The historic and untouched Tiong Bahru Air Raid Shelter to open to public for art exhibition

Reena Devi
Lifestyle Reporter
Some of the young artists being featured at the RAID exhibition (from left): Ivan David Ng, Nhawfal Juma’at, Jacqueline Sim and Vanessa Lim. (Photo: Tay Ining/RAID/Facebook)

As part of an exhibition for Singapore Art Week 2018 organised by young artists, from this weekend members of the public get to step inside the rarely opened Tiong Bahru Air Raid Shelter.

Virtually left untouched since its construction dating 1939, the shelter at Blk 78 Guan Chuan Street is definitely worth a trip down during the next few weeks.

The last remaining pre-war civilian air raid shelter still in existence today, Tiong Bahru Air Raid Shelter is also the only public housing building by the Singapore Improvement Trust to have been built with an air raid shelter as part of its design.

Able to accommodate up to an estimated 1,600 persons, it is the site for the aptly titled exhibition RAID running from 13 January to 3 February, featuring paintings, installations and sculptures by young emerging artists. 

The exhibition is curated by self-titled artist-organisers Daniel Chong and Zulkhairi Zulkiflee, who were looking for a space to showcase larger-scale sculpture and installation works.

Speaking with Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore, Chong, 23, said they happened to “stumble upon an amazing space that is rich with history and well preserved”. The exhibition works by artists Ivan David Ng, Tay Ining, Vanessa Lim, Jacqueline Sim, Pooja Kanade and Nhawfal Juma’at were made in response to the site.

For example, Ng, 26, will be envisioning how the people housed within the shelter lived in complete darkness by creating a sun-shrine for his work. 

Ng said, “Based on the concept of people being held in the shelter for so long that they have to be reminded of what the sun is and what the outside looks like, the sun-shrine serves as a means of preserving the belief in the existence of the sun.”

His work includes a video which acts like a window into alien worlds which are “so distanced from that of their reality in the confined, pitch-dark bomb shelter.”

Nhawfal, 26, will be presenting a series of paintings titled “Und Sein”. The paintings will attempt to depict emptiness inspired by the disuse of the air raid shelter during its long history.

Lim, 24, a sculptor and installation-based artist, intends to respond to the rawness and immediacy of the exposed structures of the space. Her work will use materials such as pool noodles, faux fur, fake carpet grass, rope and marble powder among others.

The artists found the air raid shelter and its storied history intriguing. Lim was most fascinated by the fact that the shelter was meant to be used as a playground. “The contrast between the quality of space in the air raid shelter and the playground is interesting. The air raid shelter is really utilitarian and purpose-built for emergency use…. a playground is supposed to provide a safe space in which children can explore.”

Nhawfal said, “Located at one of Singapore’s oldest housing estates and knowing that the site functioned as a bomb shelter made me respect the site, as it bears such huge purpose and history.”

“This influenced and motivated me to create work with a less aggressive approach, complimenting the history of the shelter,” he added.

If you are into abandoned historical sites, this is definitely the weekend to check out the air raid shelter while also finding out what young artists in Singapore are up to these days.

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