“The world is but a canvas of our imagination” the American poet and writer Henry David Thoreau famously said, and nowhere is this perhaps more evident than in the art and architecture of a city. The dividing line between art and architecture is often blurred – when is a building of visionary design deemed a work of art? – but the creative process of executing a painting or a sculpture, or erecting a building – from architectural plans to its physical construction – are not dissimilar.
It is impossible to speak of our art and architectural icons without mentioning Tan Swie Hian. The virtuoso artist returns to the National Library after a long hiatus to present a new solo exhibition of his quintessential works along with his cherished notebooks of scribblings and sketches – as Chung Sang Hong tells us. Don’t miss “Anatomy of a Free Mind: Tan Swie Hian’s Notebooks and Creations” on level 10 of the National Library Building, which opens to the public on 22 November 2016.
Still on the subject of art, Nadia Arianna Ramli writes about the community of Singaporean women sculptors who have held their own in an art form that has long been dominated by men. Going beyond the shores of our little island, Patricia Bjaaland Welch examines the tiger motif in Asian art and literature.
Purpose-built HDB flats, at least the ones from yesteryear, may not have won any design awards, but who is to say they are not iconic? You can’t be anywhere except in Singapore when you see laundry-laden bamboo poles suspended out of kitchen windows. Yu-Mei Balasingamchow recounts the trials of early public housing in Singapore.
Pearl Bank apartments in Chinatown, built in 1976 and touted as the “tallest apartment block in Southeast Asia” at the time, is regrettably, a sorry sight today. Yet, the architectural icon has sufficient merit to warrant conservation, according to Justin Zhuang.
If you’ve ever wondered how Golden Shoe Car Park in Market Street got its quirky name, then read Lim Tin Seng’s article on the history of Singapore’s business district. Hint: the original area zoned for development took the quirky shape of an upturned lady’s shoe.
Two colonial-era icons, the Sri Mariamman Temple and the Padang, along with several of the original buildings surrounding the latter, are still around today. Anasuya Soundararajan and Sri Asrina Tanuri describe the architectural details of Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple, while Dr Lai Chee Kien explains why and how the Padang became a symbol of British order and might during the colonial era.
During the Japanese Occupation, Christian POWs erected makeshift churches in their camps with whatever materials they could salvage – testimony of religious fortitude in the face of persecution. Gracie Lee chronicles the architecture of these churches as featured in the book, The Churches of the Captivity in Malaya.
To raise awareness of our legal history, a new permanent exhibition, “Law of the Land: Highlights of Singapore’s Constitutional Documents”, opens on 19 October 2016 at the former Chief Justice’s Chamber and Office at the National Gallery Singapore. Kevin Khoo previews a selection of rare materials taken from the collections of the National Archives of Singapore and the National Library.
Finally, on a more sombre note, we pay tribute to our much-loved late President S R Nathan, who not only read voraciously but was also the author and co-author of seven books. We honour his memory by featuring two milestone events – how he met his wife Urmila (or Umi as he fondly referred to her) and the Laju hijack incident – from his book 50 Stories from My Life.
We hope you enjoy reading this edition of BiblioAsia.
Mrs Wai Yin Pryke