Published on 24 February 2018

OH! Open House is back with a new tour line-up this year that takes participants on a thought-provoking journey back to Singapore’s colonial past with Emerald Hill’s conserved shophouses serving as a backdrop.

By: Melanie Lee

As Singapore prepares to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Sir Stamford Raffles founding modern Singapore next year, OH! Open House co-founder and artistic director, Alan Oei, felt it was pertinent to examine how colonialism has shaped Singapore.

“We all grow up with one version of the Singapore story that doesn’t address the fraught history of colonialism,” he explained during the media preview.

OH! Emerald Hill comprises three mini tours and a finale exhibition, with involvement from 22 artists from Singapore, Korea, Malaysia, and France. Here are some highlights from these various programmes:


The Nutmeg Dream (2018)
Your Touch Turns to Gold

This tour focuses on Emerald Hill’s nutmeg plantation past and the ups and downs that came along with the British introduction of cash crops to Singapore. With “The Nutmeg Dream” (2018), artists Nabilah Nordin and Nick Modrzewski transform an Emerald Hill Shophouse into a spice warehouse, recreating the heady commercial buzz in early Singapore. Meanwhile, artist Anthony Chin has created a nutmeg-scented giant foot of Prince Albert titled “Your Touch Turns to Gold” (2018), alluding to Britain’s oppressive plundering of spices and raw materials from the East and how it brought great wealth to the British. If you touch the black foot, that area turns to gold.


(Left) Probability of Veracity , (Right) Open Love Letters

This tour looks at how history is constructed and how artists and images are essential to this fickle story involving politics and ideology. Look out for artist Jimmy Ong’s performance installation “Open Love Letters” (2018), which involves reproducing an iconic sculpture of Raffles and cutting it in half. One side is used as a charcoal grill for cooking love letters and the other side is used as a cooling rack where participants can partake in this culinary performance. Artist and academic Gilles Massot channels 19th century French photographer Jules Itier and recreates seven of his missing daguerreotypes based on his diary entries with “The Probability of Veracity: The Missing Daguerreotypes – Part 1” (2017). Massot deliberately does not finish these paintings to question the form and accuracy of these images.


(Left) LOVE LAND, (Right) Daughters of the Soil

This tour’s themes revolve around botany, science and representation in light of how European colonisers were interested in exploring exotic and unknown flora and fauna in their new lands. Artist Ju Ae Park presents a fascinating forest with the installation “LOVE LAND” (2017) where there are fabric sculptures of fantastic animals and human figures. The work examines concepts such as relationships, love and loneliness. In another pit stop, artist Mamakan pays tribute to the creator of Singapore’s national flower, Agnes Joaquin, with “Daughters of the Soil” (2018), an installation which features as its centerpiece a steel crinoline made out of steel and covered with lace dipped in soil from Joaquin’s garden. This work reclaims domestic labour and womanhood, given how Joaquin has often been dismissed as an amateur gardener by male botanists.


Tea Revives the World
Salvation Made Simple

This finale exhibition takes place at Orchard Plaza, where the art installations focus on the proliferation of consumption and commodification.  With “Tea Revives the World” (2018) by Evil Empire, a fully functioning retail tea shop sells tea leaves from Pek Sin Choon with cheeky titles such as “Oolong Oppression”. Each tea canister contains a scroll illustrating the violent history of tea. Meanwhile, fashion photographer Lenne Chai has come up with commodifiable spirituality with “Salvation Made Simple” (2018) where you can buy #BlessedWater or #WhatWouldGoddessDo wristbands from vending machines.

OH! Emerald Hill will take place on 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, 18, 24 and 25 March 2018. Click here for more information.

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