The National Gallery, naked

7 05 2015

It has been a long four and a half years since two architectural icons of a lost age went into hiding, cloaked for a large part in a dark shroud. That was to permit a huge and costly transformation of the two, the old Supreme Court and the City Hall, to be performed, a transformation that would turn the two  into a jewel that will crown Singapore’s coming of age. The massive 64,000 square metres of floor area that the two buildings share will provide Singapore with the grandest of showcases its huge National collection as the new National Gallery Singapore. The collection numbers some 10,000 works. Composed primarily of the art of Singapore and of Southeast Asia, it is the largest collection of its kind in the world.

The restored historical lobby of the Old Supreme Court.

The restored historical lobby of the Old Supreme Court.

The re-tiled corridors of the Old Supreme Court.

The new shine of the re-tiled corridors of the Old Supreme Court.

The buildings, both National Monuments and ones that for long characterised the city-scape, hark back to the days of the empire. With significant chapters of our history written within their walls, the two are monuments not just of the nation, but also to the nation and what is nice about the transformation, although it may have altered some of the buildings’ characters, is that its does allows an  appreciation of the buildings’s historic and architectural value by providing us and our future generations with access to them and more importantly to their many conserved spaces.

My favourite space in the two buildings, the Rotunda Library, seen in a new light.

My favourite space in the two buildings, the Rotunda Library, seen in a new light.

I had a chance to look at how the transformation has been managed when the buildings made their debut as the National Gallery without the art during the recent series of Naked Museum tours. Having had a look at the two during the open house held just prior to the closure in late 2010, I was especially interested to see how the character of the many conserved spaces within the two have been preserved.

The gathering of local artists and guests at the launch of the National Gallery Open House in 2010 prior to the renovations (National Gallery photo).

The beautifully restored Foyer of the Old Supreme Court.

The beautifully restored Foyer of the Old Supreme Court.

The old stairway that now leads to a new heaven.

The old stairway that now leads to a new heaven.

One of the first things that did catch my eye however, was how the two have been made to become one. A large part of this, is seen in the interface between the two at the former open plaza. Here, we see one of the larger intervention of the architect, Mr Jean François Milou, in the large enclosed space that has been created, encased by glass panels on a framework of steel. The framework is suspended over the two monuments through the use of a rather intriguing looking tree-like support structure. The space is best seen when the sun shines. That is when it takes on an almost magical quality in the soft light that filters through the specially designed screen of perforated aluminium panels.

The atrium between the two buildings.

The atrium between the two buildings.

The moment of inspiration for the screen came on a sun baked afternoon as the architect pondered over how the buildings could be unified sitting on a plastic chair in the Padang. The play of light and shadow through the patchwork of glass and steel, its tree-like support that is also replicated up on the roof of the old Supreme Court, and the sky bridges that allow communication between the two buildings finds meaning as a whole in providing a stunning visual spectacle in which the new is very much in harmony with the old.

A view of the sky bridges between in the atrium created the two buildings.

A view of the sky bridges between in the atrium created the two buildings.

The upper level sky bridge that connects at Level 4.

The upper level sky bridge that connects at Level 4.

The interventions on the roofs of the two buildings, are also best appreciated from the inside. On the previously empty roof of the City Hall, we now see two reflecting pools over the building’s former courtyards. This, found on Level 5, will be lined with F&B outlets. The upper level (Level 6), is where one can now gaze across the Padang to where the generations before once gazed at the lights of the old harbour from a viewing deck that will be opened to the public.

The lower level (Level 5) of City Hall Rooftop will see F&B outlets lining two reflection pools.

The lower level (Level 5) of City Hall Rooftop will see F&B outlets lining two reflection pools.

The view across the reflecting pool of the City Hall Rooftop towards the new Supreme Court.

The view across the reflecting pool of the City Hall Rooftop towards the new Supreme Court.

The City Hall Rooftop viewing deck on Level 6.

The City Hall Rooftop viewing deck on Level 6.

The view through the aluminium panels of the roof.

The view through the aluminium panels of the roof.

It was the roof across the sky bridge that I found especially appealing. Previously an inaccessible are of the old Supreme Court, it is where one finds the minor dome. The skylights on the dome is what casts the delightful glow on the beautifully Rotunda Library below it. The now covered space has a roof similar in construction to the glass enclosure of the atrium between the two buildings, and it is here that in the sunshine, that we also are able to see the gorgeous play of shadow and light it can create.

The Supreme Court Terrace.

The Supreme Court Terrace.

Another view of the terrace with the rotunda dome.

Another view of the terrace with the rotunda dome.

Reflections on the Supreme Court Terrace.

Reflections on the Supreme Court Terrace.

It is under the two domes of the old Supreme Court that one finds the most wonderful of conserved spaces, including what certainly is my favourite of all spaces, the beautiful Rotunda Library. Also conserved and restored are spaces such as Courtroom No. 1, the beautiful corridors on the second level and their skylights, the main staircase, the Historical Lobby and the Grand Foyer.

The Rotunda Library.

The Rotunda Library.

The Rotunda, see from the ground.

The Rotunda, see from a lower angle.

Courtroom No. 1.

Courtroom No. 1.

The beautiful light of the Old Supreme Court main staircase.

The beautiful light of the Old Supreme Court main staircase.

A skylight.

A skylight.

The corridors now feature gleaming marble floor tiles, laid out in a pattern that mimic that of the toxic asbestos filled rubber tiles that had to be replaced. In the area to the left of the staircase one also finds two holding cells, the only ones that have been retained. In the cells, we see a hint of a very necessary sanitary fitting, its opening sealed in cement. When operational, that could only be flushed outside the cells. What would have been nice to see conserved are the narrow caged passageways along which the cells’ occupants could be led, via a trap door, to the courtrooms. These however, were nowhere to be found.

The eight sided foundation stone under which there is a time-capsule that is meant to be opened in the year 3000.

The eight sided foundation stone under which there is a time-capsule that is meant to be opened in the year 3000.

The entrance to the Holding Cells.

The entrance to the Holding Cells.

Inside one ofthe  two holding cells that have been retained.

Inside one ofthe two holding cells that have been retained.

Prisoner holding area.

The caged passageway through which a prisoner would be led to the courtroom.

The caged passageway seen with indicted Japanese soldiers being tried for war crimes being led to the courtroom from the holding cells (source: Imperial War Museums © IWM (IND 4999).

The caged passageway seen with indicted Japanese soldiers being tried for war crimes being led to the courtroom from the holding cells during the War Crime trials (source: Imperial War Museums © IWM (IND 4999).

Another caged relic I would have liked to see, was the cage lift that I remember from a visit I accompanied my mother on in my childhood to a verbatim reporter friend she would sometimes have lunch with. This proved once again to be to be elusive, although I am told that the lift is still there and in working condition.

A look up to the underside of the main dome.

A look up to the underside of the main dome.

One part of the court building I did not have a chance to see previously is the underside of the empty main copper clad dome. That I got to see by special arrangement. With the ceiling that previously obscured it now removed, there is no more need to ascend the spiral staircase to have a glance at its bare underneath and the riveted steel beams that provides support. This view will be one of the treats we can look forward to when the new gallery opens its doors in November.

A voew of the distinctive copper dome from City Hall Rooftop. The dome is said to be a smaller scale version of the famous dome of London's St. Paul's Cathedral.

A view of the distinctive copper dome from City Hall Rooftop. The dome is said to be a smaller scale version of the famous dome of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral.

A view from the balcony towards the pediment. The space left by a missing coat of arms, thought to be removed during the Japanese Occupation, will be left as it is.

A view from the balcony towards the pediment. The space left by a missing coat of arms, thought to be removed during the Japanese Occupation, will be left as it is.

New galleries in the old building. The old Supreme Court wing will be used to house the South-East Asian collection.

New galleries in the old building. The old Supreme Court wing will be used to house the South-East Asian collection.

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The pediment of the old Supreme Court on which Justice is not blind in Singapore.

The pediment of the old Supreme Court on which Justice is not blind in Singapore.

A pigeon's eye view from the balcony of the old Supreme Court.

A pigeon’s eye view from the balcony of the old Supreme Court.

The City Hall also has several conserved spaces of importance, the most important of which is City Hall Chamber. Once said to be the grandest of rooms in all of Singapore, the chamber witnessed several momentous events of our past, one of which was the surrender of Japanese forces in 1945. Another significant event that took place there was the swearing in of our first Prime Minister in 1959. In its refurbished state, the chamber retains much of its character. The entrance to it is now via side doors that previously were windows to the courtyard.

City Hall CHamber, a.k.a. the Surrender Chamber.

City Hall CHamber, a.k.a. the Surrender Chamber.

The courtyard the doors now lead to had been an open-air served car park. It now finds itself under a reflecting pool (the same pool on the roof terrace) and air-conditioned. As the DBS Singapore Courtyard, it will be used for the permanent display of a collection of Singapore art from the 19th century to the present when the gallery opens.

The former courtyard of City Hall.

The former courtyard of City Hall.

The courtyard will be a new exhibition space.

Shadows from the steel framework of the glass roof over the courtyard.

Moving stairways to the new heaven.

Moving stairways to the new heaven.

The Cor­inthian columns of the former City Hall's façade.

The Cor­inthian columns of the former City Hall’s façade.

The central staircase of City Hall.

The central staircase of City Hall.

In a year during which there is much to look forward to in a Singapore that celebrates its 50th year of independence, the gallery’s opening in November is something that will certainly enhance the celebration. The gallery will by itself be a celebration, one not just of art and culture, but also of our nationhood and of our history and heritage.More information on the National Gallery and the history of the buildings can be found at the National Gallery’s website and some of my previous posts, which contain photographs of how some of the spaces looked before the refurbishment.

A last look at the Rotunda Library.

A last look at the Rotunda Library.





A glance at Art Stage Singapore 2015

22 01 2015

I love it when Art Stage Singapore comes around every January. Not only does the fair provide the opportunity to get in touch with the contemporary art scene, but it also provides hours of visual stimulation to break the monotony of the start of the year. And, from the glance I had at this year’s fair, it certainly is no different.

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Hwan Kwon Yi, Traffic Jam, Gana Art.

Hwan Kwon Yi, Traffic Jam, Gana Art.

As Southeast Asia’s flagship art fair, Art Stage Singapore, the fifth edition of which opens its doors at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre today, lends its support to the regional art scene. This year, a curated Southeast Asia platform has the works of 32 emerging artists from the region featured. In all, over 200 galleries from 29 countries – 75 percent of which are from the Asia-Pacific, are represented at this year’s fair, making it a must-visit exhibition for both the collectors and curious alike.

Kiatanan Iamchan, Oh, My Baby, Number1Gallery.

Kiatanan Iamchan, Oh, My Baby, Number1Gallery.

This year also sees video art, which is fast gaining prominence as a collectible art medium, receive an airing through Video Stage. Intended as a regular feature of the annual fair, Video Stage for Art Stage Singapore 2015 will take a look at the medium over the years, through 73 videos.

Art Stage Singapore 2015.

Art Stage Singapore 2015.

Also to look out for, are programmes being held as part of the fair including ARTnews Talk Series talks with a focus on Southeast Asia. There will also be talks given by various artists from the Southeast Asian platform, as well as performances and tours. More information these programmes can be found in the fair guide. Art Stage Singapore 2015 runs from 22 to 25 January 2015. More information on the fair is available at http://www.artstagesingapore.com.

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A scalp raising experience.

A scalp raising experience.

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Connecting to reconnect with the convent

10 11 2014

Several hundred girls from CHIJ Toa Payoh secondary and primary schools found themselves back in school on Sunday, not in the familiar surroundings of Toa Payoh, but in ones once familiar in Victoria Street. It had been in Victoria Street some 160 years ago, that four nuns of the Congregation of the Holy Infant Jesus’, having arrived following a long and arduous journey from Europe to the Singapore via Penang, began their mission in Caldwell House with just a bed, 2 mats, 2 chairs and 2 stools, establishing the convent in February 1854.

Back to school in once familiar surroundings.

Back to school in once familiar surroundings.

The convent was to grow, establishing within the walls of its expanded premises on Victoria Street,  not just an enlarged physical presence that was to be defined by the wonderful examples of architecture built to the glory of the supreme being, but also as a leading institution that provided both care for many in need as well as one that has and continues to play a significant role in providing education to girls in Singapore.

Late for school - 30 years too late! The schools moved out from the premises of the former convent at the end of 1983 after almost 130 years.

Late for school – 30 years too late! The schools moved out from the premises of the former convent at the end of 1983 after almost 130 years.

While it is sad that the magnificent buildings erected for the nuns to carry out their mission can no longer be used for the purpose – the convent having had to vacate its oasis in the city in 1983 (the schools in the premises moved to Toa Payoh in 1984 and a third school, CHIJ St. Nicholas, to Ang Mo Kio), and even sadder that the complex has been repurposed in a way that trivialises the original intent; it is good to see that there is still a connection that the schools can make with their spiritual home, now called CHIJMES.

Once familiar scenes returned for a day to the corridors of the old convent.

Once familiar scenes (except for the mobile devices) returned for a day to the corridors of the old convent.

The girls, dressed in the familiar blue pinafores, made more than that connection yesterday. Together with their teachers and members of their alumni, a physical connection was also established, with 402 lining up, tallest to the shortest, with hands joined to form what is believed to a world record for the longest human chain (tallest to shortest) – subject to confirmation by the Guinness Book of World Records.

Confirmation  of a Singapore Record.

Confirmation of a Singapore Record.

Primary school participants being arranged in order of height.

Primary school participants being arranged in order of height.

Hand-in-hand for the world record attempt.

Hand-in-hand for the world record attempt.

Part of the schools’ commemoration of their 160th Anniversaries, the apparent success of the effort dubbed IJ Link, was celebrated in song and dance immediately after. Along with the world record attempt, which surpasses the previously held record of 311, a bazaar, brunch at the former chapel and arts performances were also held on the grounds of the former convent.

The celebration after ...

The celebration after …

An assembly held in the field behind the chapel.

An assembly held in the field behind the chapel in the good old days (photograph: National Archives of Singapore).

Happy days were here again!

Happy days were here again!


More photographs:

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An Ocean of Possibilities

4 11 2014

In An Ocean of Possibilities, we may find a sea of change. A photography exhibition brought to Singapore through a collaboration between Singapore International Photography Festival (SIPF) and Noorderlicht International Photo Festival in Groningen, An Ocean of Possibilities features the thought provoking works of 34 internationally acclaimed photographers who find unlikely forces for change in the midst of  the trials and tribulations of tragedy, conflict and upheaval.

Finding out how a camera obscura works in An Ocean of Possibilities.

Hands-on in finding out how a camera obscura works in An Ocean of Possibilities.

It is a theme that SIPF Festival Director, Gwen Lee, says that Singapore is no stranger to, having overcome many obstacles in charting its course through to an improved future. To Ms Lee,  the ocean “signifies a test of our courage, imagination and capabilities to take the path less trodden”, a path that is taken by the subject in the works.

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The exhibition at the ArtScience Museum, which opened on 31 October 2014 and will run until 28 December, sees over 200 works – photographs and videos, on display. Among the photographs are the works of two Singaporeans, Zhao Renhui and Lim Weixiang in the 34 that have been selected from over 1000 submissions.

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The works that I thought were especially provoking are those of Alex Masi, Ana Galan, Matthew O’Brien and Loulou d’Aki. Masi’s Bhopal Second Disaster is particularly so in examining the continuing fallout of the Bhopal disaster, 30 years on, through a series of haunting images. In all this, Masi finds hope in adversity, a hope that a population abandoned by those who should be making wrongs right, have found from within.

Photographs from Alex Mesi's Bhopal Second Disaster.

Photographs from Alex Masi’s Bhopal Second Disaster.

d’Aki also finds hope in the future – through the faces of the youth of the Middle East and in their dreams and ambitions in Make A Wish, while O’Brien finds beauty in the common folk of Colombia in lives where the threat of violence and misery is ever present through a series of Polaroids in No Dar Papaya. In Galan’s In a Quest for Utopia, we are made to take a look at a Myanmar, which in spite of democratic reforms, continues to be dominated by the politics of the past half a century. Galan’s work sees a homage paid to activists who in continuing a fight for freedom put their lives and their own personal freedom at risk.

Ana Galan's portrait of Nay Yee Ba Swe with the words of Article 37 of the Burmese Constitution superimposed.

Ana Galan’s portrait of Nay Yee Ba Swe with the words of Article 37 of the Burmese Constitution superimposed.

Polaroids from Matthew O'Brien's No Dar Papaya.

Polaroids from Matthew O’Brien’s No Dar Papaya.

Loulou d'Aki's Make A Wish - hope for the future seen in the faces of the youth of the post Arab Spring Middle East.

Loulou d’Aki’s Make A Wish – hope for the future seen in the faces of the youth of the post Arab Spring Middle East.

A quite enjoyable part of the exhibition are the interactive activities that Hands On Lenses, curated by artscientist Isabella Desjeux, that visitors can participate in. Participants will be able to make their own magnifier, understand how a camera obscura works and use their smart phones to take photos of magnified objects. Hands On Lenses workshops will be conducted by Isabella Desjuex on 8 and 9 and 22 November, 13 and 20 December. In addition to this, Marina Bay Sands’ resident photographers will be conducting two courses, Photographing Stories on 23 and 30 November and Shooting Travel Photos like a Pro on 13 December.

Hands on Lenses.

Hands on Lenses.

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In addition to this, ArtScience Museum will also be organising a free symposium on 8 November, Digital Frontiers: Exploring the context of Digital Imaging. This will see academic experts in the art and science field, Dr Vasillios Vonikakis from Advanced Digital Sciences Center and Associate Prof Oh Soon-Hwa from Nanyang Technological University exploring how digital photography has changed our perception of images today. The session will also include a discussion on how technological advances have spurred greater progress in key areas within the artistic and scientific domains.

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More information on the exhibition and workshops can be found at the ArtScience Museum’s site and also the SIPF website. A exhibition guide can be downloaded here.

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Artistic Impressions by Shunji Matsuo

3 11 2014

Renowned for his artistic creations in the hair salon, hairstylist Shunji Matsuo unleashes another dimension in his creative genius in Artistic Impressions, an exhibition running until 13 November 2014, which showcases not only his contribution to hairstyles, but also some 40 paintings and over 20 sculptures and headdresses. The exhibition, curated by Steven Lim, a late bloomer in the field of art – interestingly he was a ship designer before he put himself through art school close to the age of 60, is being held at the Japan Creative Centre in Nassim Road.

A model dressed in Shunji Matsuo's happy colours at the opening of the exhibition on Friday.

A model dressed in Shunji Matsuo’s happy colours at the opening of the exhibition on Friday.

I thought that the works, which in most part have a recurring theme centered around women and hairstyles – have also been inspired by contemporary artists such as Yayoi Kusama and subjects such the Amasan in Japan, are rich in colour (yellow is said to be his happy colour) and have a rather intriguing child-like quality.

A work inspired by Yayoi Kusama.

A work inspired by Yayoi Kusama.

Matsuo at the opening.

Matsuo at the opening.

The exhibition is well worth a visit not just for Matsuo’s happy expressions of creativity, but also because it gives you an opportunity to step into the gorgeous old world house that the Japan Creative Centre is housed in. More information is available at http://www.sg.emb-japan.go.jp/JCC/invite_shunji%20matsuo.html.

The gorgeous house the Japan Creative Centre is housed in.

The gorgeous house the Japan Creative Centre is housed in.

Matsuo's contributions to 50 years of fashion evolution.

Matsuo’s contributions to 50 years of fashion evolution.

Curator, Steven Lim.

Curator, Steven Lim.

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A dream clinic

21 10 2014

The brand with the three stripes, Adidas, brought some excitement to the tennis courts at Raffles Institution (RI) and also to the grandstand at the MOE Co-Curricular Activities Branch (CCAB), when three of their sponsored WTA superstars, made an appearance on Friday. The three, Simona Halep, Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki, in Singapore for the WTA Finals, graced the courts to conduct what must have been a dream Adidas tennis clinic for students from the schools from the Raffles family. Simona Halep also made a surprise appearance at the CCAB where tennis players from Methodist Girls School were in training.

Besides taking questions about training regimes, pre-match routines, diet, lucky charms and how they were coping with the Singapore weather, the very glamourous tennis superstars posed some questions of their own – on posing a question on what food she should try whilst in Singapore, the almost unanimous recommendation made at RI to Ana Ivanovic was the durian … I wonder if she would be brave enough to try it ….

Ana Ivanovic and Simona Halep at Raffles Institution.

Ana Ivanovic and Simona Halep at Raffles Institution.

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Soo Kui Jen introducing Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic at RI.

Soo Kui Jen introducing Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic at RI.

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RGS tennis players waiting in anticipation.

RGS tennis players waiting in anticipation.

Simona Halep. at CCAB

Simona Halep. taking questions at CCAB

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Simona Halep taking a wefie with the MGS girls.

Simona Halep taking a wefie with the MGS girls.





Divine faces in the dark

22 08 2014

Take a walk on the dark and somewhat mysterious side of the Bras Basah.Bugis precinct this weekend (and the next), and you might stumble upon a few surprises, all of which, if you are lucky enough, have nothing to do with the time of the year from the perspective of the Chinese calendar.  The precinct plays host to the annual Singapore Night Festival that brings life and colour to the streets and greens of the area along with a wonderful show of light in Night Lights.

Hauntings at the dark and mysterious yard of Singapore's Armenian Church.

Hauntings at the dark and mysterious yard of Singapore’s Armenian Church.

Night Lights is back for the Singapore Night Festival (** Ryf's Insert Caption Please is seen in the foreground).

Night Lights is back for the Singapore Night Festival (Ryf’s **Insert Caption Please is seen in the foreground).

Night Lights this year has installations that range from one inspired by a giant jellyfish inspired to the divine. The enchanting line-up of lights, include some of which I got to have a glimpse at last night. Standing out, not just among the installations, but also among the trees is Clement Briend’s Divine Trees found just east of the National Museum of Singapore. While seeing Briend’s projections, which leave ghostly like faces of divine figures imprinted on the leaves of several of the trees by the National Museum, can be initially a little disconcerting; it would certainly leave the view in awe as to how alive the seemingly three-dimensional projections seem. The installation is an attempt by the artist to “blur the divide between reality and imagination” and “a study of the divine and the spiritual in the world made visible by projection onto objects of nature”.

Divine faces in the dark.

Divine faces in the dark.

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Over at Singapore’s oldest church building, the Armenian Church, we see more ghostly figures, this time set among the gravestones of the exhumed graves of the church’s yard.  The figures, glowing in a ever changing change of colours, are dresses woven from 40 kilometres of fibre optic cable. Dresses of Memory is all the work of Taegon Kim,  the glow-in-the-dark figures are intended to convey the celebration of “being in love” and having “a lover’s silhouette imprinted on the webs of one’s memory”.

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The Armenian Church is also where a rather enjoyable installation, Scenocosme’s Alsos*, can be found. The installation, at first glance seemingly nothing more than a illuminated tangle of twigs, is one that invites the visitor to interact with it. By shinning a light on its flowers, and altering the light’s intensity, the visitor creates his or her own set of sounds with each flower filling the air with a different sound.

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A surprise very different and with a far less mysterious flavour awaited me along a narrow alleyway. That was where a bunch of some rather tough looking characters, ones you wouldn’t really want to mess with, seemed to be spoiling for a fight. The fight the tough dudes were looking for were fortunately not with us, but among themselves – they would be meeting in a wrestling ring that would be set up right on on Armenian Street next weekend (29 and 30 August) in the Singapore Pro Wrestling event as part of the exciting line-up of events for the Singapore Night Festival.

Singapore Pro Wrestling comes to the alleyways ...

Singapore Pro Wrestling comes to as alleyway …

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For more information on how to catch the wrestlers in action, the light installations, and the rest of the excitement at the Singapore Night Festival do visit the festival’s website at www.sgnightfest.sg. The festival’s happenings can also be followed on twitter at @BrasBasahBugis and on Facebook. There is also a festival guide available on instagram @SNFGUIDE. Hashtags for use during the festival are #SGNightFest and #SNFer. Do also refer to a previous post Bold and Beautiful – let’s Harp on it for more photographs and an introduction to this year’s festival.


A second look at WeComeInPeace’s Spirits of Nature at SAM for #SGNightFest

Through once familiar archways ...

Through once familiar archways …

... another look at WeComeInPeace's Spirits of Nature.

… another look at WeComeInPeace’s Spirits of Nature.

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