Thursday, April 9, 2015

Oh! Joo Chiat

Singapore, like Malaysia, is a country of rich heritage, which is most obvious from its architecture. So between our trips to Saigon and Tokyo, we went on a walking tour to one of Singapore's most interesting neighbourhoods - Joo Chiat. Which unlike many HDB-heavy suburbs, is home to beautiful preservation buildings. 

The event, organised by OH! Open House, was touted as an art tour, rather than a historical one. Although one can't talk about Joo Chiat or be inspired by it without a description of how it came to be: Chew Joo Chiat, its namesake, was a wealthy Chinese merchant who owned a hectares of plantations in the area. He then sold and gifted parcels of his land to various people, whether rich or poor, which resulted in the area increasing in diversity in economy and architecture. These days, wealthy expats and locals live in those pretty Peranakan houses (mostly the former and most definitely in renovated dwellings), alongside less-economically-able migrant workers from India and Vietnam sleeping in cramped flats. 

Joo Chiat is something else, so be warned that the following post is photo-heavy. It is but a feeble attempt to show you how unique the area is.

The first stop on the tour was an open-air gallery of art and written word. We were told that the artists were first-time visitors to Joo Chiat, and produced these pieces to record their initial impressions:

I was (and usually am) more drawn to the paintings as opposed to poems - the one below was drawn with a continous unbroken line and instantly became my favourite:

Next was an exhibition based loosely on Noah's Ark where the artists asked local residents for the one thing thing they would take with them in the event of a great flood - which they then placed in and around the ship below:

We were encouraged to participate. Most submissions were sentimental but I figured let's be practical, much to my husband's amusement:

The tour then led us into private homes - the first of which was a residence which was kept in its original style, devoid of any modern updates now all too common in the area. The owner, a seamstress, apparently still uses her decades-old machine below:

That house is located on a oft-photographed row of candy-coloured houses. These heritage-listed residences have floral motifs on one side of the street...

... and fauna motifs on the other.

While the street above seemed to have kept most of the original interiors (I peeked!), that couldn't be said of the next house we traipsed into. The row of houses pictured below form part of an apartment 'complex' called Sandalwood, where only the original facades remain. The insides have been gut renovated and residents even share a backyard, complete with swimming pool!

This house we walked into contained a quirky exhibit - a double-decker bicycle which was ridden through the neighbourhood and joined along the way by residents on their bikes. We were once again welcome to join in on the art- this time to mark our names or messages on the bike which will then go on permanent display in a gallery in the area.

spot my penmanship?

One of the most bizarre things on the tour was this 7-foot bronze statue of the Sultan of Pahang (a state in Malaysia) by the late sculpture, Eng Teng. It was commissioned by a group of Singaporean-Chinese businessmen as a gift to the Sultan but since the statue could be construed as idolatry, which is forbidden in Islam, the Sultan had to kindly decline. So it now stands tall (and very out of place) in Eng Teng's former backyard.

My favourite out of all the art we saw was this living room (in a conservation house of course) converted into a green paradise through large bamboo plants complemented by images of trees projected onto the entire space. In the background, unseen here, was a video loop of Hindus partaking in worship at temples. The effect, deliberate on the artist's part, was one of peace and serenity. 

As we commenced the tour at dusk, it was nightfall by the time we reached the end of the tour - which was aptly in the seedier part of the neighbourhood. In Joo Chiat, anyone can make use of a preservation house if it becomes available to them - even for karaoke lounges with boarded-up windows.


J Crew polka-dot dress (factory version here; black on sale here)
Dinosaur Designs resin bangle

1 comment:

  1. What a great post, you really captured the essence of the place. Love the artwork. And your outfit! :)

    Zahra |