The Bicentennial may have featured prominently in this year National Day Parade, but the commemoration of Sir Stamford Raffles’ arrival in Singapore two centuries ago is still going strong for the remainder of the year.
National Gallery Singapore unveiled its first long-term exhibition in the City Hall Chamber on Sep 1, the latest in a series of commemorative events.
Titled City Hall: If Walls Could Talk, the immersive multimedia experience offers audiences an overview of the City Hall, a glimpse into its past as a former Municipal Building, as well as the stories of how the building played an important role in Singapore’s independence.
The exhibition comprises several components, including photo stations to occupy young ones while waiting for their turn and a historical journey inside the City Hall Chamber narrated by Encik Awang, a character based on one gallery caretaker in real life.
Upon exiting the chamber, visitors can interact with the Social Wall, an interactive station that curates artworks for them to explore based on their preferences. Visitors can also proceed to the second floor and check out the Memories of City Hall visual display, featuring personal stories of former civil servants who used to work in the building.
Since the launch of the Bicentennial earlier this year, it seems just about every other organisation, company and institution in Singapore has been involved in some way.
But not all events were made equal. We take a look at some of these initiatives and why certain events have been more relevant and successful than others.
When it is educational
Initiatives would need to primarily focus on educating the public about the history of nation building, stretching not just to 1965, or 1819 when the British arrived on the shores, but beyond.
Just last month, the Straits Times published a letter by a British tourist who was appalled by the “lack of attention” given to various commemorative events. Among other points, the letter writer urged Singaporeans not to forget the “role of colonial Britain in shaping Singapore”.
With City Hall: If Walls Could Talk, the Gallery took the educational approach by sharing fun facts, such as how the City Hall used to house the short-lived Central Complaints Bureau that dealt with public inquiries and complaints against civil servants.
Through this unexpected tidbit, visitors can glean a new perspective and better understanding of the national monument.
Director (Audience Development & Engagement) of National Gallery Singapore Suenne Megan Tan said the exhibition was created to highlight the City Hall as “a place where important memories can be shared, and to which future generations of Singaporeans can return to learn and experience the connection between history and art”.
When it is inclusive
A great deal of emphasis has been placed on recognising everyday folks and their predecessors to acknowledge their efforts in nation building.
From Singapore To Singaporeans — Pioneers and Descendants, a photo exhibition by the Nagore Dargah Indian Muslim Heritage Centre, showcases photos loaned from families of pioneers who defied odds and sailed across the seas to make Singapore their home before her independence.
The Purple Symphony, too, offered a little tribute to the nation at their fifth anniversary concert, attended by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat. As Singapore’s largest inclusive orchestra, the 100-strong musical collective performed local pieces to commemorate the Bicentennial in their own artistic way.
When it is immersive
Perhaps the most successful initiative of all is the Bicentennial Experience located at Fort Canning, which checks all the boxes of what visitors expect in modern storytelling: stunning visual effects, multi-sensory touch points and engaging live performances that bring to life seven centuries of history.
Despite a staggering 61 sessions daily, passes for the Experience were quickly snapped up. Conceptualised by creative directors Michael Chiang and Beatrice Chia-Richmond and originally scheduled to run from Jun 1 to Sep 15, some visitors even requested for the experience to be made a permanent feature.
There is good news for those who have yet to visit: it was announced at the annual National Day Rally that the Experience will resume after a fortnight of maintenance works in September and will run until the end of 2019.
Organisers said they expect attendance to double, meaning an estimated 600,000 visitors, or one in ten people living in Singapore, will experience the showcase.
When it is fun
Aside from these events that expand on our rich history, there are some light-hearted launches in conjunction with the commemoration. Redmart worked together with local ice-cream brand Ice Cream & Cookie Co to create three unique flavours for the Bicentennial: Rojak, Onde Onde and Peach Teh “O”.
Made with fresh produce from Redmart, these dairy-free sweet treats are meant to pique one’s interest and tantalise the taste buds, an idea most of us will most definitely get behind.