Shared memories and community stories are focus of National Museum's new exhibition on Home

About a quarter of the 200 photos on display at the exhibition were contributed by members of the public.
About a quarter of the 200 photos on display at the exhibition were contributed by members of the public. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - What makes Singapore home, truly?

An exhibition that opens on Saturday (Dec 19) at the National Museum of Singapore (NMS) seeks to provide some answers by showcasing over 200 photographs from national archives and contributed by the public, as well as more than 80 artefacts from the national collection.

Home, Truly: Growing Up With Singapore, 1950s To The Present explores what living and growing up in Singapore has been like for people across different generations.

It is organised by NMS in collaboration with photography marketplace Photonico, Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and The Straits Times, in conjunction with the paper's 175th anniversary.

NMS director Chung May Khuen said that different segments of the community, including youth, seniors and visually-impaired individuals, were tapped by the curators to conceptualise an exhibition that resonates with diverse audiences.

Input from seven engagement sessions with over 100 participants was considered for different aspects of the exhibition, from surfacing memories and stories for display within the exhibition, to how the exhibition itself was presented, said NMS.

On show are stories not just from Singaporeans, but also those of migrant workers here, Singaporeans overseas, and those who once called Singapore home like children of Nepalese Gurkha officers who were deployed here.

About 25 per cent of the 200 photos on display at the museum were contributed by members of the public.

Hobbyist photographer Hor Kwok Kin, who has two photos he shot in the 1960s on show at the exhibition, said the chance to showcase his work is a great honour for him.

"Back then, it was just an interest for me," said the 81-year-old retiree in Mandarin, who said he never imagined his photos would be showcased. "I just walk around and see what I find interesting and I shoot them."

"But with the pace at which things have changed over the years, when you compare places now to the photographs I took of them in the 60s, you can see the photos' historical value."

One of Mr Hor's works on display is a picture of cranes lifting cargo off boats at the Singapore River, which he shot from Elgin Bridge.

Colour film that he shot the photo on was at least 10 times more expensive than black and white film then, recalled Mr Hor. He had to send the roll of film to a Kodak facility in Australia to be developed, receiving the images three weeks later.

In the spirit of initiating and sustaining dialogues on what home means to people in Singapore, the exhibition will feature three chat corners, where visitors can sit together and talk about their experiences living here or what they hope to see in future Singapore.


Photographer Hor Kwok Kin poses with a print of his photograph, ‘Moving Cargo at Singapore River’, which is on show at the exhibition. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

For a more engaging experience, all visitors will be given a stylus pen for use on interactive multimedia exhibits. This allows a "mediated touch" amid the Covid-19 pandemic as the museum has stopped using touch screens, said NMS senior deputy director Wong Hong Suen.

For instance, visitors can use the stylus to operate a digital jukebox that plays Singaporean folk tunes and popular National Day songs. They can use also use a radio-frequency identification tag attached to the stylus to respond to polls and quizzes, such as whether they are willing to serve national service, or if they have volunteered to improve the lives of others before.

Visitors can later tap a check-out booth with the RFID tag to receive a summary of their responses and find out more about what home means to them based on their responses.

The exhibition will also pilot an accessibility experience where visually impaired visitors can explore the exhibition on their own with the use of a smart landmark navigation cane and a companion app.

The cane was developed by Nanyang Polytechnic's Dr Kong Wai Ming, a lead specialist at the institution's Biomedical Engineering and Materials Group, together with six final-year students and tested by members of the visually impaired community.


A pen/stylus with RFID tag is provided to exhibition visitors for a contactless experience. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Together with raised strips throughout the exhibition that act as landmarks for the visually impaired, the cane and app allow such visitors to navigate around the exhibition, taking in sounds and scents of everyday Singapore.

For Mr Chia Hong Sen, 24, who is visually impaired, the exhibition will be his first time taking in an exhibition independently.

"Indoor navigation is a challenge that the visually-impaired community faces, and this is a very good showcase of such technology at work," said the IT accessibility trainer and consultant with Guide Dogs Singapore.

"This is the right step forward, and I'm very thankful that the museum is on board to try this out. I hope others in the community will also be keen to experience for the themselves and provide feedback so the experience can be improved," he added.

The museum said the pilot will begin on Jan 21, and more details will be available in the coming weeks.


Mr Chia Hong Sen, who is visually-impaired, using a smart cane to navigate the exhibition. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

This is the first time a museum under the National Heritage Board has used RFID and technology to aid the visually-impaired in engaging in exhibitions.

"If the pilot is successful - and it will continue to be refined based on user feedback - we hope to be able to roll out more visually impaired friendly exhibitions and programmes at our NHB museums," said Ms Wong.

Guided tours and reflective discussions facilitated by the museum's care facilitators, who are volunteers focusing on assisting those with special needs, will also be part of the pilot that begins in January.

ST editor Warren Fernandez, who is also editor-in-chief of SPH's English/Malay/Tamil Media Group, said: "ST has been telling the story of Singapore for 175 years, including its transition from colony to independence to a sense of being identified as our own home.

"We have captured these in stories but 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."

Entry to the exhibition, which runs till Aug 29, 2021, is free. It opens from 10am to 7pm daily, with last admissions at 6.30pm.

More information on the exhibition and its related programmes are available on this website.

Those hoping to experience Home, Truly online can visit the exhibition's digital companion.

Correction note: An earlier version of this article misspelled Dr Kong's name. We are sorry for the error.