Bukit Brown tile project

discovering a beautiful past

The Year of the Pig is supposed to be about ‘thinking big’. So, I’m taking a deep breath and announcing the start of my research project on vintage tiles at Bukit Brown Cemetery. I’ll be presenting my research in a book about how the tiles symbolise design and cultural links between Singapore and abroad. This ‘passion project’ has been calling out to me for some time, and I really just can’t resist giving it a crack. I look forward to learning and sharing more about this special place with you. Subscribe for updates and follow my journey.

Artist Jennifer Lim visiting Bukit Brown Cemetery to learn more about Singapore’s history

A rainy introduction

My introduction to the cemetery was a rather abrupt one in late 2012. I hadn’t long moved to Singapore when my uncle rang me up and asked to meet him there...to attend the exhumation of my great grandfather and his brother! In the pouring rain, I stood shell-shocked at a Taoist priest chanted prayers while tomb keepers hacked and dug away.

As I soon learned, the removal of their graves was due to the construction of a highway through part of the cemetery. Since then, I’ve been compelled to get to know this overgrown and untouched part of Singapore. Through the help of volunteers from Heritage Singapore - Bukit Brown Cemetery Facebook page, I managed to discovered four relatives still buried there.

Hokkien style grave at Bukit Brown Cemetery with encaustic tiles and decorative wall tiles.

tiles of the tropics

As an artist with architectural training, I’ve been inspired by the various features of tombs at Bukit Brown. I’m especially drawn to the decorative tiles commonly found on Peranakan Chinese graves and the various styles and types evident. In Singapore and neighbouring cities like Malacca and Penang, such tiles can still be seen on some shophouses once owned primarily by wealthy Peranakan Chinese. The fact that these tiles were used on tombs at Bukit Brown points to a possible wish for the deceased to enjoy beauty in the afterlife, and for their descendants to remember them in style.

A beautifully decorated tomb at Bukit Brown Cemetery

trade tiles from afar

The international flavour of the tiles is quite amazing with nearly 60% apparently from Japan. The rest were manufactured in England, Germany and Belgium. With a number of shophouses demolished in the 70’s in Singapore*, it leads to strong possibility that there are tiles at the cemetery that may be found no-where else in Singapore, let alone Asia. It will be interesting to try to find out!

This project is about bringing people together in a shared love of discovery and learning. I hope you’ll support my efforts to find out more about this amazing corner of Singapore. Drop me a line anytime - I welcome all suggestions and comments!


Support the project

Follow me on Instagram to see photos of my discoveries of trade tiles.

Visit Bukit Brown and join regular tours offered by a team of dedicated volunteers

Like the Heritage Singapore Bukit Brown Facebook page to learn more about BBC

References:

* https://remembersingapore.org/2016/05/07/from-villages-to-flats-part-3/