This year’s art walk at Emerald Hill delves into Singapore’s relationship with colonialism

Benita Lee, Coconuts, February 21, 2018

Fancy a tour through the homes of Emerald Hill, all decked out in intriguing artworks? Well, you can during the upcoming OH! Open House with art walks taking you across charming Peranakan shop houses, repurposed storefronts of Orchard Plaza, and Chatsworth International School’s campus to offer a glimpse of the area’s heritage.


The popular event, which explores different neighborhoods every year, sees its eighth edition delving into the stories behind Emerald Hill, with installations and performances by 22 artists from Singapore and around the world. This year, however, they’re turning the discussion towards Singapore’s history of colonialism.


As to why colonialism as a topic, co-founder and artistic director Alan Oei explained that “colonialism isn’t just a footnote to our history; it’s a set of ideas, attitudes, and institutions that still haunts us today”.


“We all grow up with one version of the Singapore story that doesn’t address the fraught history of colonialism,” he added. “Raffles, our founder, is celebrated in Singapore. People in Java, on the other hand, feel differently about the man who looted the Javanese courts.”


So what’s new this time around? Expect a historical narrative, instead of a voyeuristic journey through houses.


You’ll be taken on three mini-tours: The Moral Hazards of Growing Nutmeg in a Faraway Land, to explore the origins of Emerald Hill and Orchard Road as cash crop plantations; All the King’s Painters, to learn about colonial history and the legacy of Sir Stamford Raffles; and Fantastic Beasts and Man-Eating Flowers, to discover the themes of botany and science.


The trail ends off with a finale exhibition titled Buy Empire Everyday Everywhere in Orchard Plaza, where thought-provoking art installations made to resemble commercial retail spaces bring to mind the concept of consumption in today’s society.


Check out some of the highlights and works-in-progress below:


Installation view. Part of the artwork 'Daughter of the Soil' (above) by Mamakan. Photo: Ernest Goh


'The Nutmeg Dream' by Nabilah Nordin and Nick Modrzewski features an Emerald Hill shop house transformed into a spice warehouse filled with everything nutmeg. Photo: Ernest Goh


Anthony Chin’s 'Your Touch Turns to Gold' is a towering reproduction of Prince Albert’s foot treated with heat sensitive paint that literally changes color to gold when probed, in a reflection of the relationship between Britain and its colonies. Photo: Ernest Goh


As you descend into a dark basement, you’ll be greeted by holographic Victorian children floating above giant beetles, as a symbol of the broken dreams of colonials who failed to find their fortunes. Photo: Ernest Goh


Allison M. Low and Ho Wai Kit, the artists behind 'Arcane Root' (above).

Photo: Ernest Goh


Evil Empire’s tea shop features interactive tea rituals and sells premium brews by tea merchant Pek Sin Choon with names like “Stolen Scents” and “Oolong Oppression”. And yes, you can actually buy the blends. Photo: Ernest Goh


Zen Teh’s 'Small Landscape' beckons you to step into a tranquil oasis at this pebble and marble slab “garden”, which offers multiple vantage points for you to “lose” yourself in. Photo: Ernest Goh


Lenne Chai’s 'Salvation Made Simple' is possibly one of the more controversial works featured, with working vending machines dispensing millennial-esque “worship items” like #BlessedWater and wristbands from a fictitious spiritual organization that promises instant gratification. Photo: Ernest Goh


'Gold Gold Real Estate Agency' by Kayleigh Goh is a real estate shop with “listings” of Emerald Hill shop houses, which are actually textured paintings.

Photo: Ernest Goh

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