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  • Inspiring Singapore (Weekly blog, 26 January 2020)

    Posted on January 29, 2020
    A blog by Catherine Leonard, INTO Secretary-General

    Inspiring Solutions – Culture in Crisis: Preserving Heritage in a Post-colonial Era (Singapore, 23-25 March 2020)

    Over the past few months we have been working with the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) and the Singapore Management University (SMU) on a conference.  It is entitled ‘Inspiring Solutions – Culture in Crisis: Preserving Heritage in a Post-colonial Era’.   We are very excited to also be collaborating with one of our newest member organisations, the Singapore Heritage Society.

    The conference will bring together stakeholders from the private sector, government and academia, to explore the themes of multiculturalism and the modern world, and work together in drawing up practical, cross-industry solutions implementable in the present and future.

    Inspirational site visits

    Monday 23 March starts with a series of inspirational site visits, such as:

    • NUS Baba House, a three-storey townhouse located in Singapore’s historic district of Blair Plain.  Once the ancestral home of a Peranakan Chinese family, visitors take an experiential trip into the early 20th century.
    • Once filled with coconut plantations and used as a weekend retreat by wealthy city dwellers, Katong became a residential suburb at the turn of the century.  Neighbouring Joo Chiat is famous for its unique pre-war architecture: Colourful two-storey shophouses and terrace houses with ornate facades, intricate motifs and ceramic tiles.
    • The Eurasian Community House shows how, despite being a small community, Eurasians played a major role in Singapore’s transition to independence, in nation-building, foreign relations, sport and the arts.
    • The Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple strongly identifies with its location and the community it represents – the Ceylonese Hindus. Ceylon Road, in fact, derived its name from the many Ceylonese, or Sri Lankan Tamils, one of the earliest groups of immigrants in Singapore, living around the Katong area.
    • Wisma Geylang Serai was the origin of the Malay Settlement back in pre-modern Singapore. The word ‘Wisma’ can be translated as a building, complex or house. Wisma Geylang Serai was hence named to reflect the nature and functions of the civic centre.

    There will then be an evening lecture by Tristram Hunt, Director of London’s V&A, followed by a welcome dinner.

    Red windows, floral tiles – Joo Chiat shophouse © Jnzl

    International sessions

    Tuesday 24 March is the main conference day, including some fascinating international panel sessions on ‘Communities and Culture’ and ‘The Built Environment’.  There will also be a series of dialogue workshops specifically to explore solutions for Singapore.  The experience and expertise of INTO and its members will add hugely to the debate.

    Singapore’s unique status as an important regional trading port meant that a diverse mix of cultures and heritage thrived in Singapore, even during the pre-colonialism period. The arrival of the British then brought new waves of immigration, which in turn left lasting influences on
    vernacular architecture and the hybridised cultures of local communities.

    If all discussions of cultural preservation revolve around discussions of “Whose culture?”, and “What culture?”, the Singaporean context adds new dimensions. How has the framing of colonialism and post-colonialism shaped Singapore’s understanding of cultural heritage and preservation? How have rapid urbanisation and globalisation affected Singapore and the region, both in terms of the built environment and the Intangible Cultural Heritage of its resident communities? What efforts are being made to preserve this heritage today, and what new steps should be taken?

    INTO Asia

    Lastly on Wednesday 25 March, we will have a special session for our INTO Asia members.

    INTO members are invited to attend the whole conference, but we will have a specific agenda for INTO Asia on the final day.  This is likely to be focused around:

    • Exploring the relevance of the National Trust concept in Asia
    • Reflecting on ways to fund heritage conservation work in the local context
    • Exchanging information on INTO Asia: Who’s who? What do we do as heritage organisations?
    • Developing the identity and a common platform for the INTO Asia group – what do we stand for, what can unite us? What can we do together?
    • Action planning: what practical next steps – who does what?

    (Taken from the agenda for next month’s INTO Africa meeting)

    Registration will open shortly, but in the meantime, please contact us for further information!


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