Art Along the Banks of the Singapore River

Singapore River is the lifeline of the country. It was on the very banks of Singapore River that the founder of Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles, stood in 1819. Since then it has played an integral role in our country’s development serving as one of the busiest trading ports in Asia.

One of my favourite ways to unwind after a busy day at work is to spend time strolling the banks of the river. While it is no longer the busy trading port it was in the 19th century, the Singapore river is now an idyllic destination to eat, work and play. The shophouses along Boat Quay and Clarke Quay that used to be filled with spices, sugar, salt and other items of trade, have now been converted into trendy bars and restaurants – the watering hole of Singapore’s stylish and sophisticated crowd.

Today, during my usual walk down the banks of the river, two particular bronze sculptures caught my eye: A Great Emporium by Malcolm Koh and From Chettiars to Financiers by Sculptor Chern Lian Shan.

These sculptures depict life as it was along the banks of the Singapore River in the 19th century.

A Great Emporium by Malcolm Koh

A Great Emporium by Malcolm Koh

In A Great Emporium, there are four distinct characters represented in the sculpture, a British Trader, a Chinese Merchant, a Chinese Coolie and an Indian Coolie all engaged in trade. Coolie refers to manual labourer, the origins of the word has both Chinese and Indian derivations.

It really brought me back 200 years ago. When life was tough. Many of these coolies, liked the coolies in the sculpture, worked without a thread on their backs. They carried gunny sacks of rice, flour and spices from ship to shore for pittance.  These coolies were indeed the backbone of our society. They built up Singapore. Without them, we could not have developed as fast and as furious as we did.  The sculpture reminded me of how fast Singapore has developed and how grateful I am!

The sculpture to its left, From Chettiars to Financiers, is also a depiction of life along the banks of the river in the 19th century.  This sculpture shows the dramatic change of Singapore’s finance industry.  From simple Indian Chettiars who were most commonly moneylenders with the pig-tailed clerk to a female financier.  How times have changed.

From Chettiars to Financiers by Chern Lian Shan

From Chettiars to Financiers by Chern Lian Shan

The Indian Chettiars originated from Chettinad in Tamil Nadu.  Interestingly, the term “Chettiar” is actually a caste label, not another name for moneylender.  These moneylenders were private financiers who lent money to entrepreneurs and businessman.

I spent quite a while admiring these two sculptures. Indeed, life has changed for us here in Singapore. We have evolved from a small trading port to one of the most stable and secure economies in the world.  As we reap what our forefathers have sowed, we should never forget where we came from.  These bronze sculptures along the Singapore River serve as fitting reminders of our past.

Capella Singapore’s Personal Assistants will be able to share more information about Clarke Quay and Boat Quay and recommend restaurants and bars along the river. If you would like to organise a private tour or book a restaurant, please contact our Personal Assistants at +65 6591 5035 / pa.singapore@capellahotels.com.

 

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