Fort Canning Heritage Gallery
Fort Canning Centre has been a heritage building in search of a purpose ever since the ill-conceived Singapore Pinacotheque de Paris, a private museum, closed after barely a year of operation in 2016.
Its latest incarnation as home to the Fort Canning Heritage Gallery seems like a no-brainer after the building played host to the successful Bicentennial Experience in 2019. After all, Fort Canning Park’s historical significance as the site of human habitation dating back to the 14th century has been proven by numerous archaeological digs and written records over the years.
The new gallery, despite some very fancy bells and whistles, offers more misses than hits, which is a pity as Singapore’s rich pre-colonial history deserves the space for a proper telling.
First, the good news. Families with kids will enjoy the fancy interactive elements. There are a few impressive multimedia stations, including an interactive storybook on The Legends Of Singapura, which offers a sanitised telling of the superhero Badang from the Malay Annals, and an animated storyboard of the Japanese invasion of the island.
The bad news: There is a shocking lack of attention to details in some displays and some head-scratching curatorial decisions.
The former is evident in the caption errors to a set of four reproduced artworks that greet the visitor at the start of the gallery, as well as a pair of swopped captions that misidentify a terracotta brick and terracotta tile in the display of archaeological finds. Another caption states that Fort Canning hosted the first Singapore Arts Festival in 1999, which is inaccurate as the festival dates back to 1977. The 1999 event was the first Festival Village organised solely under the arts festival’s umbrella.
History buffs are likely to quibble more with the curatorial choices. The most innocuous is the distractingly odd choice of soundtrack for the first gallery space, which sounds like someone testing out drums and cymbals.
The timeline of Singapore throws up a much more problematic statement. Its first entry is a bald: “1271: The Yuan Dynasty is founded in China and a period of maritime trade expansion ensues.” Given that the gallery is meant to showcase this island’s history, which is rooted in the Nusantara, the choice of this factoid as the first milestone is confounding to say the least.
Perhaps these are teething pains as the gallery opened in late August. But it is evident that a thorough clean-up is needed before this gallery can be considered an authoritative guide to Singapore’s pre-colonial history.
Where: Fort Canning Heritage Gallery, 5 Cox Terrace
MRT: Fort Canning
When: 10am to 6pm daily
Harmony walks: A walking tour of Queen, Waterloo and Bencoolen streets
This stretch of three streets in the civic district is one of the richest heritage neighbourhoods in Singapore. Located within a stone’s throw of one another are Kuan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, Sri Krishnan Temple, Church of Saints Peter and Paul, St Joseph’s Church, Maghain Aboth Synagogue and Masjid Bencoolen.
Explore these religious institutions with the National Heritage Board’s Harmony Walk on Saturday.
The walk’s itinerary is focused on the diversity of the district and, hopefully, it will also address the more colourful aspects of the neighbourhood’s history. The Bugis area is especially notable in this respect – as home to a thriving pre-war Japanese community that included karayuki-san (Japanese prostitutes) working in brothels, and as the base for a colourful nightlife scene with transvestites during the 1960s and 1970s.
Where: 30, Bencoolen Street
When: Sept 17, 4 to 6pm
Admission: $5 a person
Rentak Warisan with Sri Mahligai: Celebrating famous composers
Malay music ensemble Sri Mahligai will present a line-up of familiar favourites from well-known composers such as P. Ramlee and Zubir Said at the Malay Heritage Centre. There will be tunes from the golden era of Malay films in Singapore – with songs by Kassim Masdor, as well as more recent hits by composers S. Atan and M. Nasir.
It will be a rollicking way to close out the last in this music series as the centre is closing for a two-year revamp.
Where: Malay Heritage Centre, 85, Sultan Gate
MRT: Nicoll Highway
When: Sept 17, 8pm