Putting the “people” back in People’s Park Complex

Published on 1 November 2018

Madam Lee Hwee Chin, 72, runs a business in People’s Park Complex, sharpening knives by hand. (Photos: Shifus of People’s Park, reporting team)

By Celine Chong

Since People’s Park Complex made the headlines in March for an impending collective sale, heritage and photo enthusiasts have been flocking to the landmark building in Chinatown to immortalise its iconic architecture in pictures.

A photojournalism class from the Nanyang Technological University’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, however, has chosen to go beyond memorialising the bricks and mortar of the high-rise, to highlighting its lifeblood – the masters of trades who call the building home.

These masters, or shifus in Mandarin, include people of all ages, who have honed their craft, traditional or otherwise, in the iconic commercial and residential building.

Father-and-son pair, Mr William Chen, 58, and Mr Chen Yong Chen, 24, run a popular roast meats stall in People’s Park Complex.

Among those featured are Madam Lee Hwee Chin, 72, who runs a business sharpening knives by hand, and artist Allison Low, 29, a resident whose flat doubles as her studio. There is also the father-and-son pair, Mr William Chen, 58, and Mr Chen Yong Chen, 24, who run a popular roast meats stall in the building.

The students’ photographs and interviews with the building’s denizens will make up the exhibition, Shifus of People’s Park, opening on 17 Nov at the bar, Miss Chinatown, on the rooftop of the building’s multi-storey car park.

The class of 24 students hope the personal stories of the craftsmen in People’s Park Complex will help the public grow their appreciation of the building, as well as deepen the conversation about heritage and conservation surrounding the building.

Artist Allison Low, 29, uses her People’s Park Complex flat as her studio too.

Indeed, what started as merely a school project for the students has become a memorable part of their lives as they formed close relationships with the people living and working in the building. The students have tried to convey this feeling through a “kopi corner” in the exhibition, where visitors can enjoy a traditional hot cuppa and send out postcards based on the photographs in the exhibition.

Student Amanda Chang, 21, says: “People’s Park Complex is no longer just a place for us to take aesthetic shots. People there who were strangers to us just two months ago are now friends we look forward to visiting whenever we go to Chinatown.”

 

Details about Shifus of People’s Park here.

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