The Value of History

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

For the past two weekends, I've had the privilege to immerse myself in arts and literature in the Bras Basah area during the Singapore Writers' Festival 2014, which ran from 31 October to 9 November. 

This year's my second time at the festival, and like last year, it has provided me with insight and left me with thoughts that'll leave me thinking for quite some time. I'll cover the festival itself in another post though. In my opinion, one of the best things about the festival is really the strategic location which gives it an ambiance unlike any other, with major venue partners being the Singapore Management University, Singapore Art Museum and the National Museum of Singapore. They are all within walking distance from each other and it's lovely to be able to visit the various exhibitions there in between the enriching panels, just for a breather. 

Two Sundays ago (2 November 2014), after an insightful panel called "How to run a country: Can Singapore provide a model?" (which ranks in my top two favourite panels of the entire festival) about whether Singapore can provide a modernization model for other countries, which brought about sub-topics like the history and geography of Singapore, Shermaine and myself found ourselves exploring the National Museum of Singapore. 

They were running an exhibition called "Singapura: 700 Years", and my first reaction was really "whoa, for once emphasis isn't on the half a century celebrations next year" and I suppose a lot of us fail to realize that the history of Singapore goes back for a long, long time. On a recent conversation I had with my history teacher though, I learnt that apparently a lot of the legends, or "history" as they call it, that came pre Sir Stamford Raffles, are in fact factually inaccurate and made up because it sounded good to go with the rest of history. That, to me was shocking because in my opinion history should be as accurate as it can be because aren't we supposed to be learning from it, and what's the point of history if it's fiction? If that's the case - what else was fake? 

Shermaine and I were both a little bit confused with all these notions as we were viewing the exhibitions showing Singapore's history, the side of it which we were familar with, the side which we were taught by mainstream history textbooks in secondary school. Recently, in the span of this academic year, I was made aware (well not exactly - I've always knew, but just never really paid attention to it) of censorship's huge, and slightly horrific role in our society, even writing about it in my General Paper promotional examinations. 

Going back to the point, it does feel like Singaporeans are generally made to believe one side of the story but as history goes, there are many facets to it while it should, in my book, be multi-dimensional. Then again, being the rare, hopelessly pro-government young person that I am, I'd like to think that we were made to learn about this side of history for a reason larger than ourselves. Perhaps it bodes well with the way we are being brought up - perhaps knowing this side of things will make us more patriotic, to feel more for this country, well I don't know. 

History is definitely powerful and extremely valuable though, and perhaps that's exactly why people enjoy warping it. It can easily manipulate others, though trying to change history's narrative is an uphill task on its own.  

Everyone has their own history - a person's past, it shapes who they are as people and there are always certain events there are deemed as milestone moments in one's life. Good or bad, these are the things that won't be easily forgotten and similar to a country's history, it's insanely difficult to change the things we remember and it's such a powerful tool - it can easily change our emotions and how we feel towards certain things or people. We can, however, take control of how we choose to remember these things though, and decided to see only the brighter side of everything, not before learning from the terrible ones. And that's what I'll choose to do from now onwards, there's no point constantly being nostalgic about what could have been's, about things that have passed, about people who have left our lives. History is valuable, and it teachers us things and develops us but we are living in the present and the future is what matters. 

And with that, I would just like to bring to everyone's attention the amount of detail and effort they put in into the things on display at the Singapura: 700 Years exhibition. (Fun fact: did you know that "Singapura" is not actually Malay?) The photo above features really miniature figurines and my camera really zoomed in to make them appear lifelike and it's so evident that they were made painstakingly, with such intricate facial features. 

A lot of thought was also put into not just the exhibits, but the surroundings. Shermaine and myself didn't even realize that the place resembled an actual HDB void deck till we looked at the photos again. Personally for me, the hopscotch brought back a lot of memories of times I spent in my first primary school and it was quite amazing how a simple visit to a museum to view the history of Singapore can lead me back to my own history - isn't it crazy how some things work? 

Not forgetting, I had great company. Shermaine is really a person who inspires me to no end and she's the one who introduced and got me hooked onto the idea of visiting museums and art exhibitions and so many other enriching things.

To anyone who might be reading this, do consider heading on over to the National Museum of Singapore to visit this exhibition and while you're at it, go over to the nearby Singapore Art Museum as well, and enter the chapel and watch the short film screening there - it made me feel things I don't normally feel, including one of discomfort in a strange, undescribable way. Perhaps that's what good films are supposed to make you feel. 

And this was a piece of chocolate cake we got from the makeshift cafĂ© set up by Cafe Ergo Sum at the Festival Pavilion of Singapore Writers' Festival - not the best, it could do with a more generous serving of frosting (look at that thin layer) but it was a good pick-me-up nonetheless. 

No comments

Post a Comment