A public bath on the museum’s front lawn

28 10 2013

In what is probably a first in Singapore, some 100 people were seen to be taking a very public bath together at the National Museum of Singapore’s (NMS) front lawn on Saturday evening. The public display of cleansing was actually carried out as part of the Singapore Biennale 2013 on its opening weekend – a public performance put up by Malaysian artist Sharon Chin named Mandi Bunga, which literally means Flower Bath.

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Taking a flower bath, although not necessarily a public one in a crowd, is actually a ritual practiced across much of east Asia – as a means to cleanse body and soul of evil and ill luck, or as I was told in my younger days, to “buang suay” or throw out bad luck. The idea for the performance did in fact come from a call to cleanse, one which the Bersih movement in Sharon’s country of origin calls for, with the artist dreaming it up in 2012 after her experience of two Bersih street rallies – hence the yellow that is prominent throughout the display that is seen in the basins used as well as in the sarongs which the participants wore.

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While what most of us got to see was the public display, the 100 or so participants did actually attend workshops which were carried out on several weekends preceding during which participants got to design their sarongs for the event. The performance also involved the participants gathering at another Singapore Biennale venue, the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) – assembling at the courtyard where school assemblies (when the buildings were used by the original occupants, St. Joseph’s Institution) had once been held. The participants then walked in their sarongs over to the NMS.

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While the performance – at which all involved seemed to have tremendous fun at, is a one evening event, the project’s process and outcomes have been documented and will be installed at SAM for the Singapore Biennale which runs until 16 February 2014. More information on the Singapore Biennale 2013 can be found at the event’s website.

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A huge escape!

2 09 2013

The World’s First tandem upside-down double strait jacket escape …

A world’s first was accomplished some 75 feet over the National Museum of Singapore on Saturday. The last night of the Singapore Night Festival saw “Asia’s Most Famous Illusionists”, the pairing of J C Sum and Magic Babe Ning, complete a nerve-wrecking, death-defying, tandem escape stunt that had the two dangling upside down from a burning rope, with each strapped into a double strait-jacket.

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Dangling 75 feet over the air in double strait-jackest suspended from a burning rope

The stunt was part of the performances and the highlight of the two-weekend festival.  The spectacular act was performed to a huge crowd (there must have been more than several thousands) which started to gather in anticipation some two hours before when the National Museum of Singapore, which served as a backdrop for the act, entertained making faces. Many had been present for another of Ning’s mega stunts on the previous evening, when they witnessed “the sexiest woman in magic” stage an amazing escape from a locked steel vault which was filled to the brim with water. For that stunt, Ning was completely submerged, chained and shackled with only a pair of paper clips to help her get out, having only the time that it would have taken her to run out of breath to get out - a feat which on its own was remarkable as it was the first time such an escape has been publicly witnessed in Singapore (see my prevous post)!

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The second stunt, was of course a lot more spectacular – and terrifying, especially so when all was done in full view of the audience. Both Ning and J C Sum were each tied-up into two strait-jackets, with two members of the audience picked to do the job. Both were then attached to a rig by their ankles one over the other. The rig was in turn was attached to a length of rope set alight as they were being attached which was attached to the hook of a huge telescopic crane. As the rope burned, the two were hoisted up – J C Sum made an announcement before the stunt that they would be hoisted not to 50 feet (15 metres – about five storeys) as was originally intended, but 75 feet (23 metres or 7 1/2 storeys) up in the air.

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As a stunt, it must surely count as the most daring ever seen in Singapore. Based on a upside-down escape stunt from a strait-jacket whilst suspended made famous by none other than Harry Houdini himself, the very first tandem inverted strait-jacket escape is much more risky, as it is dependent not just on the actions of one person, but two. There is of course the wind, as well as humidity – which does make the strait-jacket stick to the skin, to contend with. And to top it all, it was done without safety nets!

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Working against a clock set by the time it would have taken to burn through the rope, with the time taken to raise and lower the pair, J C Sum seemed to be initially ahead of Ning in getting out of the strait-jackets – his got his hand free as Ning seemed to struggle. But Ning was first to get out of her two strait-jackets, and the close to three-minutes that it took J C Sum to fling off his inner strait-jacket what must have seemed like an eternity to both. There was some drama as the audience could see that Ning seemed to be having some difficulty in attempting to remove J C Sum’s jacket which had got caught at her feet but all could heave that huge collective sigh of relief as she seemed to recover and it wasn’t long before both could be lowered down. The total time taken for the duo to be raise, to escape and be lowered would have been close to five minutes which probably was as much time as they could have used – the rope after the fire was extinguished did look as if it was about to be burned through.

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It was a visibly relieved look that Ning wore as she first waved to the crowd on completing the stunt. With fireworks illuminating the stage, the pair was greeted by thunderous applause. The two were then presented with a certificate for their world record feat by the Singapore Book of Records as well an Outstanding Achievement & Contribution to Magic award by the International Brotherhood of Magicians Ring 115 – all which certainly was well deserved!

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Pink-haired woman escapes from chains and shackles

31 08 2013

A pink-haired woman escaped from chains and shackles last evening in front of the huge crowd that had gathered in front of the National Museum of Singapore last night. It wasn’t any ordinary pink-hair woman, not that you would ordinarily find a woman with pink hair, of course. The woman, who has been dubbed the “sexiest woman in magic”, was none other than Singapore’s very own female magician, illusionist and escape artist extraordinaire, Magic Babe Ning, who was attempting the first of two mega escape stunts as part of the Singapore Night Festival.

Ning with the shackles.

Ning with the shackles.

And the locks.

And the locks.

A member of the audience invited to check for metal objects on her.

A member of the audience invited to check for metal objects on her.

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Holding their breaths with her, the audience waited in suspense as “the sexiest woman in magic” took a little longer than the “under two minutes” that was expected in emerging from a locked and chained steel vault she was submerged in whilst shackled and chained around her wrists, neck and waist – with only the aid of two paper clips to pick the locks. The impressive escape was certainly quite a feat – not just that many of us can even pick a lock in under the two minutes Ning had to hold her breath for, but also because it would have been the very first time such a that a Houdini-like escape of this kind was performed in Singapore.

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With the seconds ticking away, there was a lot of relief all around as first a hand emerged, and it wasn’t long before Ning’s pink mop popped through as she came out taking in a huge breath of air. Her stunt partner, J C Sum, with whom she would be performing the second death-defying escape stunt with, later revealed that she did take longer than expected, with Ning explaining that she had some difficulty as she had conspired to drop the paper clips whilst submerged in the water.

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What definitely will top this stunt would be the second mega stunt that Magic Babe Ning would be attempting at 10 pm tonight with J C Sum at the same location. This stunt, set to be a world’s first – officials from the International Brotherhood of Magicians and the Singapore Book of Records will be on hand to witness it, will see the two attempt a world’s first tandem upside down strait jacket escape! Both Ning and Sum will try to escape from regulation strait-jackets, suspended only by ankle boots attached to a bar tied to a single burning rope, high over the museum’s dome – surely a must see. More information on the stunt and some of the other Singapore Night Festival installations this weekend can be found at my previous post.

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A magical final weekend at the Singapore Night Festival

30 08 2013

To look out for on this, the second weekend of this year’s edition of the Singapore Night Festival, has to be two death-defying mega stunts that will be attempted by “the sexiest woman in magic” – Singapore magician, Magic Babe Ning. The stunts which will take place in front of the National Museum of Singapore will see Ning attempt two Houdini-like escapes – one submerged in water and the second, one that involves escaping from a strait-jacket whilst suspended in mid-air by a burning rope together with the other half of a pairing The Straits Times had referred to as “Asia’s most famous illusionists” J C Sum.

In the spotlight during the second weekend will be "the sexiest woman in magic" Magic Babe Ning, seen here contemplating her acts at the National Museum of Singapore.

In the spotlight during the second weekend will be “the sexiest woman in magic” Magic Babe Ning, seen here contemplating her acts at the National Museum of Singapore.

The first stunt The Water Vault, which will take place on Friday (today), 30 August 2013, at 10 pm in front of the National Museum of Singapore. For this, shackled at the neck, wrists and wasit, Ning will be submerged in a locked and chained steel vault which will be filled to the brim with water – and all she has is two minutes with which she can hold her breath, to escape from all that!

J C Sum and Magic Babe Ning with the locked and chained steel vault filled with water which she will attempted to escape from whilst shackled at the neck, wrists and waist.

J C Sum and Magic Babe Ning with the locked and chained steel vault filled with water which she will attempted to escape from whilst shackled at the neck, wrists and waist.

The second stunt, is definitely one that is going to be a lot more spectacular – and visible! Also taking place in front of the National Museum of Singapore, this time at 10 pm on Saturday 31 August 2013, the stunt, Ultimate Inversion, will be a huge first and one for the record books – if successful, it will the first time a tandem upside down strait jacket escape will be done! The stunt will see both, trying to escape from regulation strait-jackets, suspended by ankle boots from a bar attached to a single burning rope over the museum’s dome … a stunt which does carry huge risks – there are many factors which can impede the escape – including the hot and humid conditions which does make the strait-jacket stick to skins a lot more! Plus, there will not be any safety nets! The stunt will also be witnessed by the International Brotherhood of Magicians and the Singapore Book of Records. Speaking to Magic Babe Ning  last evening – I realised that how risky the manoeuvre would be – seeing that the only preparations the pair were able to do is to practice escaping from a strait-jacket upside down!

5 Streams.

5 Streams.

Besides the magic of the two stunts – there were two other magical installations that I got a sneak peek of last evening. One is 5 Streams – which will see three different dance sequences by Ibrahim Quraishi of BamBam Projects – all to a haunting and as the festival guide describes, hypnotic mix of video streaming, live percussion and base guitars.

The people behind 5 Streams.

The people behind 5 Streams.

The other installation I did get to see is what should be a delightful animated projection onto the façade of the National Museum of Singapore by local company OICsingapore – accompanied by original music. The projection, MoonGrazing is described as a surrealistic abstract animation that playfully explores the moon and its stories through the eyes of the illustrators from OICsingapore.

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The Water Vault (Magic Babe Ning)

Friday 30 Aug 2013

10 pm

National Museum of Singapore façade

Asia’s female Houdini and “the sexiest woman in magic” (Magicseen Magazine), ‘Magic Babe’ Ning will attempt a spectacular underwater escape from The Water Vault. Shackled with chains and locks around her wrists, waist and neck, Ning will be completely submerged in a steel vault filled to the brim with water that is, in turn, locked and chained tightly on the outside. Ning will have less than two minutes to free herself from The Water Vault before she runs out of breath.

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Ultimate Inversion (J C Sum and Magic Babe Ning)

Saturday 31 Aug 2013

10 pm

National Museum of Singapore façade

Witness history being made as “Asia’s most famous illusionists” (The Straits Times), J C Sum & ‘Magic Babe’ Ning, attempt the world’s first ever tandem upside down strait jacket escape! They will both be strapped up in two regulation strait jackets each and suspended upside down by their ankles, one person below the other, high up in the air from a single burning rope. If the rope burns through or if they make one small mistake, they will plummet to the ground 50ft below.

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5 Streams (Ibrahim Quraishi / BamBam Projects)

Friday 30 and Saturday 31 Aug 2013

8.45 pm, 9.45 pm & 10.45pm

MAIN Ground

Explosive sounds, vocals, intense dance sequences, video streaming, live percussion and base guitars are combined to create a hypnotic performance where dancers appear as installation: space transforms into living architectural symbols, video projection immersed in nature and the abstraction of geometry. Sound trembles through the body before it’s heard and the audience is invited to wander and meditate in an interactive installation of a synthetic forest with each its own interactive sonic mix: this cross media performance / installation includes an extraordinary international team of artists (Ibrahim Quraishi, Norsq, Marc Perroud aka Tzed, Gabriel Smeets, Katrin Blantar, Walid Breidi, Jule Flierl, Martin B. Hansen, Olivier Hüe, Nicolas Lelièvre, Ligia Manuela Lewis, Naseem Abbas Malik, Ewan A.S and Aziz Bekkaoui. Nico Van Der Vegte and Kieu Voung)

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Moongrazing (OICSingapore)

Friday 30 Aug 2013 and Saturday 31 Aug 2013

7 pm to 2 am (OIC live music & drawing: 7.30 pm, 8 pm, 11 pm & 11.30 pm)

National Museum of Singapore façade

Set to an original piece of music- MoonGrazing is a surrealistic abstract animation that playfully explores the moon and its stories through the eyes of the illustrators from OICsingapore. Throughout the two nights, the façade of the National Museum of Singapore will be transformed into a canvas for local artists to showcase their playful creativity. To add to the spontaneity of the moment, for twice each night, illustrators and indie musicians will jam together live. Each performance is unique as lines of music and drawing meet and improvisations happen on the most random note.

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The Singapore Night Festival final weekend is on 30 and 31 August 2013. More information can be obtained at the following links:






Highlights of the Singapore Night Festival

23 08 2013

To be held over two weekends, the Singapore Night Festival opens this evening with what promises to be some wonderful acts to literally illuminate the evening in the Bras Basah precinct – some of which I did get to have a sneak peek of. More on the festival and on one act which will certainly be a hit, Redux by Starlight Alchemy, can be found on my previous post on this years festival, Playing with Fire. Some of the other highlights for the first weekend which we did also get to see follow (descriptions provided by the festival guide):


Fly me from the moon

(Oomoonbeings by Singapierrot)

Friday 23 and Saturday 24 Aug 2013

7.30pm, 8.45 pm & 10pm

Armenian Street

Two ethereal jesters descend from a crescent moon and explore the land.  Dressed in plastics, these contemporary incarnations of Pierrot play in a series of teasing vignettes combining movement and installation. With a whimsical oldtime mood, this little reverie features gypsy-swing jazz duo So Ma Fan as live accompaniment.

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Shadow Play

(Vertical Extraction by Compagnie Retouramont)

Friday 23 and Saturday 24 Aug 2013

8.15 pm, 9.30 pm & 10.45 pm

Façade of the National Museum of Singapore

Dancers embark on a vertical journey up the façade of the National Museum and break into a rhythmic dance on bungee cords in this site-specific performance that explores the museum’s architecture and surrounding space. Light projections which amplify the dancers’ bodies, and a special video by acclaimed local artist and filmmaker Victric Thng, complement Vertical Extraction to offer new perspectives on movement and our environment.

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In Suspension

(Pyramid of Void by Compagnie Retouramont)

Friday 23 and Saturday 24 Aug 2013

8.30 pm, 9.45 pm & 11 pm

Façade of the National Museum of Singapore

In this aerial dance performance, a pyramid structure made of ropes is suspended in mid-air, outlining the contours of a void, an abstract space invisible to the eye. With the ropes as their only form of support, dancers demonstrate their acrobatic creativity and agility as they negotiate the minimalist set. Their movements form a dialogue with the pyramid, breathing life into the structure and giving shape to the spaces in-between.

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Playing with Water

(Water Light Graffiti by Antonin Fourneau)

Friday 23, Saturday 24, Friday 30, Saturday 31 Aug 2013

7.30 pm to 2 am

Outside Raffles City

Based on an idea as simple as illumination, Water Light Graffiti enables one to draw or write ephemeral messages which appear as light against the wall of LEDs. To use water, which has no shape and no colour, to draw light, is a magical experience for all. By mixing a natural element and technology, Water Light Graffiti’s users can even play with the weather or the evaporation speed for example. Water Light Graffiti also has a surprising role during rainy days and turn them into fireworks of damp LEDs.

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Music Made in  Singapore

(Homemade)

Friday 23 and Saturday 24 Aug 2013

7.30 pm to 12 am

Singapore Management University (SMU) Green

HOMEMADE 2013 is a celebration of originality, collaboration and Singapore-made music. This year, the music festival is presented over 2 weekends, 23 & 24 Aug and the intimate HOMEMADE 2013 (UNPLUGGED) sessions on 30 & 31 Aug. Some of the acts to look forward to are Pleasantry, The Obedient Wives Club, Inch Chua and The Bushmen. An exciting feature of the music festival has always been the never-before-seen (or heard) presentations and also, collaborations between musicians and genres. In the true spirit of bigger, better and louder, Homemade 2013 will debut a 20-piece band – The Electric Symphony Project.

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Caught in a Net

(Everlast by Sookoon Ang)

Friday 23, Saturday 24, Friday 30, Saturday 31 Aug 2013

7 pm to 2 am

National Museum of Singapore (Rotunda)

EVERLAST is an installation created with foil balloons. The work is a visual poem which the arrangement of text and the selected material for the visualization are important in conveying the intended effect of the work. The work takes poetry beyond the printed and causing it to manifest in both metaphysically as well as physically, blurring the distinction between art and text. This poem addresses life & death, light & lightness. It speaks about the exhilarating energy and dynamics of between 2 persons.

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Bottled Beauties

(Absolut Canvas)

Friday 23, Saturday 24, Friday 30, Saturday 31 Aug 2013

7 pm to 2 am

Sunday 25 to Monday 2 Sep 2013

10 am to 6 pm

National Museum of Singapore (Stamford Gallery)

With its iconic silhouette and its collaborations with some of the most recognisable artists and designers, ABSOLUT has cemented itself as the perfect canvas for creative ideas to flourish. ABSOLUT CANVAS showcases the ways in which artists and designers have used the ABSOLUT bottle as a channel for their creativity. The exhibition features beautifully designed bottles as well as an interactive area where visitors will get to unleash their own creativity. It also includes a pop-up bar serving ABSOLUT cocktails
that have been created specially for ABSOLUT CANVAS.

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And the best part about Absolut Canvas is that throughout the four nights of the festival, there would be a pop-up bar just outside the Stamford Gallery. The bar will serve Absolut Vodka and Absolut Elyx – with three different cocktails also served which were created specially for Absolut Canvas all of which is absolutely fabulous!

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The Singapore Night Festival runs on 23 and 24 August 2013 and on 30 and 31 August 2013. More information can be obtained at the following links:






Playing with fire

22 08 2013

Photographs taken at last evening’s media preview of the Singapore Night Festival of a performance, Redux, by Starlight Alchemy – one of the highlights of the annual festival which be held over two weekends in the Bras Basah precinct this year which will see a nocturnal extravaganza of performances over four days.

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Describing themselves as “a constellation of international artists orbiting around Singapore that manipulate light, fire and skill toys to bring a sense of wonder to the performing arts” it was indeed with much wonder that a sneak peek of their performance – set against the façade of the National Museum, Redux, was greeted last evening.  Their performances will take place during the first weekend on 23 and 24 August 2013 at 8.45 pm, 10 pm and 11.15 pm. The last performance of each night will allow some interactivity with a free jam-and-play session at the end during which visitors will get to play with LED manipulation tools the group will use in their performances along with fire.

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Interactivity will be a feature of this year’s edition of the festival – the Night Lights segment of it will see several projections which will permit interaction.  The festival also promises to be bigger and better with the participation of an increased number of stakeholders and partners from the area – more than twice that of 2012. It will also see the addition of several more venues stretching from Plaza Singapura to Raffles City. New venues this year include the two malls mentioned, as well CHIJMES, 222 Queen Street and Sculpture Square. This year will also see lots of food on offer with Hawker Food Alley set up at the alleyway between The Substation and Armenian Street and So Sedap at the SMRT Walkway along Stamford Road.

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Re-branded from “Night Festival” to the “Singapore Night Festival” to reflect it being a platform to highlight and showcase local talents, this year’s festival runs over two weekends on the evenings of 23 and 24 August 2013 and 30 and 31 August 2013. There is also late night free admission to the participating museums to look out for during the festival. These museums are the National Museum of Singapore, the Peranakan Museum, and the Singapore Art Museum and will be on the festival nights from 7 pm to 2 am.  Do stay tuned for more festival highlights see at the preview for the first weekend. More information on the Singapore Night Festival can be obtained from the festival’s website.

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Information on Singapore Night Festival






Perspectives of the museum

4 05 2013

As a child, the Museum, as I referred to the National Museum of Singapore, was a dark, somewhat mysterious and not a particularly interesting place to me. My earliest encounters were ones which besides being filled with tales of the supernatural occurrences the museum had a reputation for, I would most remember for the overpowering smell of the museum preservatives which filled some of the galleries, and also for the huge skeleton of a whale suspended from its ceiling.

The museum today attracts a lot more visitors than it did in my younger days.

The museum today attracts a lot more visitors than it did in my younger days.

The encounters I had with the museum during my days attending nearby St. Joseph’s Institution were to be the ones I was to remember most. The time my schoolmates and I had in between technical workshop sessions on Tuesdays and a quick lunch before school, meant there was ample time to wander around. The museum, as was the MPH bookstore at the corner of Stamford Road and Armenian Street, was an obvious destination on days when it was a little too hot to out, because of the cool relief its air-conditioning provided.

The skeleton of a whale which hung inside the museum until 1974 when it was presented to the Muzium Negara in Kuala Lumpur.

The skeleton of a whale which hung inside the museum until 1974 when it was presented to the Muzium Negara in Kuala Lumpur (photograph: National Archives online catalogue http://a2o.nas.sg/picas).

A gallery we would frequent was one where full length portraits hung along its long hallway. Located in the museum’s west wing, it was part of the National Museum’s Art Gallery which had been opened at the end of 1974. The portraits which seemed to glow in their illuminations would at times appear to come alive – which could be a reason why that particular gallery did not receive many visitors. This made it a wonderful place to escape to and to read and find some quiet in, particularly with the generously wide cushioned benches found in the gallery which were especially comfortable.

A couple viewing a photography exhibit at "Being Together: Family & Portraits - Photographing with John Clang".

A couple viewing a photography exhibit at “Being Together: Family & Portraits – Photographing with John Clang”.

Another look at "Being Together: Family & Portraits - Photographing with John Clang".

Another look at “Being Together: Family & Portraits – Photographing with John Clang”.

The museum has undergone tremendous changes over the three and a half decades or so since my youthful encounters, and has certainly become a much more interesting destination. Physically, the museum was to undergo a makeover in the mid 2000s during which time a modern glass and steel extension was added to the existing neo-classical building which has been a landmark in the area. Gazetted as a National Monument in 1992, the original building built to house the Raffles Library and Museum, is one that dates back to 1887.

The National Museum of Singapore.

The original National Museum of Singapore building was gazetted as a National Monument in 1992.

Yet another look at "Being Together: Family & Portraits - Photographing with John Clang".

Yet another look at “Being Together: Family & Portraits – Photographing with John Clang”.

These days, it is not so much for the air-conditioning that I find myself visiting the museum. The museum’s many galleries which have been made a lot more interesting and changing exhibitions provide not just a reason to do that, but also an opportunity to take delight in the wonderful mix of old and new in its architecture. The permanent exhibitions in the Singapore Living Galleries and in the Singapore History Gallery provides a wonderful appreciation of what makes us who we are as Singaporean today and certainly ones which every Singaporean should visit. For me, the museum offers a little more than all this, it does also provide me with many opportunities to capture moments in photographs beyond what the streets outside do offer and what perhaps is another perspective of the building and its exhibits.

A glass ceiling added at the original buiding's rear.

A glass ceiling added at the original buiding’s rear.

Information portal.

Information portal?





Trading stories with six tradesmen

15 03 2013

An often overlooked chapter in the Singapore story is the one that is written by our pioneering tradesmen. Many had little choice to turn to their trades as a means of income, but in doing so, they were able to contribute to society by serving the many important needs of the growing population in the early days of the development of Singapore. While many of these trades have fallen victim to the rapid pace of change, as well as perhaps to the globalisation, and have been forgotten about; there are some which have managed to stay relevant or have evolved to meet the changing needs of today’s society. An exhibition which opens to the public today at the National Museum of Singapore, Trading Stories: Conversations with Six Tradesmen, looks at some of the tales of these tradesmen, through personal accounts from six pioneering tradesmen, some who have retired from their trades, and some whose trades are still very much alive today.

Exhibition panels featuring former Samsui woman, Mdm Ng Moey Chye, 81, who was actually the daughter of another Samsui woman.

Exhibition panels featuring former Samsui woman, Mdm Ng Moey Chye, 81, who was actually the daughter of another Samsui woman.

Letter writer Mr Thangaraju s/o Singaram, who is 85 years old and was from Tamil Nadu, India.

Letter writer Mr Thangaraju s/o Singaram, who is 85 years old and was from Tamil Nadu, India.

Exhibition panels featuring tukang urut, Mdm Runtik Binti Murtono, a 53 year old immigrant from Surabaya.

Exhibition panels featuring tukang urut, Mdm Runtik Binti Murtono, a 53 year old immigrant from Surabaya.

The exhibition which will be on until 23 June 2013, features the stories of a traditional goldsmith, a movie poster painter, a tukang urut (or Malay confinement lady), a Samsui woman, a poultry farmer and a letter writer, recounting the colourful journeys taken and the experiences of these tradesmen.  In doing so, we do not only hear tales of sacrifice and struggle in the early days of Singapore, we also gain many insights into the trades themselves and perhaps in them, many other stories that would otherwise not have been told, such as that of the Achari craftsmen caste and the wows to remain single that many Samsui women took.

Mr Ho Seng Choon, of Lian Wah Hang Quail and Poultry Farm, one of the six tradesmen featured, speaking to Mr Sam Tan, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth at the opening of the exhibition.

Mr Ho Seng Choon, of Lian Wah Hang Quail and Poultry Farm, one of the six tradesmen featured, speaking to Mr Sam Tan, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth at the opening of the exhibition.

Panels featuring Mr Murugaian s/o Ratnaswami Asari, 72 a goldsmith who came as a carpenter from Tamil Nadu, India in 1957.

Panels featuring Mr Murugaian s/o Ratnaswami Asari, 72 a goldsmith who came as a carpenter from Tamil Nadu, India in 1957.

Former movie poster painter Mr Ang Hao Sai. Behind him is a hand-painted movie poster made for his 2008 film, My Magic.

Former movie poster painter Mr Ang Hao Sai. Behind him is a mock up of a traditional cinema on wheels (peep-show) and a hand-painted movie poster loaned by filmmaker Eric Khoo that was made for his 2008 film, My Magic.

Besides the six tradesmen, the exhibition also includes a community segment which features over 20 exhibits contributed by the community. These include private artefacts and keepsakes, locally produced documentaries and a community photography exhibit. One which caught my attention is khat calligrapher, Mr Faizal Somadi’s beautifully executed works of Jawi calligraphy. Jawi is a less often used traditional Malay script which in more recent times has been replaced by the romanised script. Visitors to the exhibition will also be encouraged to leave some of their personal memories of old trades behind by posting notes on a wall.

A reflection of a fan with Chinese calligraphy with a showcase of showing the tools of the trade.

A reflection of a fan with Chinese calligraphy with a showcase of showing the tools of the trade.

Mr Faizal Somadi, a khat calligrapher whose works are on display, speaking to Mr Sam Tan.

Mr Faizal Somadi, a khat calligrapher whose works are on display, speaking to Mr Sam Tan.

Visitors can leave some of their own memories of old trades behind.

Visitors can leave some of their own memories of old trades behind.

Also to look out for as part of the exhibition, is a series of street theatre performances and demonstrations of the old trades. This will take place at the museum on weekends in May and June. The museum has introduced programmes for primary and secondary school students. Trading Stories runs from 15 March to 23 June 2013 at the museum’s Stamford Gallery and opens from 10 am to 6 pm daily. Admission is free. More information can be found at www.nhb.gov.sg/tradingstories.

Photographs and memories of spaces where some of the trades once thrived - my personal contribution to the exhibition.

Photographs of spaces where some of the trades once thrived – my personal contribution to the exhibition.





Corridors of Trade

14 03 2013

A feature of the once ubiquitous shophouse is the five-foot-way. The corridors, conceived as shelter for pedestrians, also made an inexpensive space for many a tradesman to conduct business.

A mobile phone vendor along a five-foot-way at Serangoon Road.

A mobile phone vendor along a five-foot-way at Serangoon Road.

The five-foot-way was often what we visited to pick the newspaper up; get our hair done; have our shoes mended; and, where we could indulge in that favourite bowl of noodles.

A treat I would look forward to as a child was having my favourite bowl of beef-ball soup sitting at a table on a five-foot-way along Hock Lam Street.

My maternal grandmother might also have plied her trade on the five-foot-way – she sold appam in the vicinity of Simon Road Market in the uncertain days that followed the end of the war.

The surviving corridors are mostly silent, abandoned by tradesmen we no longer have need for, except for a few.

(A contribution to National Heritage Board’s “Trading Stories: Conversations with Six Tradesmen” exhibition which will be on at the National Museum of Singapore from 15 March to 23 June 2013)


Trading Stories: Conversations with Six Tradesmen is a community exhibition on old trade­­­­­­­s in Singapore and how tradesmen have coped with the challenge of changing times. Featuring the lives of six individuals who have made their living as a traditional goldsmith, movie poster painter, tukang urut or Malay confinement lady, Samsui woman, poultry farmer and letter writer, the exhibition sheds light on some of Singapore’s old trades through their personal stories – stories of sacrifices and struggles, of passion and fortitude, of entrepreneurial courage and adaptability.

This community exhibition at the Stamford Gallery also features numerous community contributions such as the loan of private keepsakes, locally produced documentaries and a community photography exhibit on old local trades. Members of the public are also invited to contribute to the exhibition by sharing their personal memories and stories of old trades in Singapore.





They only come at night!

31 08 2012

The second installment of the Night Festival which will be on this evening and tomorrow evening will be an exhilarating one on the basis of what was on show during a media preview of it on Wednesday. The highlight of it would most certainly be La Argentina for which Armenian Street will be closed to traffic. La Argentina, by Ozono Producciones of Argentina, features a dancer supported and at times suspended at the end of a boom of a crane, gyrating and swinging in a hail of confetti and to live music that will certainly have everyone on the street tapping their feet, if not, dancing.

They only come at night – performances for Night Fest that is …

La Argentina sees a dancer at the end of a boom of a crane that makes its way down Armenian Street.

The dancer is at times supported by the boom …

… and at times suspended …

The thrilling part of the performance is when the dancer, in a hail of confetti, is swung around by the crane’s boom.

The band that accompanies the La Argentina performance has not just the performer, but everyone else tapping their feet, if not dancing.

The very dynamic performance, which can be seen at 8.30 pm, 9.30 pm and 10.30 pm on each of the two evenings, is one of three parts of Fuerzabruta. The other two parts, Corredoras and Mylar, are no less interesting. Corredoras features dancers somersaulting and diving at immense speed to a backdrop of a huge foil curtain painted by shimmering blue and purple lights. Mylar features a 15 metre pool that is suspended overhead with dancers slipping and sliding along its see-through bottom to the changing hues and tints of the rippling puddle of water sloshing across the pool’s surface. Both Mylar and Corredoras will be performed at SMU Green. Corredoras will come on at 8.30 pm, 9.30 pm and 10.30 pm each evening, while Mylar will be on at 8.45 pm, 9.45 pm and 10.45 pm.

The corredoras from Argentina who will be performing in Corredoras and Mylar.

SMU Green will also feature several other acts including local bands. For the second installment, there will also be an act at the Vanguard Building (former MPH Building) – two performers will feature in Night Painting and Cast In Light – one in darkness and one in Light. More information on Night Festival can be found at the festival’s website (click here).

At the Vanguard Building.

A drummer from Dunman High School.





A trip back in time to the Singapore of the sixties

27 06 2010

For anyone looking to take a trip down memory lane, or perhaps a trip back in time to catch a glimpse of what life might have been like in the Singapore of the 1960s, the Singapore 1960 exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore offers a chance to do just that. The exhibition which opened on 3 June, the anniversary of self-government, runs up to 22 August and features a display of more than 300 items from the 1960s. The exhibits include items which were commonly found in the 1960s as well as scenes of the life replayed in black and white providing a view into the vibrant cultural and entertainment scene of Singapore in the 1960s, including a view of the different “worlds”: Gay World, Great World, and New World, which played a big role in keeping Singaporeans amused and entertained.

The Singapore 1960 exhibition offers the visitor a glimpse into life in the different world that was Singapore back in the 1960s.

Scenes from the 1960s including a glimpse into the different "worlds" are replayed in black and white.

It was a trip back in time for me as well, as I browsed through the exhibits. Some were familiar to me, transporting me back to the Singapore of my childhood, to a Singapore that was a very different place from the one we know of today. There were many reminders of the era, as well as the place, in which I had spent my early years in. One such reminder was in the form of a cigarette tin. I remember tins such as the one on display particularly well. This was from being sent regularly to the provision shop to buy a couple of sticks of cigarettes by my father. Cigarettes could then be purchased individually over the counter and this would be taken out of a tin. At that time, my father was trying then to curb his smoking habit and decided not to have a packet at his disposal at home, and so I would invariably be sent to the shops below whenever he felt like a cigarette (something that was possible then as there were no restrictions on minors buying cigarettes, and something I never enjoyed doing) to buy two sticks at a time.

The very familiar cigarette tin with which I was well acquainted with.

There were many of the other exhibits that were familiar to me: a metal Player’s Navy Cut ashtray commonly found on the marble topped tables of coffee shops which brought with it memories of the coffee shops of old and spittoons that I never seemed to avoid kicking below the marble topped tables. There were two Magnolia soft drink bottles which brought memories of the Magnolia Grape soft drink that was one of my favourites once upon a time, as well reminded me of how Magnolia Milk was sold in similar bottles. A Smith Corona typewriter displayed on a desk brought back memories of how offices were once like when the constant sound of the clickaty-clack of the typewriters would always be heard in the background.

A Player's Navy Cut ashtray which was a common sight on the marble top coffee shop tables in the 1960s and 1970s.

A Smith Corona typewriter - commonly found in the offices of the 1960s and 1970s.

There are also pages from the newspapers of the era to browse through, providing an insight into a turbulent and violent decade in Singapore’s history, as well as images of a time some half a century ago, which provides an appreciation of how it once had been before Singapore became the clean and sanitised world that is the Singapore that we now know.

Pages from the newspapers provide an insight into a turbulent and violent decade in Singapore's history.

The Magnolia soft drink bottle - my favourite was Magnolia Grape! Magnolia also sold milk, normal, strawberry and chocolate flavoured ones in similar bottles.

Images of life in the 1960s are also captured in the photographs on display. A close-up of a photograph of a satay seller by Lee Sow Kim taken in the 1950s.

The Neptune - a popular cabaret along Collyer Quay in the 1960s and 1970s.

Fashion on display: colourful sarong kebayas commonly seen in the 1960s.

The cover of an issue of Her World from 1962.

A reminder of a forgotten fact: the National Language of Singapore.

Words from the National Anthem of Singapore.

Close up of a record sleeve. The music recording industry had its heyday in the 1960s in Singapore.

Also on display are pieces from the Aw Boon Haw jade collection which were donated to the National Museum of Singapore in 1979 and contain pieces from the late Qing period.








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