How have our individual stories contributed to the story of our nation? This is the question posed by the National Museum of Singapore in its latest exhibition We: Defining Stories, which presents a series of photojournalistic images of the iconic moments in Singapore’s post-war years from 1950 till 2013.
A collaborative effort with Singapore’s newspaper The Straits Times, We: Defining Stories presents over 400 landmark photographs which capture news and events that have grabbed Singaporeans’ attentions over the decades, some of which are shown for the first time.
Angelita Teo, Director of National Museum of Singapore, says, “With Singapore celebrating 50 years of independence next year, it is an exciting time for the Museum to present this exhibition on our nation’s definitive episodes and personal stories that collectively form the character of the Singapore we know today. There are cherished moments in history that have made us who we are – moments that were happy, sad, bittersweet. In times of strife, what were the common bonds that held us together, and on what areas do we sometimes stand divided?”
We: Defining Stories showcases powerful images of the events that have made local news over the decades. Beyond presenting historical events, the exhibition also explores our defining moments through the stories of everyday Singaporeans. These candid images reveal the fabric of the nation and the emotions of Singaporeans in an ever-changing landscape.
From black-and-white photographs of Singapore’s “darkest year of industrial unrest” in 1955, to images capturing the idiosyncrasies of Singaporeans queuing and attempting to break world records, the headline news that have captured our hearts and sparked conversations are presented in six sections:
Merdeka, the Malay word for freedom, was a rallying cry for post-war Singapore bursting at its seams with the idea of freedom in all aspects – freedom from colonial rule, injustice, domination, inequality and a myriad of other shackles. The first section of the exhibition starts with stories of Singapore’s fitful course towards freedom.
This section tells of an awakening of a different kind that took place in the people’s political consciousness. Some might call it the “re-awakening”, drawing reference from the 2011 General Election which saw a fervour not seen since the pre-independence period, and noting how participation in, and formation of civil society groups have been increasing in recent years. From the development of infrastructure and housing, to the National Day Parade and General Elections, this section highlights the different aspects of building a home for Singaporeans.
As a young nation, Singapore has seen more than its fair share of disasters, epidemics, catastrophic accidents, fires, haze, flooding, murder and mayhem. This section showcases the different challenges Singapore has faced in the past few decades, including disasters such as the Hotel New World Collapse in 1986 and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic crisis in 2003.
Stories of sporting victories never fail to capture the imagination of both the young and old. This section pays tribute to Singapore’s sporting heroes and our home-grown talents who have done the country proud with their endeavours and achievements. It also spotlights celebrity culture in Singapore, from our local talents to international celebrities who have graced our shores.
5) So Singaporean
Many of our idiosyncrasies – such as our penchant for queuing, inexplicable and sometimes irrational competitiveness, and never-ending public campaigns – have become running inside jokes amongst Singaporeans. This section explores the different quirks and habits that make us “so Singaporean”. We love our admittedly eclectic national icons, which include a fantastical creature called the Merlion and the kebaya-clad stewardesses of the national airline, popularly dubbed “Singapore Girls”. But perhaps our most loved icon was Ah Meng, who was, right up to her death a few years ago at the ripe age of 48, the most famous orang-utan in the world.
Exhibition: We: Defining Stories
Dates: Till 31 August
Venue: National Museum of Singapore, Exhibition Gallery 1
Hours: 10am – 6pm daily, Free Admission