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Art and Culture in Singapore

Arts

Literature

Singapore’s literature embraces a collected literary works by Singaporeans in any of the country’s four main languages – Chinese, English, Malay and Tamil. As an fundamental part of the culture of the country literature potrays a specific aspect of Singaporean society. In every literary work a glimpse of multicultural society is being exposed. Singaporean writers such as Tan Swie Hian and Kup Pao Kun have made a significant contribution in Singapore’s literature. Other known writers of Singapore are Angeline Yap, Arthur Yap, Aaron Lee Soon Yong, Hsu-Ming Teo, Hwee Hwee Tan, Simon Tay, Edwin Thumboo, Toh Hsien Min, and Yong Shu Hoong.

English literature in Singapore dates back to the nineteenth century base on the earliest evidence. Began with the early eighteen thirties, poetry, short stories mainly tackle about the sentiments of the people during the First World War. In 1935, F. M. S.R, a parody of T.S. Eliot was the first Singaporean work of poetry published in London.

The first published Singaporean poetry collection was written by Wang Gungwu in 1950. The Pulse is one of the first efforts to produce a distinctively Malayan voice in English language poetry.

By the year 1965 new breed of Singaporean writers emerged. Edwin Thumboo, Gopal Bharatam and Dr. Goh Poh Seng are a few of the celebrated Singaporean writers recognized around the world. Edwin Thmboo is known for his transience of things, for his awareness of the role and responsibilities of a poet help in developing the identity of Singapore. Some of his famous works are Rib of Earth and God Can Die. In the later part of 1990s English poetry in the country found a new force with its new generation of poets born around or after 1965, some of the prominent names are Alfian bib Sa’at, Alvin Pang, Cyril Wong, Boey Kim Cheng, Felix Cheong and Yong Shu Hoong. The present trend of Singapore’s poetry is more on political awareness and on personal perspective of Singaporean culture and society.

Drama plays a significant contribution to the literary world of Singapore. The English drama in Singapore during the pre 1819-1960 was dominated by numerous colonial and expatriate groups and drama were played by English actors to predominantly English audience. Goh Pong Seng, a known novelist and poet started the English Drama in Singapore. The era of 1960s is considered to be the beginning of local writings; some local writers are taking part, such as The Reward which was published in New Cauldron and The Escape by Soh Eng Lim. The theme usually tackled life of educated Singaporean studying abroad and commenting on the state of affairs at home. Some of the notable works published were Emily of Emerald Hill by Stella Kon, One Year Back Home by Robert Yeo and Fat Virgins, Fast Cars and Asian Values: A Collection of Plays from Theatreworks’ Writer Lab by Kuo Pao Kun.

Visual Arts

Art is one way of representing one’s culture. A visual art is an individualistic practice. Artist creation and execution came from various sources and references yet his work is an individual act. The visual arts scene in Singapore has experienced remarkable growth and advancement since the colonial days, from the 19th century scenario where artists ranging from well-known European painters to anonymous local craftsmen worked their arts in the bustling entrepot of the Singapore to more than 500 visual arts exhibition.

The usual theme of Singaporean visual arts are abstractions, human figure, landscape, portraits, still life, urban scenes, and village scenes. Some of the known artists are Tan Swie Hian, Liu Kang, Georgette Chen, Francis Ng and Heman Chong.

Sculpture can be considered the original art of prehistoric man. Ng Eng Teng is considered to be the Grandfather of Singapore’s Sculpture. Ng Eng Teng was the first local who is best known for his sculpture works, some of his works include Mother and Child bronze sculpture outside toe Far East Shopping Center and The Explorer situated at the entrance of Singapore Art Museum. Another known sculptor of Singapore is Lim Nang Seng, the one who designed the Singapore’s first batch of one-cent coins in 1967.

In 1976 the establishment of Art Gallery in National Museum gave a major boost to the Singaporean visual art. Local artists were given opportunity to hold their exhibits. By the 1995 the Singaporean Art Museum was founded exclusively for visual arts.

Architecture

The architecture of Singapore has been greatly inspired by the socio-historic developments. Being a British colony many of the early civic and government buildings were built by colonial architects adopting classical colonial designs being patterned after the Indian colonial buildings. There are also less imposing Malay structures belonging to Malays and other migrant communities.

Singapore’s architecture exhibits a range of influence and style from different places and periods. The traditional colonial architectural design includes the gothic for churches; Chinese chophouse and bungalow, Palladian and renaissance styles for government buildings. Some of the examples traditional architecture are architecture are the Singapore Art Museum, Raffles Hotel, Old Parliament House, Chinese Protectorate, Churches of St. Peter and Paul, Shophouses with elaborate pilasters and Singapore National Museum.

The exigency of tropical climate considerably determined the structure of the country’s private buildings. A mixture of classical and Malayan styles evolved with the constructions that paid scrupulous attention to flooding, humidity and ventilation. In order to suit Singaporean’s lifestyle and differing individual demands concept of mass-produced buildings keeps on altering.

Singapore’s modern architecture is dominated by completely contemporary style of buildings, mainly the Brutalist style that is evident in many high rise flats of public housing as well as many old commercial and government linked buildings like Temasek Tower, DBS Buildings and Singapore Land Tower.

Culture

A comparatively modern amalgam of semi-indigenous Malay population in which majority are third generation Chinese, Indians and Arab immigrants with intermarriage, with existing Eurasian community and Peranakan (Chinese and Malay descents) is a way to describe Singaporean culture.

With unique combination of ethnic groups Singapore has achieved a considerable degree of cultural diffusion that led to Singapore’s rich mixture of diversity for its young generation. Some good examples of this are - the English language is primarily British English with a little influence of American English; colloquial dialect of English known as Singlish that has many Creole-like characteristics due to the incorporation of various language and grammar from Chinese, Indian and Malay languages; and the Singaporean cuisine, that is highly influenced by Chinese, Indian, Indonesian and Malaysian delicacies.

The number of ethnic neighborhoods in Singapore such as Chinatown and Little Indian that were created under the Raffles Plan to segregate the new immigrants into ethnic ghettoes. Though segregation of ethnicity does no longer exist each culture was able to retain selective elements of their specific culture, thus resulting to diverse patronage to some elements of a particular culture.

Festivals

With Singapore’s multi-cultural nature, every ethnic group in the country celebrates its own festivals. Throughout the year celebration of some form or other brings visual feast of color, spectacle, and ceremony that being acknowledged and enjoyed by the whole community of Singapore. Some of the well celebrated festivals of the country include Festival of Lights (Deepvali), Buddhist celebration of Vesak Day, Chinese New Year celebration and Christmas.

Performing Arts

The local art scene of the country still remains handicapped despite the attempt of the recent government to promote the country as a cultural center for arts and culture; this is due to the strict legislation. All scripts to be performed in Singapore must be evaluated in advance by the Public Entertainment Licensing Unit (PELU). PELU has the sole right to allow or ban any script it views.

By year 2000, the legislation has been loosening some restriction and this led to the emergence of several performing art groups. Some of the prominent local arts groups include TheatreWorks, Singapore Repertory Theater, Singapore Dance Theater, Singapore Chinese Opera, Orkestra Melayu Singapura, Singapore Indian Orchestra and Choir and The Singapore Lyric Opera. Singapore Arts Festival is held annually. The festival serves as a gathering of international and local artist performing in a wide variety of events including music, dance and theater.

Now Singapore as a gateway between East and West, offers unique opportunities to people who wish to enhance their artistic skills in the field of theater and music. Professional and amateur theater companies, dance troupes, musical groups and opera companies offer a wide range of Asian as well as Western performance.

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