I was pleasantly surprised when the marketing team told us that there would be a special segment for this rendition of the Light to Night Festival – an experiential theatre showing situated at National Gallery Singapore. Usually a festival that heavily involves lights and installations, this is out of the ordinary but my interest is piqued.
Shadows IN the Walls by Ground Z-0 is a new addition to the six-week long festival, which includes the standard gamut of projections on building facades in the Civil Business District. The show delivers heartfelt anecdotes occurring during Singapore’s tenuous growth in its journey for independence.
The plucky museum guide performed by Tan Weiying, subtly introduced us to each character in different parts of the National Gallery, as if we were on a tour of history itself. The audience surrogate guided us along the maze-like hallways and expansive chambers of the former Supreme Court Building and City Hall, discovering what has been and always will be, within those walls.
Each segment touches upon a lesser-known but no less important historical figure that had a hand in either designing and building City Hall and the former Supreme Court (Cavaliere Rudolfo Nolli), to personal assistants of significant historical figures (Munshi Abdullah acted by Yazid Jalil), to even fictional star-crossed lovers during the riots and uneasy peace while David Marshall was in power.
What was particularly poignant was the use of personal anecdotes juxtaposed against important turning points in Singapore’s history. The Blue Samsui Women segment particularly gripped us, even though it was in a mandarin dialect that most of us did not understand. Translations were provided as part of the experience, yet it did not distract from the storytelling. That stands as a testament to how well-crafted the ambience and atmosphere of the “tour”.
What was particularly noteworthy was the fact that this edition of the Light to Night Festival did not divert its focus on providing for popularity – there was no flea market nor “festival eats” stalls in sight. The facade projections even had the theme in mind, one of which celebrates what William Farquhar did for Singapore as he held his seat as the Commandant of colonial Singapore.
One may argue the fact that colonialism is inherently disadvantageous to the colonised residents, that one would be under the governing thumb of a foreign power without independent governance, which is the truth.
To deny that it ever existed or to not making it known to the masses, however, is foolish and commemorating Singapore’s Bicentennial founding year enables the public to better understand Singapore’s history and growth into the strong, independent republic it is today.
Light to Night Festival 2019: Singapore Bicentennial Edition runs from 28th January to 24th February.
Photography credit: Darren ‘Merovign’ Tan