In the latest episode of ‘Incidents (of Travel)
’ from Singapore, curator Kathleen Ditzig
and artists Fyerool Darma
& Nurul Huda Rashid
take us on a journey through regional folklore, historical amnesia, and the façade of mass-surveillance in this city state.
They cross the boardwalk over the channel that separates Singapore’s largest shopping centre from Sentosa Island, once called Pulau Blakang Mati (“island of death behind”). Throughout the Japanese occupation of Singapore during the Second World War, the island was the site of Operation Sook Ching, a systemic purge of the Chinese believed to have supported China’s resistance of Japan. In more recent times, Sentosa was the site of former American President Donald Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in June 2018.
As Kathleen recounts, “From the bridge, Fyerool points to the horizon... He tells us about Hindu and Buddhist narratives that mention a duel between a Naga (a snake deity), and a Garuda (a mythic bird) that started because the former was caught whilst attempting to steal the latter’s eggs. This story is derived from the Middle East, yet it was set at the edge of the South China Sea. Fyerool believes that the fight happened here. Perhaps this story is a metaphor of the exploits of the pirates that once occupied these straits...”
“Nurul notices a man using a net to scoop up garbage and dead fish from the surface of the sea. I remember something from A Tropical Tapestry,
Hubert S. Banner’s 1929 travelogue of the Malayan Peninsula, illustrated with woodcuts by the Singapore-based artist Dorothy Hope-Falkner. He described the straits around Singapore ‘as a mighty highway of Venetian glass.’ The sea is a glass-green. The man is alone with a small net and yet tasked with the monumental labour of maintaining the glassy façade of the sea. He might as well be cleaning the windows of a skyscraper. We walk to the jetty where contraband supposedly arrives in Singapore. In some ways, I think Fyerool and Nurul are using the Strait to smuggle in narratives through the cracks in Singapore’s façade.”