Marking the start of a commemoration with a disappearing act may sound like an oxymoron. But that is what the Singapore Bicentennial Office has done. To kick off a year of remembering Singapore's bicentennial, the office made the statue of Sir Stamford Raffles at Boat Quay "disappear". Artist Teng Kai Wei covered the polymarble statue with acrylic paint that made Raffles, when viewed from a certain angle, blend almost seamlessly into the OCBC building across the river.
A Bicentennial Office spokesman explained that the artwork was "an opportunity to engage Singaporeans in an open dialogue about the many other men and women who also arrived on our shores and made significant contributions". With bicentennial events kicking off from Jan 28, the hope is Singaporeans remember that the island's history "is a longer, 700-year story that dates back to 1299". Certainly the juxtaposition of the statue against OCBC, the longest-established bank here, is a reminder of the role Chinese immigrants, for instance, played in building modern Singapore. Raffles may have plugged Singapore into the then global colonial system, but he was not the first to recognise the island's strategic importance. Professor John Miksic's book, Singapore And The Silk Road Of The Sea 1300-1800, documents Singapore's stature as a prosperous port through most of the 14th century, and a city that was fought over by South-east Asian empires.