Take a journey back in time and uncover stories hidden with artist Yip Yew Chong’s exhibition of his 60-metre-long painting I Paint my Singapore exhibition, now on at Raffles City Convention Centre, Level 4 Bencoolen Room, 10 am to 8 pm, till 1 January 2024.
I Paint my Singapore Exhibition: 27 Scenes from the Past
The epic artwork by Yip Yew Chong is made up of 27 panels. Painted using acrylic on canvas, the I Paint my Singapore work depicts his impressions and memories of Singapore in the 1970s and 80s.
The scenes captured will certainly stir up nostalgic feelings amongst those who lived through those days or even those who may only have a faint recollection of those decades.
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Yip Yew Chong’s 60-metre-long Work
Captured are scenes as diverse as long-forgotten villages on off-shore islands to the urban sights of the old Restricted Zone and buses advertising Swing Singapore along Orchard Road.
The exhibition was launched on 29 November 2023 and will be open to the public from 30 November till 1 January 2024.
Capturing and Appreciating the Past
At the launch, Yip shared multiple ways to enjoy the exhibition.
The first is to step back and take it all in from a distance.
The 60-metre-long painting offers more than a panorama; it is a continuous flow of imagery that takes you across Singapore and back in time to the 1970s and 1980s.
The second way to enjoy the work is to lean in and linger on the details. The work lends itself to an almost voyeuristic experience as you get to look on as the painted figures go about their daily lives.
Stories for the Ages
Yip has captured many personal memories and stories in the artwork. The most personal panels are the two of Chinatown – one in the daytime and the other at night.
In fact, in the night scene, the family looking out at the Chinese Opera is the artist’s own. See if you can figure out which figure is him.
In the Chinatown scenes, Yip captures the spirit of what it was like growing up in Chinatown.
His family rented the second floor of a shophouse, above a mortuary, along the Street of the Dead. They then sub-letted it out to other families. So he knows a thing or two about Chinatown of the ’70s and ’80s.
There are many other interesting stories captured in the I Paint my Singapore artwork.
For example, featured in the first panel of the artwork is a village that used to be located next to the Causeway, Kampong Lorong Fatima. The villagers who lived there would have had to pass the immigration checkpoint in order to return to the village – an interesting quirk of geography.
Or there is the fishing village that used to exist in Pulau Seking. If the name of the island doesn’t ring a bell, that’s because it has been merged with Pulau Semakau and is now used as a landfill.
There are also stories at a personal level.
Look out for multiple images of Mr Souran Singh, wearing a green turban and with his bicycle.
Yip had met Mr Singh while painting a mural along Everton Road in November 2015 and again in January 2017. In April 2023, Yip wished to invite him to view the I Paint my Singapore exhibition only to discover that he had passed on in 2020. Nonetheless, the memory of Mr Singh continues to live on in the painting.
You can read some of these stories on the information boards below the paintings.
Some of these even have suggestions of things to look out for in the artwork, turning it into a game of Where’s Wally (can you find the colugo at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve?)
All these little touches reflect Yip’s real gift – that of being a storyteller. The paintings are his way of capturing stories and sharing them with others.
Visiting the I Paint my Singapore Exhibition by Yip Yew Chong
I Paint my Singapore exhibition is a loving tribute to Singapore and to all who call the island home.
In conjunction with the exhibition, Landmark Books has released a book I Paint my Singapore: Familiar Scenes from Home with full colour pictures from the artwork.
It is rare to have such a sweeping canvas that captures so much of Singapore’s now-vanished heritage. The work belongs in the National Gallery Singapore and ought to be treated like a treasure to be shared more widely and passed down through the generations.
Yip Yew Chong’s I Paint my Singapore exhibition is on till 1 January 2024 at Raffles City Convention Centre, Level 4 Bencoolen Room, 10 am to 8 pm, daily. Admission is free.
If you enjoyed this story, you may also enjoy reading this interview with the artist Yip Yew Chong.