The Italian captain who bought Pulau Bukom …

10 06 2017

Except perhaps for sculptor Cavaliere Rodolfo Nolli, whose magnificent work adorns the old Supreme Court, little is known of Singapore’s many connections with the Italian community – except perhaps of the community’s many culinary offerings we are now able to find. It may therefore come as a surprise that the connections do go well back –  even before Italy as an entity existed and that Singapore’s Pulau Bukom was once owned by an Italian man.

Explore Singapore’s surprising Italian connections at The Italian Connection at the Fullerton Hotel.

Pulau Bukom is perhaps better known to us as the island on which Singapore’s successful journey into the oil refining trade, had its beginnings. Shell, who built and operate the refinery, has long been associated with the island. 20 acres of it was bought by the company in 1891 for the purpose of kerosene storage. The transaction netted the island’s owner,  Capitano Giovanni Gaggino a tidy profit. Gaggino, an Italian master mariner, shipowner and adventurer, purchased the island for $500 in 1884 with the intention to supply freshwater to shipping. His purchase of “Freshwater Island” as it was informally known as, was one of many of Gaggino’s ventures here. He would spend 42 of his 72 years in Singapore from 1876 and passed on in 1918, whilst on a trip to Batavia. Capitano Gaggino was also known to have authored several books, one of which was the very first Malay-Italian dictionary.

Capitano Giovanni Gaggino, who once owned Pulau Bukom (source: Reproduction of “La Vallata del Yang-Tse-Kiang” by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Open source).

Even before Gaggino, Italians – many of whom were involved in shipping and trade, made landfall. One rather famous Italian, the renowned botanist and contemporary of Charles Darwin, Odoardo Beccari, used Singapore as a stepping stone to his well documented explorations of the region’s forests. Credited with the discovery of the giant corpse flower, Beccari also documented a month he spent in March 1866 at the “wooden bungalow” of the Italian Consul, Signor Giovanni Leveson (a.k.a. Edward John Leveson) on the Johor Strait. The bungalow is thought to be where Woodlands in Singapore’s north got its name from.

Odoardo Beccari (source: Sailko, Creative Commons License 3.0).

Like Capitano Gaggino, Cavaliere Rodolfo Nolli spent a substantial part of his life in Singapore. He arrived from Bangkok in 1921 and remained – except for a period of internment during the Second World War (as a citizen of Italy, one of the Axis states, he was interned in Australia from 1941 to 1945), until his retirement in 1956 . He worked tirelessly and amassed a huge portfolio of work that began with the second Ocean Building on which he provided the decorative artificial stone facings.

Composite image of Rodolfo Nolli and the main (south) entrance of the GPO. Two sets of works – the coat of arms and a pair of flambeau compositions, went missing during the Japanese Occupation (source of images: National Archives of Singapore).

The majestic Ocean Building did not only launch Nolli’s career in Singapore, it also spelled a new era for the bund along Collyer Quay. Before the end of a decade, three even grander edifices would be added: the Union Building, a second generation Hongkong and Shanghai Bank Chambers, and the grandest of them all, the Fullerton Building. The additions, all of which Nolli had work done on, provided the bund with an appearance that could be compared to Shanghai’s more famous embankment.

Ocean Building in the 1920s (Source: W. A. Laxton, The Straits Steamship Fleets)..

Built to house the General Post Office, several municipal offices as well as the exclusive Singapore Club, the Fullerton was decorated with some of Nolli’s more exquisite pieces of the era. Two precast sculptural works: a pair of flambeau compositions and a royal coat of arms – symbols of enlightenment and empire – adorned the main entrance to the GPO. Sadly, these disappeared during the Japanese Occupation and all that can now be seen of Nolli’s contributions in the building is the magnificent plasterwork of the barrel vaulted ceiling of the Singapore Club’s Billiard Hall. The hall is now the Straits Room of The Fullerton Hotel. The hotel has occupied the Fullerton Building since 2001.

The Straits Room is now where the only works of Rodolfo Nolli’s in the Fullerton Building to have survived can be found.

The historic waterfront, 1932, to which Nolli added decorative finishing touches, and the waterfront today (source: top image, Singapore Philatelic Museum; lower image, Jerome Lim).

Cavaliere Rodolfo Nolli, whose works are also found in Bangkok – where he spent 7 years of his life, in parts of Malaysia and also in Brunei, was bestowed with a knighthood by the Italian Crown in 1925. This is an honour that another Italian gentleman connected with the Fullerton Building, Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale, has also received. Cavaliere Viterale, the GM of Fullerton Heritage, is a well respected member of the hospitality industry and it was for his contributions to it that he received the honour. The building, which was opened in June 1928, celebrates its 89th anniversary this month.

Nuns of the Canossian order speaking to Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale at the exhibition opening. The order, which has origins in Italy, first arrived in Singapore in 1894 (source: The Fullerton Heritage).

More on the Italian Community, including on an Italian order of missionaries whose work in tending to those in need continues to this very day, the Canossian Daughters of Charity, can be discovered at an exhibition that I curated with Zinke Aw, “The Italian Connection”. The exhibition, The Fullerton Hotel’s East Garden Foyer, runs until 18 July 2017. Information on the exhibition can also be found at The Fullerton Heritage’s website and through the official press release.

 

 

 





Exploring emptiness: Kamolpan Chotvichai’s Fragility of the Self

23 09 2016

An interesting exhibition that will open at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery at Gillman Barracks this evening is emerging Thai artist Kamolpan Chotvichai’s “Fragility of the Self“. The solo exhibition features thought provoking works each of which is an image of the artist’s body with parts of her anatomy hand-cut into a ribbon like form. The works explore the concept of emptiness in Buddhism, through the process of stripping away her physical form and challenge  at the same time gender based prohibitions.

Ms. Kamolpan Chotvichai at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery.

Ms. Kamolpan Chotvichai at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery.

The process to create the works is a painstaking one that starts with a sketch and involves a fair bit of detailed planning. The process of slicing parts of the images for which Ms Chotvichai uses an ordinary utility knife, takes two weeks on the average. Ms Chotvichai, who holds a Master of Fine Arts degree, experimented with several techniques to achieve the desired effects prior to settling on her current methods.

Her work has been featured at Saatchi Gallery in London alongside those of renowned Thai artists Rirkrit Tiravanija, Navin Rawanchaikul and Udomsak Krisanamis and was chosen for the cover of the book accompanying the exhibition, Thailand Eye. Ms. Chotvichai was also the youngest artist to participate in Frontiers Reimagined, an exhibition of global art – a Collateral Event of the 56th Venice Biennale.

The exhibition held in association with the 5th edition of the Singapore International Photography Festival, will run until 9 November 2016. Ms. Chotvichai, who is in town for the opening of her exhibition, will be having an Artist Talk on Saturday 24 September 24 at 3 pm for which registration is required through this email address: rsvpsg@sundaramtagore.com. More information on the exhibition can be found at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery’s website.





Dali at the REDSEA

11 09 2016

The Pierre Argillet Collection, the result of a partnership over a thirty year period between the master of surrealism Salvador Dali and his publisher Pierre Argillet, is being brought to us in Singapore for a second time in just over two years.

A selection of etchings and watercolours, and also Aubusson tapestries and porcelain that has never been seen here, will be available for viewing and acquisition at the REDSEA Gallery from 11 September to 5 October 2016 at an exhibition, “Salvador Dali & Pierre Argillet: Thirty Years of Collection”.

The exhibition will provide an opportunity to hear from Pierre Argillet’s daughter, Christine, whose summers spent in the company of Dali has allowed her to gain an intimate understanding of the artist and the works the collection. This opportunity will come through a Q&A Session on 11 September 2016 at 2 to 3 pm being held at the gallery. The gallery is also providing public guided tours on 17 and 24 September, and on 1 October, at 2 to 3 pm.


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Madame Argillet describing how two copper plates were used to produce the etching Pegasus.

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Another etching with a mythological theme, Saturn.

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Medusa, for which an octopus Dali found on the beach was used to produce the etching on a copper plate.

Women in Waves. The circular patterns were made during a public appearance at which Dali was high on LSD. He rescued the effort by adding the figure of a woman to the etching.

Women in Waves. The circular patterns were made during a public appearance at which Dali was high on LSD. He rescued the effort by adding the figure of a woman to the etching.

Theseus and Minotaurus, a combination of random splashes of acid with finely sketched etchings.

Theseus and Minotaurus, a combination of random splashes of acid with finely sketched etchings.

One from the Hippie Series, Old Hippie.

One from the Hippie Series, The Old Hippie.

Bullfight with Drawer from the Surrealistic Bullfight series, which was inspired by Picasso’s “Tauromachie” series.

Bullfight with Drawer from the Surrealistic Bullfight series, which was inspired by Picasso’s “Tauromachie” series.

Piano under Snow, in which you can see the shape of the hat and also the face of a Matador.

Piano under Snow, in which you can see the shape of the hat and also the face of a Matador.

Seen for the first time in Singapore, limited edition porcelain plates developed in 1973 and made in Limoges.

Seen for the first time in Singapore, limited edition porcelain plates developed in 1973 and made in Limoges.

Each plate is individually numbered.

Each plate is individually numbered.

An Aubusson Tapestry of Argus.

An Aubusson Tapestry based on the etching, Argus.

Two copper plates, on display for the first time ever, can be viewed at the exhibition.

Two copper plates, on display for the first time ever, can be viewed at the exhibition.






Cate Blanchett visits a gem of an exhibition in Singapore

23 04 2016

A gem of an exhibition – literally, Van Cleef & Arpels: The Art and Science of Gems, opens at the ArtScience Museum today.  Brought in by the famed Parisian house of high jewellery, with the participation of the French National Museum of Natural History, the drool-worthy exhibition see over 400 of Van Cleef & Arpels’ exquisite works of love as well as 250 minerals from the Natural History Museum’s extensive collection.

Model of the Varuna Yacht, c. 1907.

Model of the Varuna Yacht, c. 1907.

Founded in 1906, the Maison’s beginnings is in itself a work of love, following on the 1895 marriage of Estelle Arpels – the daughter of a dealer in precious stones to Alfred Van Cleef, the son of a lapidary and diamond broker. Together with Estelle’s brothers, they opened their first boutique at 22 Place Vendôme – an address that the house maintains to this day in serving a clientele that has over the years included the likes of Maharajahs, Queens, Princes and Princesses.

A replica of the crown created by the Maison for the coronation of Empress Farah Pahlavi of Iran.

A replica of the crown created by the Maison for the coronation of Empress Farah Pahlavi of Iran.

The house’s rich history is one of the main themes of the exhibition, an introduction to which is given to visitors as they enter. The entrance is also where one of the Maison’s iconic pieces and one of my favourite pieces at the exhibition, a pendant with a flying bird carrying a huge 96.62 carat yellow diamond once owned by Polish opera singer and socialite, Gianna Walska, is showcased. The piece, commissioned by the then new owner of the diamond in 1971 to celebrate the birth of her son, adorned the cover of the Van Cleef & Arpels catalogue in 1972, where it was seen flying over the Place Vendôme. The piece is also transformable – a feature in many of the house’s pieces with the bird becoming a pair of winged earrings and the diamond worn as a pendant.

An iconic masterpiece, Van Cleef and Arpels' Bird Clip and Pendant, which features a 96.62 carat yellow diamond once owned by Polish opera singer Gianna Walska, greets visitors to the exhibition.

An iconic masterpiece, Van Cleef and Arpels’ Bird Clip and Pendant, which features a 96.62 carat yellow diamond once owned by Polish opera singer Gianna Walska, greets visitors to the exhibition.

Beyond the bird that flew over the Place Vendôme, the exhibition proper is arranged across eight galleries, which are all full of delight and discovery, seven of which have displays of Van Cleef and Arpels’ creations arranged according to seven themes: Couture, Abstractions, Influences, Precious Objects, Nature, Ballerinas and Fairies and Icons.   Each gallery also contains a parallel exhibition relating to the science of precious stones and feature gems and minerals from the French National Museum of Natural History’s renowned collection. These are arranged according to eight themes, representing the Earth and the seven major principles critical to the formation of precious stones: Pressure, Temperature, Transport, Water, Oxygen, Life and Metamorphism.

A 21,560 carat blue topaz crystal from the French National Museum of Natural History's collection.

A 21,560 carat blue topaz crystal from the French National Museum of Natural History’s collection.

One of the largest uncut black diamonds to be found.

Also from the French National Museum of Natural History’s collection – one of the largest uncut black diamonds to be found.

A diamond encrusted in a stone.

A diamond encrusted in a stone.

Amongst the seven galleries, one that I found particularly interesting was Influences in which the fascination Europe had with the orient that started in the 1920s, is seen in the pieces on display – some of which are very recent creations.

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Griffon Clip, 1971 with amethysts, coral, emeralds, diamonds on gold.

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Dragon vanity case, 1923.

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Dragon mystérieux clip, 2013 featuring garnets, emeralds, Mystery set rubies, sapphires and diamonds on gold.

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Carpe Koi bracelet watch, 2014.

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Table Clock, 1957.

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Egyptian Inspiration Bracelet, 1924, which features sapphires, rubies, emeralds, onyx and diamonds on platinum.

An especially delightful gallery is Ballerinas and Fairies, featuring ballerina clips that were born out of Louis Arpels’ passion for dance dating back to the early 1940s. The dainty and exquisitely crafted clips feature gemstone laden tutus  – which have grown shorter with time. The clips also have very fine details in the rose-cut diamond faces crowned with headrests of precious stones and gemstone dancing shoes.

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The dainty Ballerinas and Fairies clips will delight any visitor.

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Another area worth dwelling (not that the others aren’t) has to be the last gallery, Icons. Here is where several the icons  of the twentieth century ranging from royalty and to stars of the silver screen, have icons of the Maison created for them, displayed. This part of the collection includes several pieces made for the Duchess of Windsor, Princess Faiza of Egypt and starlet turned princess, Grace Kelly of Monaco.

A 1929 collaret created for Princess Faiza of Egypt - on display for the very first time.

A 1929 collaret created for Princess Faiza of Egypt – on display for the very first time.

There are also several programmes being held in conjunction with the exhibition to look forward to including a talk at 2pm today on gemology and artistry. Punlic guided tours are also available on 23, 24, 29, 30 April and 2, 6, 8 13, 15, 20 and 27 May, 3, 10 , 17 and 24 June. A workshop on gemstones is also being held. The exhibition runs until 14 August 2016. More information on the exhibition, as well as a downloadable audio app, can be found at: The Art and Science of Gems website.

A surprise visitor to the exhibition - the beautiful Cate Blanchett.

A surprise visitor to the exhibition – the beautiful Cate Blanchett.

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The wild rose minaudière, 1938, inspired by a cigarette box.

The wild rose minaudière, 1938, inspired by a cigarette box.





The 16th century sailor seen wandering at the National Museum

30 01 2016

With all that’s been rumoured about the National Museum, the curious sight of a lost soul dressed in the manner of a 16th century Portuguese sailor wandering around one of its galleries would not be unexpected. Strangely though, rather than stay well away from the sailor – as one might expect, those present in the gallery seemed instead to be drawn to him.

The Level 2 galleries.

The National Museum – where the past comes alive in more ways than one.

There is little that is sinister about the sailor who roams the basement gallery with two muses in tow. On a quest to find what he thinks will offer an escape from the curse of his long but lonely existence – attributed to the consumption of the Elixir of Life, the sailor enlists the help of those around. The sailor, the two muses, and his quest – to find the greatest treasure in the world, is all part of the fun of an experiential play, “The Greatest Treasure in the World”.

A muse and Aesop (as well as several other characters from the past), also help Afonso in his quest.

A pair of muses and several other characters from the past, also help Afonso in his quest.

The experiential play also has the audience take part.

The experiential play also has the audience take part.

The play, created by Peggy Ferroa, has the audience, embark on a rather enjoyable adventure through time with Afonso, the Portuguese sailor – whose full name sounds as long as the life he has had. The search for the treasure takes place in the in the Treasures of the World from the British Museum exhibition –  where Afonso suspects he would, with the help of the audience, find what he seeks.

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Tickets to join Afonso on his quest cost $38 and can be booked through SISTIC. Two sessions of the hour-long experience will be held on the evenings of 30 January, 25, 26 and 27 February, 24, 25, and 26 March and 28, 29 and 30 April 2016. More information on the The Greatest Treasure in the World can be found at the National Museum of Singapore’s website.

The cast with Peggy Ferroa (standing second from right).

The cast with Peggy Ferroa (standing second from right).

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Steve McCurry : The Iconic Photographs

16 01 2016

The “world’s most famous photograph” the Afghan Girl, is just one in photographer Steve McCurry’s amazing portfolio of work, all of which have the quality of being immediately recognisable. Fifty-three of McCurry’s celebrated works, spanning an illustrious three decade long career, go on display in Singapore for just over a month from today. I got a peek at the exhibition,  Steve McCurry : The Iconic Photographs at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery at Gillman Barracks and hear from the man himself at a preview that was held yesterday.

Steve McCurry in Singapore with the Afghan Girl.

Steve McCurry with the Afghan Girl at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery.

McCurry and many of his works, bring life in areas of conflict, places well off the beaten track, to our living rooms. The images serve as an inspiration to many, myself included and what McCurry had to say about how he went about taking some of the most stunning photographs to be circulated, his experiences in creating them, and his general approach to photography was especially enlightening.  

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What is apparent is that much on display at the exhibition, are of people and places in India. The country says McCurry is a favourite of his and to which he has made more than eighty trips. One of his favourite photographs is the especially striking one of brightly dressed women clustered together to shield themselves from a fast growing sand storming Rajasthan, stopping his taxi to capture the developing scene. In describing the photograph, McCurry also reflected how sad he felt that some of what made for such scenes, such as the way the women were dressed, would eventually disappear and that people in such places “would all end up like us”.

McCurry describing a photograph of what he feels is quintessentially Mumbai. It is a scene that isn't there anymore - a flyover now runs over the road.

McCurry describing a photograph of what he feels is quintessentially Mumbai. It is a scene that isn’t there anymore – a flyover now runs over the road.

The vivid colours McCurry captures in much of his work would also not go unnoticed. Colour, however is not what interests McCurry in creating the image, but the content – the story it tells and the emotion it captures. Images if converted to black and white, should, in McCurry’s opinion, still work.

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McCurry readily admits to being an advocate of the digital age and besides shooting with digital cameras, he also admits to shooting with his cell phone. “Two or three” photographs that will feature in a book being published in September, he says, were taken with his iPhone6. Photography to McCurry seems all about story telling and the joy it brings – he goes out on the streets, immerses himself in what surrounds him, and lets what he observes develop the story and pays attention more to shutter speed rather than aperture or depth of field.

Steve McCurry : The Iconic Photographs runs until 21 February 2016. More information on the exhibition can be found at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery’s website .





Treasures of the World from the British Museum

8 12 2015

The British Museum’s Keeper of the Department of Asia, Ms. Jane Portal, speaking at the opening of the Treasures of the World from the British Museum exhibition.  The exhibition, which opened on 4 Dec 2015, has been brought in by the National Museum of Singapore in collaboration with the British Museum. It features 239 exceptional artefacts from the British Museum’s collection, representing a period of some 2 million years and runs to 29 May 2016. Further information on the exhibition can be found at : Highlights: Treasures of the World from the British Museum.

Ms. Jane Portal, Keeper of the Department of Asia, British Museum at the opening of the exhibition.

Ms. Jane Portal, Keeper of the Department of Asia, British Museum at the opening of the exhibition. The picture in the backdrop is of one of two Lewis Chess Piece made of Walrus Ivory from about AD 1150-1200, measuring about 9 cm in height, found on the Isle of Lewis that is on display at the exhibition.

 

 








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