In a year full of happenings commemorating Singapore’s Bicentennial, it feels apt that the National Gallery would take this time to look back on the pivotal moments of the country’s history in and around the former City Hall, which now forms part of the four-year-old museum.
Since its completion in 1929, the monument has evolved over the years, from a bomb shelter during the Japanese Occupation, to housing the country’s first Public Complaints Bureau, to seeing numerous government events take place. This includes the swearing in of Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his eight cabinet ministers after the People’s Action Party’s victory in the 1959 elections, and the unveiling of the state anthem, crest, and flag.
After Singapore’s sovereignty in 1965, the building was home to government offices such as the Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ministry of Culture as well.
So if you’re a little fuzzy on your history, specifically with regards to the National Gallery, its new multimedia exhibition should clear some things up. Debuting on Sept 1, City Hall: If Walls Could Talk takes you back in time for some background context on the key events that saw Singapore go from colony to city-state.
As the first long-term exhibition to be displayed within the City Hall Chamber, it’s a free history lesson for residents (or a quick glimpse of our past for overseas visitors), and will run for the next two years.
Just like most attempts to appeal to a younger generation, it starts off in the most millennial way: With four photo booths for visitors to take snapshots of themselves that will eventually form a collage as part of the immersive digital showcase waiting for you behind the doors. Led by “Encik Awang,” a character that was apparently inspired by a real-life caretaker, the journey dives straight into the past, when the then-Municipal Building was first completed.
The video condenses decades of history into several minutes, done in standard Singapore style, making use of patriotism-inducing tales and swelling music covered with a layer of sentimental cheese. So expect to hear
government jargon phrases like “timeless monument” and “space to imagine our tomorrow”.
There are several points where visitors are invited to get hands-on with touching and swiping the screen in front of you, but most of the session is spent listening to the history unfolding before you. At the end of it all, your images will help to “create another memory for Singapore”, and that’s where you’ll spot the pictures you took at the beginning.
Adding to the experience, the Social Wall is an interactive screen that allows you to pick a theme from a list of seven that includes War and Adversity, Architecture and Stories, and Changing Landscapes. Alternatively, you can choose “Surprise Me” and reveal whether you’re with family, friends, or going solo for the day. Selected artworks will then be recommended to you, and you can spend the rest of your time at the gallery searching for the pieces.
Before you go, stop by the courtyard on the second floor to stroll through the Memories of City Hall display, which tells the stories of people based in the building from the ’60s to the ’80s using interviews and archival materials.
City Hall: If Walls Could Talk opens on Sept 1 till Aug 29, 2021 at National Gallery Singapore, City Hall Wing, L3, City Hall Chamber.
6271-7000. Sat-Thurs 10am-7pm, Fri 10am-9pm. Free for Singaporeans and PRs, $15-$20 for non-Singaporeans.
MRT: City Hall
This article, The National Gallery’s new multimedia exhibition looks back at significant moments from City Hall’s past, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company. Want more Coconuts? Sign up for our newsletters!