Home, Truly, Growing Up With Singapore, 1950s To The Present: an exhibition of stories and memories

An exhibit showing different recreation activities in the past. ST PHOTO: JOEL CHAN
A member of the public participates in a interactive machine at the Hawker Centre exhibition. ST PHOTO: JOEL CHAN
Two girls take a selfie with the Home, Truly Exhibition mural. ST PHOTO: JOEL CHAN

SINGAPORE - At the National Museum's latest exhibition, visitors can relive the sights, sounds and even smells of Singapore from the 1950s to today through photos, artefacts, audio-visual footage and special digital features.

Plonk yourself in an armchair and listen to an audio recording of veteran radio deejay Brian Richmond gush about the old days when doors of homes were "always open" for neighbours to weave in and out of.

Or step into the scents station, where the familiar aroma of fish head curry wafts through the air.

At another area, stand in silent remembrance of the victims of the SilkAir Flight MI 185 crash in Palembang, Indonesia, on Dec 19, 1997. It claimed 104 lives, among them 46 Singaporeans.

The free exhibition, Home, Truly: Growing Up With Singapore, 1950s To The Present, opened on Dec 19 and runs till Aug 29.

It is organised in collaboration with The Straits Times to mark the newspaper's 175th anniversary, as well as conjointly with photography marketplace Photonico and Singapore Press Holdings.

There are five main themes, with the closing chapter addressing the coronavirus pandemic.

On show are more than 200 photos contributed by the National Museum, National Archives, ST and the public, as well as about 80 artefacts from the National Heritage Board (NHB).

The museum had conversations with more than 120 people, including members of the public, on what home means to them, and involved them in aspects such as curation, conceptualising the narrative and photo selection.

One of the collaborators is Associate Professor Eugene Dairianathan from the Visual and Performing Arts Academic Group (Music) at the National Institute of Education, who was approached to co-curate an interactive music segment called A Singing Singapore.

Visitors can play 12 "distinctly Singapore" songs from a jukebox.

"Songs (can give) a sense of authenticity of place, space and time of lived experiences of home," Prof Dairianathan says.

Members of the public use a "radio" which plays nostalgic songs such as Home by Kit Chan. ST PHOTO: JOEL CHAN

Singapore Armed Forces officer and photography enthusiast Alex Chua was tasked to capture the behind-the-scenes stories in foreign worker dormitories after Covid-19 spread there last year.

He was a team leader in the Ministry of Manpower's Forward Assurance and Support Teams (Fast) deployed to the dorms in April.

Four photos taken by Mr Chua, 48 - of healthcare workers donning personal protective equipment (PPE) for hours while caring for the workers - are showcased at the Home, Truly exhibition.

"They resonate with me very much," he says. "It is uncomfortable wearing the PPE and the frontliners are always drenched in sweat when they remove it at the end of the day."

A commemorative MRT ticket (above) to mark the first day of operation on Nov 7 1987, a bus conductor's ticket puncher and SBS bus tickets with values of 45, 60 and 80 cents. ST PHOTO: JOEL CHAN

For instance, he created a composite shot of Dr Stephanie Yap, a dentist who was part of the mobile swab team - made up of images of her with and without PPE on.

"Her face and hair were drenched in sweat, and she had deep line marks on her face from her mask.

Other slices of Singapore history are also captured in images taken by ST.

Editor-in-chief Warren Fernandez says the newspaper has been telling the story of Singapore - from its days as a British colony to Independence and beyond.

A father explains to his son what it means to serve National Service. ST PHOTO: JOEL CHAN

"We have captured these in stories and also in visuals - photos, and now also increasingly on video. This showcase features highlights of these efforts over the years, and will be both nostalgic as well as stirring and inspiring," he says.

Veteran ST photojournalist Stephanie Yeow recalls her assignment in Palembang to cover the burial of the victims on Jan 19, 1998 - a month after the SilkAir crash.

"It was a very quiet and sombre ceremony filled with individual prayers and reflection," says the 49-year-old, who saw loved ones throw flowers into the mass gravesite while some just stared blankly at the heartbreaking sight.

"It's never pleasant or easy covering disasters with mourning family members. I felt a deep sadness."

"Whenever I see images taken by my colleagues - past and present - it never fails to reinforce the importance of documenting the present, so we can leave a piece of visual history for future generations."

Ms Wong Hong Suen, NHB's senior deputy director, curatorial and engagement, is heartened by the response to the exhibition thus far - where parents and grandparents have been spotted exchanging lively conversations with their children and grandchildren.

Couples and groups of friends, too, have engaged in animated discussions while viewing the artefacts and photos.

Ms Wong says: "Technology has been a great enabler for us to improve the visitor experience and engage visitors on different levels."

Mr James Chia, and his wife Barbara, who are in their 40s, were there with their two daughters aged nine and 11.

For Mr Chia, the chief executive of ArcLab, an education technology start-up, he was drawn to the nostalgia of the school tuckshop corner and another section which featured the Kallang Roar, which he says united a generation of Singaporeans.

"But our story is still unfinished," he adds. "We still have much to do, like to be more tolerant of diverse views and be more aware of the unsung heroes among us - as seen in the photos showing our Covid-19 heroes and migrant workers.

For Ms Julia Seah, a student at Nanyang Technological University's School of Art, Design and Media, the meaning of home changed for her after being involved in the museum's Student Archivist programme, which collaborated with her school for the exhibition earlier this year.

"The exhibition definitely got me thinking about what home means to me," says the 24-year-old, who adds that in the past, home was "wherever my family is".

"Fondness of a place grows over time with the accumulation of shared experiences made with family and friends," she says.

"Home is where we feel safe, secure and happy, and I am proud to call Singapore my home."


Home, Truly: Growing Up with Singapore, 1950s to the Present is presented through five key themes centred on the metaphor of a dwelling place, designed to be interactive through audio, video and safe touch screens.


The Housing series shows partially-demolished blocks at Boon Lay Drive. ST PHOTO: JOEL CHAN

This section explores how nation-building looked and felt like to people on the ground, through the laying down of key policies in housing, economy, defence, healthcare and infrastructure.

It features personal accounts from people who lived through the country's early years as an independent nation, through the events they witnessed or the rites of passage they went through.

Some of these first-hand accounts were of moving into a Housing Board flat for the first time. Women who entered the workforce during the height of Singapore's rapid industrialisation are also featured in this section.

The stories were documented by secondary school students and undergraduates as part of the museum's Student Archivist Project 2020. This section also features a specially commissioned soundscape, A Day in the Life of Singapore, which showcases distinctive sounds of people, places and experiences.


Members of the public use a table similar to the ones used in tuck shops. ST PHOTO: JOEL CHAN

This features some of the common experiences and memories that make a house a home, such as going to school, enjoying Singapore hawker food, or relaxing in recreational spaces.

Visitors are invited to step into immersive spaces that take them back to the comforting moments of celebrating festivities in their living room, or lounging by a jukebox featuring Singaporean songs, both old and new, that have been part of the soundtrack of our years of living and growing up in Singapore.

There is also a Let's Talk at the Tuckshop sitting area, one of three chat corners in the exhibition, designed to allow visitors to pause, reflect and reminisce.


The Living Together series, which unpacks how Singaporeans have worked together to navigate and overcome challenges faced when living together in a shared space. ST PHOTO: JOEL CHAN

This examines how Singaporeans have navigated the tensions and challenges they faced when living in shared spaces, as people settled into new homes.

From numerous nationwide clarion calls such as the 1968 Keep Singapore Clean and the 1979 Courtesy campaigns, this section shows how Singaporeans have worked with community leaders through dialogues and initiatives.


Members of the public view exhibitions under the Open Doors series. ST PHOTO: JOEL CHAN

Open Doors takes a look at how Singapore has been shaped by its immigrant and multicultural past through the stories of people from different lands who have made Singapore their home over the years.

Hear these stories through video interviews in a space at the exhibiton that is designed to look like an HDB void deck.


A space for reflection that invites visitors to contribute to a live collective response on what "home" means to them. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

The final section shows how Singapore has stood united through crises and challenges such as floods, the withdrawal of the British military, financial crises and the Sars outbreak.

This section also includes a special feature on the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, with a display of art works, photos and artefacts, including contributions from the National Museum's Collecting Contemporary Singapore: Documenting Covid-19 in Singapore Open Call.

Home, Truly concludes with a space for reflection that invites visitors to contribute to a live collective response on what "home" means to them by writing or drawing on a response card, and seeing it projected on a screen. Visitors may also choose to respond via a special recording device designed for the visually impaired.


The "smart cane" prototype is supported by philanthropic organisation Temasek Foundation Cares. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

The museum is piloting an accessibility experience where visually impaired visitors can embark on a journey through the museum using a smart navigation "cane" and a web-based platform.

The pilot will begin on Jan 21 with more details to be released in the coming weeks. It is the first time a museum under the National Heritage Board (NHB) is using such a prototype to aid the visually impaired in experiencing an exhibition.

In conceptualising the exhibition experience, the curators spoke to members of the visually impaired community and worked with them to understand how to better meet their needs.

Through the use of sounds, scents and programmes that will be co-created with the community, Home, Truly will offer visually impaired visitors an enhanced museum experience.

The "smart cane" prototype is supported by philanthropic organisation Temasek Foundation Cares.

The cane was developed jointly with Nanyang Polytechnic and Guide Dogs Singapore, and will continue to be refined with regular feedback from users to review and explore its potential use for other exhibitions and NHB museums.

This experience for the visually impaired is supported by the museum's volunteers including its Care Facilitators who are trained to ensure greater accessibility for all visitors.

A member of the public participates in an interactive display at the exhibition. ST PHOTO: JOEL CHAN

To keep visitors safe during the pandemic while they interact with the various stations, all visitors will be given a stylus pen with a radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag.

The stylus tip of the pen eliminates the need to touch any screens, while the pens enable visitors to put their thoughts on paper for feedback about the exhibition.

Visitors can also use the radio frequency identification (RFID) tag attached to the stylus to respond to polls and quizzes. Topics include willingness to serve national service.

Upon "checking out" of the exhibition, visitors will receive an e-mail containing a specially curated list of digital content based on their interactions with the different sections.


Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.