New exhibition showcases stories of Singapore's Arab community

President Halimah Yacob and husband Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee viewing items on display at the Entitled Here And Now: Arabs In Singapore exhibition, on April 13, 2019.
President Halimah Yacob and husband Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee viewing items on display at the Entitled Here And Now: Arabs In Singapore exhibition, on April 13, 2019.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - When Singapore was established as a trading port back in 1819, the British were keen to attract Arab traders to these shores. But small as their numbers were - a 1824 census showed that only 15 of Kampong Glam's more than 9,600 residents were Arab - they play a key role in Singapore's development, using their wealth to build mosques, organise funds, develop lands, and even contribute to the music culture here.

The Arab Network @ Singapore (AN@S) on Saturday (April 13) launched an exhibition to showcase the stories of these Arabs, known as the Hadramis, who came from Hadaramawt, Yemen, to Singapore over 200 years ago. Entitled Here And Now: Arabs In Singapore, the seven-day exhibition located at The Arts House, showcases pictures and documents gathered from private collections.

The exhibition was put together over a year by a team of nine young Singaporeans, led by 34-year-old graduate student Syed Muhammad Hafiz.

Rather than the tales of religious figures or prominent businessmen, the exhibition is more about personal stories, he said. The team, the rest of whom are students and full-time national servicemen aged between 20 to 26, gathered much of the information from their uncles, aunts and grandparents. "They not only found out more about themselves but also the larger Hadrami community," he said.

The exhibition launch, attended by President Halimah Yacob and her husband, was preceded by AN@S' presenting awards to nine students of Arab descent who have excelled.

NSF Muhammad Bahajjaj, 22, one of the team members, said putting together the exhibition was a chance to learn about his heritage. "To really see how my family and other Arabs have contributed to Singapore. It opened my eyes. The word 'Arab' is no longer just a word to me but a story written by my forefathers, and now for me to continue."

Here And Now: Arabs In Singapore is located at Gallery II of The Arts House and will run till April 20, from 10am - 10pm daily. Admission is free.