Director's Note (Jan-Mar) 2014
How does one achieve immortality in a crowded space?
Some people may be content with their scant 15 minutes of fame, the fleeting media publicity that celebrated pop artist Andy Warhol famously referred to in 1968.
The reality is quite different: humans seek a more enduring form of immortality, and one that almost always revolves around their lives, loves and beliefs.
In this issue of BiblioAsia, I hope time will stand still long enough for us to provide context and specificity to the memories that are fast fading — as well as the ones we thought we’d understood for the longest time.
In the light of recent aspirations to achieve in our urban space the kampung spirit and the easy associations of neighbourliness and community, Nor Afidah recaptures in “Kampung Living: A – Z”, the details of life in the village — how once the breaking of dawn and the end of daylight were significant events in daily life.
In a similar vein, Sharon Teng documents the vanishing trades of Singapore in “Time-forgotten Trades” and explores new ways to “immortalise” the old ways, including digital recreations of these vanishing (or rather vanquished) trades and, in the case of Chye Seng Huat Hardware, keeping the original facade of a shophouse and reinventing it as a hip coffee bar.
The social norms and cultural values of generations past encapsulated in clans and kinsfolk are explored in Lee Meiyu’s article — “The Jiapu Chronicles: What’s in a Name?” — which traces family lineage using the means of jiapu, or Chinese genealogical records. Curator Tan Huism with gifted photographer Sean Lee show how the tracing of lineage can also be performed through the lines and contours of one’s hands in their photographic showcase from the Singapore Memory Project’s “Hands: Gift of a Generation” exhibition. I am especially taken with the story of Huism’s grandmother’s hands as they experienced different life stages, and how those hands are now indelibly reflected in Huism’s own.
The capturing of an older Singapore is a growing fixation for Singaporeans and in Jun Zubillaga-Pow’s article on the life of the late Singaporean composer, Tsao Chieh, read how the latter attempted a composition based on Turnbull’s A History of Singapore; the dramatic work charts Singapore’s progress, with each section of Tsao’s work evoking a distinctive period of our nation.
Finally, while the process of recollection is delightful, it can also be a haphazard one. The overseas Chinese in Singapore are often remembered for their financial contributions to China’s war efforts. But their legacy went beyond money: Wayne Soon examines the impact that overseas Chinese, in particular Singaporean-born medical doctors such as Lim Boon Keng and his son Robert Lim, had in China and how their efforts helped established higher standards of medical practice there.
The reality is that a mere 15 minutes of fame doesn’t amount to much (Warhol may be turning in his grave as I write this) because the search for immortality and legacy is about creating a sense of permanence that outlives ordinary human perception of time and space.
I hope this issue of BiblioAsia extends the National Library’s role in serving the reader with different perspectives of the peoples and lives of Singapore past — and in the process immortalise them in a manner that is based on a deeper appreciation of the context in which they once existed.
Director, National Library