged cover; the silver is repousséd and chased with scenes relating to the Zoroastrian Parsis.

Seated Wenchang (Daoist God of Literature), Dehua, Fujian province, China, early 17th century, porcelain

Seated Wenchang (Daoist God of Literature), Dehua, Fujian province, China, early 17th century, porcelain.
Gift of Frank and Pamela Hickley, collection of Asian Civilisations Museum.

This is Wen Chang, the Daoist God of Literature. He is seated on a rock with a ruyi sceptre in his right hand, which symbolises blessing, power and health.

Mortar and pestle belonging to the late Shirin Fozdar, Singapore, late 20th century, brass.

Mortar and pestle belonging to the late Shirin Fozdar, Singapore, late 20th century, brass.
Gift of Shirin Fozdar, collection of Indian Heritage Centre.

This is a mortar and pestle used by Shirin Fozdar. Mortars and pestles have been used since ancient times for the preparation of spices, food and medicine. In Singapore, mortars and pestles are used by all ethnic communities and is a fundamental implement used in the preparation of a variety of local Singaporean food.

D) Art Historical

A proper art history of Singapore in the context of the Southeast Asian and larger Asian region would require its own full graphic spread of 60 objects. As such, this section zooms in on Singapore alone, featuring primarily Singaporean artists—one artist from the Singaporean diaspora in the United Kingdom, one pioneer Singaporean art collector, and one Chinese artist who loved Singapore.

An art history of modern Singapore generally commences with the Nanyang Artists, a seminal group of Singaporean painters represented by the quartet of Liu Kang, Chen Chong Swee, Chen Wen Hsi and Cheong Soo Pieng, and the enigmatic Georgette Chen. They were distinguished by their strong affiliation with the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and by their works, which fused elements of East and West in a distinctive "Nanyang" (Southern Seas) style.

The Nanyang Artists were influenced in turn by major Chinese artists of the early 20th century such as the likes of Xu Beihong, Qi Baishi, Pu Ru, Ren Bonian, Wu Changshuo. A significant collection of these latter artists' works was built up in the 1930s to 1950s by a pioneering local merchant and philanthropist, the late Dr Tan Tsze Chor, also known as the "pepper king". Part of the collection, known as the Xiang Xue Zhuang Collection, was generously given to the state by Tan's family in the 2000s. Around the same period, modern Chinese painter, Wu Guanzhong, regarded as one of the most important modern Chinese painters today, also bequeathed a large gift of his artworks to the National Collection, as a gesture of his strong affection for Singapore.

From the 1960s onwards, Singapore saw the emergence of major artists in various genres such as ceramics, sculpture, painting, print-making and performance art, many of whom have been awarded the Cultural Medallion—the nation's highest distinction for artists and cultural professionals.

A distinct break occurred in the late 1980s with the radical and controversial The Artists' Village (TAV) - an artist colony, collective and movement established by contemporary artist Tang Da Wu, which counted amongst its ranks ground-breaking artists such as Amanda Heng, Chng Seok Tin and the late Lee Wen. TAV, still active today, derives its notoriety from a ban on performance art in Singapore following a performance by artist Josef Ng in 1994 which saw him snipping his pubic hair in public. TAV’s complex multi-faceted work defied categorisation and would prefigure today's new generation of local installation and multi-media artists.

In the meantime, the 1990s and 2000s saw significant investment by the government into the arts and culture scene, with the aim of turning around the perception of Singapore as a "cultural desert" and re-positioning Singapore as a "Renaissance City". The investment in the arts has borne fruit in terms of an extremely vibrant and active arts and heritage scene, with young Singaporean artists gaining prominence on the international stage.

A Pair of Horses, Xu Beihong, China, c. 1940, Chinese ink and colour on paper

A Pair of Horses, Xu Beihong, China, c. 1940, Chinese ink and colour on paper.
Xiang Xue Zhuang Collection, in memory of Dr Tan Tsze Chor, collection of Asian Civilisations Museum.

The late Dr Tan Tsze Chor was one of a small group of collectors and businessmen in Singapore who were strong supporters of the arts, and were inspired by ancient examples of the Chinese literati class of painter-calligrapher-cum-collectors. He named his collection and studio Xiang Xue Zhuang 香雪庄.

Artist and Model, Liu Kang, Singapore, 1954, oil on canvas

Artist and Model, Liu Kang, Singapore, 1954, oil on canvas.
Gift of Shell Companies in Singapore, collection of National Gallery Singapore.

Artist and Model was done in a style that would come to typify Liu’s paintings following his arrival in Singapore in 1942.

Self-Portrait, Georgette Chen, Singapore, c. 1946, oil on canvas

Self-Portrait, Georgette Chen, Singapore, c. 1946, oil on canvas.
Gift of Lee Foundation, collection of National Gallery Singapore.

Painted possibly a few years after her works were selected for exhibition at the prestigious Salon d'Automne in Paris, Chen's Self Portrait reveals her strong and confident personality. Her piercing gaze engages the viewer in a direct conversation.

National Language Class, Chua Mia Tee, Singapore, 1959, oil on canvas

National Language Class, Chua Mia Tee, Singapore, 1959, oil on canvas.
Collection of National Gallery Singapore.

One of Chua's most iconic images, National Language Class captures an important stage of Singapore’s history. Painted in 1959 when Chua was a member of the Equator Art Society, this work is charged with nationalist sentiment and commemorates Singapore's long-awaited attainment of self-governance in the same year. National Language Class depicts a group of Chinese students learning Malay, the newly-designated national language of Singapore.

Zhangjiajie, Wu Guanzhong, China, 1997, Chinese ink and colour on paper

Zhangjiajie, Wu Guanzhong, China, 1997, Chinese ink and colour on paper.
Gift of the artist, collection of National Gallery Singapore.

Zhangjiajie (张家界) is the largest artwork by Wu Guanzhong in our National Collection. It depicts a majestic view of the towering jagged sandstone columns unique to this protected forest park, set behind a flowing river. Specks of magenta, orange and yellow-green cover the coarse sharp edges of the mountains, suggesting the arrival of either spring or autumn.

Irrawaddy, Kim Lim, Singapore/ UK, 1979, pinewood

Irrawaddy, Kim Lim, Singapore/ UK, 1979, pinewood.
Collection of National Gallery Singapore.

Kim Lim was born in Singapore in 1936 and spent much of her early childhood in Penang and Malacca. Her father was Lim Koon Teck, a well- known magistrate in Penang and through her mother’s side (Betty Seow), she is a descendant of Tan Kim Cheng, son of Singapore pioneer Tan Tock Seng.

Interplay Between Traditions and Contemporary Forms: #2 Jawi and Arabic Forms

Interplay Between Traditions and Contemporary Forms: #2 Jawi and Arabic Forms, Iskander Jalil, Singapore, 2002, ceramic/stoneware with oxide/ glazes.
Collection of Singapore Art Museum.

Born in 1940 in Singapore, Iskandar Jalil is acknowledged as one of Singapore's most significant artists in the practice of ceramic art.

Tiger’s Whip, Tang Da Wu, Singapore, 1991, mixed media

Tiger's Whip, Tang Da Wu, Singapore, 1991, mixed media.
Collection of Singapore Art Museum.

Tiger's Whip, an installation and performance piece, was first presented to the Singapore public in 1991 in Chinatown with the intention of highlighting the plight of the endangered tigers, which are hunted for their penises as Chinese superstition makes them out to be a powerful aphrodisiac. The work shows the clash of such a belief with the reality of extinction.

The Cloud of Unknowing, Ho Tzu Nyen, Singapore, 2011, single-channel HD video projection and 13-channel sound files

The Cloud of Unknowing, Ho Tzu Nyen, Singapore, 2011, single-channel HD video projection and 13-channel sound files.
Collection of Singapore Art Museum.

Shot within a block of public housing in Singapore, The Cloud of Unknowing revolves around eight characters and their encounters with a cloud or cloud-like figure. The Cloud of Unknowing portrays the characters in a moment of revelation, and here the reference made by the artwork's title is elucidated.

Status, Jane Lee, Singapore, 2009, mixed media. Collection of Singapore Art Museum

Status, Jane Lee, Singapore, 2009, mixed media.
Collection of Singapore Art Museum.

Status examines the genre of painting by means of pushing the limits of materials and techniques by highlighting the creation process. The work, which is monumental, crosses the boundaries of painting, sculpture and installation, defying traditional categorisation.

E) Self-Government and Independence

The State of Singapore Constitution of 21 November 1958 articulated the structure of government for a self-governing Singapore, with the post of governor replaced by the office of the Yang di-Pertuan Negara, and with a fully-elected Legislative Assembly. Self-government was actualised on 5 June 1959, with the late Lee Kuan Yew sworn in as Singapore's first Prime Minister, alongside his first cabinet. To mark this significant milestone, a new national flag and anthem were adopted.

In 1963, Singapore ceased being a colony of Great Britain by merging with Malaya, Sarawak and Sabah to form the Federation of Malaysia. Barely two years later, Singapore would leave the federation, with the Proclamation of the Republic of Singapore on 9 August 1965 declaring Singapore its own independent republic.

Singapore's post-independence years saw significant economic growth grounded in a burgeoning manufacturing and electronics sector. Heritage brands such as Tiger Balm and Singapore's blossoming into the "Garden City" of Asia contributed to a more vibrant lifestyle and tourism scene.

In the 1980s, economic growth was accompanied by advances in the socio-cultural space, with Singapore investing in what continues to be one of the most extensive and radical public housing programmes in the world. The inclusion of a humble bus ticket from this period as the final object in the graphic spread makes a poignant statement on the great strides post-independence Singapore has made, from being a post-colonial, developing nation to today's global, first-world metropolis.

Singapore in the 1990s and 2000s continued to sustain its growth and build on its global positioning through espousing free trade and continually diversifying its economy while enhancing its urban, social and environmental landscape and infrastructure. It is considered one of the most dynamic and liveable cities in the world today.

Singapore (Constitution) Order in Council, 21 November 1958, Singapore

Singapore (Constitution) Order in Council, 21 November 1958, Singapore.
Collection of National Library, Singapore.

Singapore's 1958 constitution was the culmination of three constitutional talks in 1956, 1957, and 1958—the first led by Singapore’s first Chief Minister David Marshall, and the latter two by his successor, Lim Yew Hock.

Lee Kuan Yew’s swearing-in as Prime Minister of Singapore on 5 June 1959, Lai Kui Fang, 1992, Singapore, oil on canvas

Lee Kuan Yew's swearing-in as Prime Minister of Singapore on 5 June 1959, Lai Kui Fang, 1992, Singapore, oil on canvas.
Collection of National Museum of Singapore.

Lee Kuan Yew and his first cabinet were sworn in on 5 June 1959, marking the date Singapore’s self-government was actualised. With no photographic records of the event, this painting of the swearing- in of Lee Kuan Yew as Prime Minister of Singapore in 1959 provides a suggestion of what that historic moment could have looked like.

Vinyl record titled Majulah Singapura, Singapore, c. 1960s

Vinyl record titled Majulah Singapura, Singapore, c. 1960s.
Collection of National Museum of Singapore.

Zubir Said is among Singapore’s most prominent music composers and songwriters. He has composed over 1,500 songs, comprising film songs, popular songs and national songs. He is best known as the composer of the national anthem of Singapore, Majulah Singapura.

Singapore flag, Singapore, 1960-1980. Collection of National Museum of Singapore

Singapore flag, Singapore, 1960-1980.
Collection of National Museum of Singapore.

The national flag is Singapore's most visible symbol of statehood, symbolising its sovereignty, pride and honour. The creation of a new national flag was therefore a vital task for Singapore's newly elected cabinet in 1959.

Proclamation of the Republic of Singapore, Singapore, 9 August 1965

Proclamation of the Republic of Singapore, Singapore, 9 August 1965.
Collection of the National Archives of Singapore.

This landmark document proclaims Singapore’s separation from Malaysia and its beginnings as an independent and sovereign republic. It was drafted by Minister for Law Edmund Barker and signed by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. It announced the constitutional change set in motion by the separation agreement and eventually effected through legislation passed in both the Malaysian and Singapore parliaments.

Singapore Ginger (Zingiber singapurensis), Singapore, described in November 2014

Singapore Ginger (Zingiber singapurensis), Singapore, described in November 2014.
Collection of the Singapore Botanic Gardens' Herbarium.

Commonly known as the Singapore Ginger, this species was described as new to science in November 2014. It was named Zingiber singapurense as Singapore was where it was discovered and is the only place in world where the species is known to occur in the wild.

Setron television set, Singapore, 1960s–1970s. Collection of National Museum of Singapore

Setron television set, Singapore, 1960s–1970s.
Collection of National Museum of Singapore.

This television set was produced by Setron (Singapore Electronics) Limited, which made Singapore's first locally-assembled black-and-white television set in late 1964.

Advertisement signboard for Tiger Balm Ten Thousand Golden Oil, Singapore, c. 1970s

Advertisement signboard for Tiger Balm Ten Thousand Golden Oil, Singapore, c. 1970s.
Collection of National Museum of Singapore.

This is a metal signboard with an advertisement in Chinese for the Tiger Balm brand of pain-relieving ointment known as 'Ten Thousand Golden Oil'.

HDB playground prototype drawings, Khor Ean Ghee, Singapore, 1970–1979

HDB playground prototype drawings, Khor Ean Ghee, Singapore, 1970–1979.
Collection of National Museum of Singapore.

This is a set of Housing Development Board (HDB) playground prototypes from Khor Ean Ghee, who is the designer of the first playgrounds found at HDB estates such as the iconic dragon and pelican playgrounds.

Singapore Bus Services (SBS) bus ticket with value of 45 cents, Singapore, 1970s–1980s

Singapore Bus Services (SBS) bus ticket with value of 45 cents, Singapore, 1970s–1980s.
Collection of National Museum of Singapore.

This is a Singapore Bus Services (SBS) bus ticket from the 1970s and ‘80s, with a value of 45 cents. A generation of young Singaporeans, growing up during those times, would remember these simple bus tickets fondly.

Acknowledgements

The main and section text is written by the author while objects selected and the accompanying captions are edited by the author, based on recommendations and curatorial captions contributed by curators, archivists and other colleagues at Asian Civilisations Museum and Peranakan Museum, Asian Film Archive, Indian Heritage Centre, Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, National Archives of Singapore, National Gallery Singapore, National Heritage Board, National Library Singapore, National Museum of Singapore, Singapore Art Museum and Singapore Botanic Gardens. See acknowledgements for full list of contributors.

The author would like to thank colleagues at the following institutions, who have advised on objects for this spread, contributed curatorial content,or supported the project in one way or another.

Asian Civilisations Museum and Peranakan Museum

  • Theresa McCullough, Principal Curator
  • Clement Onn, Senior Curator / Asian Export Art and Peranakan
  • Dr Stephen Murphy, Senior Curator / Southeast Asia
  • Noorashikin Zulkifli, Curator / West Asia
  • Naomi Wang, Assistant Curator / Southeast Asia

Asian Film Archive

  • Karen Chan, Executive Director
  • Chew Tee Pao, Archivist
  • Janice Chen, Archive Officer

Indian Heritage Centre

  • Nalina Gopal, Curator

Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

  • Prof Ng Kee Lin, Peter, Head
  • Low Ern Yee, Martyn, Research Associate

National Gallery Singapore

  • Dr Eugene Tan, Director
  • Lisa Horikawa, Deputy Director / Collection Development
  • Renee Stahl, Manager / Information

National Archives of Singapore

  • Wendy Ang, Director
  • Kevin Khoo, Specialist / Oral History Centre

National Library Singapore

  • Tan Huism, Acting Director
  • Gladys Low, Manager / Content and Services

National Museum of Singapore

  • Angelita Teo, Director
  • Iskander Mydin, Curatorial Fellow
  • Priscilla Chua, Curator

Singapore Art Museum

  • Dr June Yap, Director of Curatorial, Programmes and Publications

Singapore Botanic Gardens

  • Dr Nigel Taylor, Group Director
  • Terri Oh, Director of Education
  • Christina Soh, Manager / Library

Notes

According to the Pew Research Center’s demographic study in 2014.

1.
https://www.pewforum.org/2014/04/04/global-religious-diversity/

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Koh, Jaime. 2013. “Chettiars.” In Singapore Infopedia. Singapore: National Library Board. http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/ infopedia/articles/SIP_2013-07-29_174120.html.

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The object captions in this graphic spread consist of existing curatorial content that has been minimally edited for length by the author. This content was researched and written by curators, archivists and subject specialists at the institutions featured in this spread at various times in the history of these institutions.The content has been, in most cases, adapted from curatorial content directly provided by the institutions, existing content in collection databases, display captions in the institutions’ galleries, as well as the following publications and online references created and maintained by the featured institutions.