I love visiting places connected to Peranakan culture around Singapore and beyond! So I thought I would start sharing some of my favourite spots with you. I look forward to adding more and welcome any suggestions!
I'm very pleased to be showing some of my new artwork from the Singapore Heritage Collection at the Peranakan Tiles Gallery. Drop in for some kueh sweets or noodles at the Chong Wen Ge Cafe inside the gallery to enjoy my heritage inspired designs! Open Monday to Sunday from 12pm - 5pm @ 168 Telok Ayer Street, Singapore 068619.
A Modern Tale of Tiles
Since moving to Singapore from Australia five years ago, I've been researching my father's family tree. My research has involved visiting clan associations and participating in cultural festivities, being present at the exhumation of family graves and squeezing under joss tables to take photos!
It's been over three years since my father showed me the streets where he grew up. Now for the sake of my children, and because of his severe stroke, I feel it's my duty to carry on where he left off. And so I have spent time visiting temples, shophouses and landmarks connected to my family.
Places of interest to me:
Thian Hock Keng Temple - this is one of the oldest Hokkien temples in Singapore where Chinese migrants used to offer thanks to Goddess Mazu for a safe voyage. This is where my great great grandfather from China visited to pray.
Tse Tho Aum Buddhist Temple - located in Bishan where my grandparents and others rest.
Hall of Nine Dragons - located on Cantonment Road and established in 1928 by donations including from my great grandfather Lim Nee Yam.
42 Club Street - where my great grandfather worked and lived as a 'bum boat' lighter operator and president of the lighter boat association.
Bukit Brown Cemetery - officially established as a municipal cemetery in 1922 with over 100,000 graves dating as far back as 1833. This is where my Peranakan great grandparents and Chinese great grandfather rest.
It's been a rewarding and emotional journey so far. I've been blessed to have support from volunteers, community members and my family to help uncover my connection to Singapore and beyond. I hope you'll find your own connection through the new Singapore Heritage Collection.
A jungle in the middle of the island is the best place to understand Singapore - at least I think so. Learn more by joining a tour by a 'Brownie' - volunteer guides with a wealth of knowledge. I recently joined a tour on a public holiday, which had great turn-out with locals and visitors alike.
Learning amid the heat and mosquitoes can be interesting...seriously - these guides know their stuff and a classroom out in the open is better than any textbook!
Decorative tiles can be found here and there in the cemetery - particularly on Peranakan graves. Excuse the large number of photos taken - there are so many beautiful and rare tiles that I have yet to see in other parts of Singapore.
These flower tiles are of Japanese origin. The surrounding border tiles are also beautiful and probably from the UK. If you're equally fanatical about these gorgeous ceramic objects of art - check out my Instagram account for more shots and sharing!
Lee Choo Neo was the first female doctor in Singapore and a brave champion of women's rights.
In Peranakan Chinese culture, the peacock is often a substitute for the phoenix - a symbol of the Chinese empress! And they also look very elegant. The tiles are from probably from Japan but earlier (and more expensive!) ones were from the UK.
This grave is very mysterious and until this day, no-one knows what the suspended disk means. Some say that it might represent a mirror. Any thoughts?
A beautifully manicured garden created by caretakers of the cemetery.
These floor tiles are from the grave of my aunty who passed away in the 1920’s. Some might think it superstitious to photograph her grave, but I hope she doesn't mind and instead enjoys my visits from time to time!
Interested to learn more? Free tours are run by the Bukit Brown 'Brownies' and more details can be found on the Peatix page and through the Facebook Group Heritage Singapore Bukit Brown.
Hermes Singapore recently asked me to do some interpreting and translation work for the installation of several on-site art pieces by Japanese artist Haruka Kojin. It was a lot of fun to help and amazing to see the work unearthed from packing crates and then finally installed at the Hermes Liat Tower show window.
Titled 'Contact Lense', the installation literally uses images from nearby surroundings to create a fascinating composition of distorted and reflective bubbles of light and colour.
The acrylic disks are made up of both plain acrylic but also ones with a degree of magnification designed. In combination with mirrors, the effect is eye-catching but also somewhat unsettling.
Kojin was born in Hiroshima in 1983 and since a child was attracted to the physical space around her, and how it defines our existence.
Haruka has exhibited similar works in other countries, but each installation is carefully planned according to the existing space and conditions.
For the Hermès project, Kojin is focused on extracting a kind of beauty from everyday objects and incorporating it into fashion.
This installation can be seen until October 3, 2017 at the Hermès Liat Tower store at 541 Orchard Road. Don't forget to check out their Aloft Gallery on the 4th floor, where you can find regular exhibitions of international and local artists.
I recently enjoyed teaching at a government childcare centre. It's certainly easier in some ways to teach children that are not your own...strangely! Perhaps I'm more patient with other people's children! Anyway, my own daughter was too busy helping me and supervising others students to be taught. She took her role as 'assistant printer' very seriously!
It was nice to be able to let parents know that art doesn't have to be expensive. In fact, to do the kind of printing we did, you really only need some paint and white polystyrene fruit trays. Photocopy paper and a few sponges...and your kid is off! What's really important is the fact that parents are spending gadget-free time with their children - and kids are leading the way with what they want to create using the colours they love!
Subscribe to learn more about parent-child workshops and events!
Fine furniture, food and art! I was honoured to present some key pieces from my new Singapore Heritage Tile Art Collection at the recent opening of the new W. Atelier showroom on Henderson Road. Interior design and architecture are a passion of mine since working in the industry in Australia. So it feels like I’ve come full circle to be running around with a tape measure and tool box in Singapore!
My new artworks are a visual exploration of my ancestral connection to a number of shophouses, temples and landmarks in Singapore. Each work is based on research into my cross-cultural heritage and ties to the past. I hope people can relate to a common migrant story of travel, tradition and time, and its relevance to our present.
I was also invited to conduct a workshop on creating Peranakan tile inspired postcards. Both international and local industry representatives seemed to have a relaxing time creating their own patterns in cheerful 'nyonyaware' colours. The stamps come from my hand-carved ‘library’ used in my art workshops. I loved seeing the different designs created by participants as they let their hair down for a while!
Creative people generally love food and I don't mind a bit of beetroot risotto on the job! I was very pleased to enjoy some wonderful food by Michelin Star Chef and restaurant owner Emmanuel Stroobant of Saint Pierre. I was interested to learn from Emmanuel that he is a Baba by marriage - it's a small Peranakan world! The festive mood was really set by the great live band Ash & Pipes and a dash of champagne.
This gorgeous showroom has so many nice things and I particularly liked the 12-seater dining table. I’m going to have a talk to my neighbour next time to see if we can knock down our joint wall so I can fit one in for printing and eating purposes!
Artworks from the Singapore Heritage Tile Art collection are on display at W. Atelier until late September. I’ll be holding some sessions where you can come along and chat with me about my creative journey! Please drop me an email if you’d like to arrange a time to meet.
201 Henderson Road #01-01 and #03-01, Singapore 159545
Tel: +65 6270 8828, Operating Hours: MON – SAT : 10:00 to 18:00
Peranakan textile collector Peter Lee
If you are into heritage textiles and based in Singapore, you might have heard about author and collector Peter Lee. His beautifully presented book Sarong Kebaya - Peranakan Fashion in An Interconnected World is a must for Peranakan culture and fabric fans alike. I was recently lucky enough to take a look at Peter’s studio, where he generously showed some star items from his amazing collection to members from the Textile Enthusiasts Group (TEG).
Since the 1990’s, Peter has collected various kinds textiles but mainly 'trade textiles such as Indian Patola cloth, Geringsing and Batik cloth. His collection slowly developed based on a shared love of batik with his late mother, Elizabeth Lee. Peter has since donated numerous pieces to various museums. Singapore, Sarong and Style was an exhibition organised by Peter last year to audiences in Japan.
hand drawn batik
I’ve been particularly interested in sarong since seeing some unusual ones by Indonesian Eurasian batik maker Eliza van Zuylen in a show at the Peranakan Museum several years ago. Peter showed us some examples of her work - and even let us touch them! I was also amazed to see a sarong with lots of tropical flowers amid cheerful flags of the United States of America.
contributing to singapore culture
Peter is one of several prominent Peranakan ‘ambassadors’ helping to enrich the cultural status of Singapore including Peter Wee of Katong Antique House, Raymond Wong of Kim Choo Kueh Chang and Peranakan chef Violet Oon. Textile lovers, and those keen on art and culture, can be thankful for his effort and dedication. We look forward to future exhibitions...not long to wait according to sources!
Peter Lee's Textile Collection
Friends of the Museums Singapore
The Textile Enthusiasts Group (TEG) is part of Friends of the Museums, a community organisation offering events and outings to those passionate about culture. TEG can connect you with other people who share an addiction to anything related to fabric, cloth, embroidery or dyeing! From the novice onlooker (me!) to the seasoned collector, you'll find a friendly and supportive community with a wealth of knowledge. For those interested in training to be a museum guide or docent on weekdays, FOM also conducts an intensive and rewarding volunteer programme.
I'm honoured to be invited to represent Singapore in The World Triennial of Prints and Original Engravings in France. As one of four artists holding up the flag for the ‘red dot’, it’s been a great chance to make some new work. Chamalieres is a region famous for the paper mills used originally to produce bank notes. Some 400 artists will join from various nations with prizes for the winning participants. I'm proud to be represented by art print specialist LUDO Gallery. These prints will be available shortly for purchase.
Connecting to different cultures is definitely of my passions. I live in the ‘heartland’ area of Toa Payoh, which is one of the oldest public housing estates in the country. The best part about living here is the large local market. A gathering point for much of the community, it's a fabulous experience that I try to share with others. When I lived in Japan, I loved exploring my local neighbourhood, and I'm now enjoy doing the same in Singapore.
Complete with a 'wet' area for fresh fish and meat, it also has small shops selling anything from clothing, joss papers, mobile phones and shoes. Freshly made kueh and char siew roast pork can also be found. Come durian season, you'll immediately know it too! My background in Japanese means I can read nearly everything, and understand nearly nothing...ahaha!
I teach some of my art workshops at my home studio. I didn't plan it this way, but students have recently remarked on the insight into local culture they get when they visit. After finding their way to my ‘point block’ in the corner of Toa Payoh (former opposition territory and now undergoing a terrific upgrading program), they start to get a feel for the peculiarities of this some 40-year-old spot of Singapore.
Nearly every element of my workshops involves a local business. At 'kueh' time, I bring out freshly-made snacks from my market shop. The uncle who runs this shop has his midday snooze by 11am, so I always hurry over early in the morning to buy the day's treats.
I sometimes focus on Peranakan tiles for my workshops. As such tiles are normally found on old shophouses around Singapore and Malaysia, I have to spread my wings a little further for those....like Tanjong Pagar! My great-grandfather helped establish a clan temple there that has many fabulous tiles. Otherwise, you'll find me trekking around Club Street or Joo Chiat area on the hunt for those elusive heritage tiles.
I also buy a lot of my equipment from the local market, and by now most shop keepers vaguely understand what I do. Or at least pretend to! The dried good shop is run by Mr. Ah Leh - my lunchtime buddy since I nearly always sit near his shop. He's also a substitute grandfather for my children, who will scamper off and investigate his amazing array of products.
I also pride myself on being reasonably ‘eco-friendly’ since I wash and re-use most of plastic plates and tools for printing. Students usually giggle when I wrap their finished works in a certain waxy brown paper - you may know what I mean if you eat chicken rice! Works perfectly to protect the fabric from any damp paint spots.
After class, my students and I often head down to the market for lunch. We sometimes go and see Malaysian seamstress Mrs. Ng if she doesn’t look too busy, and show her the fabulous creations that the students have made. I think she gets a lot of pride at seeing how her hard work is appreciated by others.
Feeling rather hungry by now, we'll go to the cooked food section for a well-deserved feed! Yummy 'char siew' roast pork and dumpling noodles are my favourite, and made by a handsome chap and his Peranakan mother. I've rarely seen roast pork or dumplings made on the premises and it really does taste different. I hope he gets on Makan bus tour lineup soon! But then I'll have to wait in line...:)
I feel a great sense of joy when I see students from countries such as Japan, Australia and the UK creating a ‘handmade’ connection to Singapore. Hopefully, their experience with heartland culture will stay with them, and somehow help contribute to better understanding of different people and places.