"City Hall : If Walls Could Talk" – An Immersive Lesson in Singapore’s History!

By Puja Chandra Nanda

In conjunction with the Singapore Bicentennial Celebrations, the National Gallery, Singapore is holding an exhibition – City Hall: If Walls Could Talk, within the precincts of the City Hall Chambers from the 1st of September, 2019.

A first of its kind multimedia exhibition, City-Hall: If Walls Could Talk, traces the journey of the old City Hall from its completion in 1929 as the Municipal Office to its present status as a center for art and culture.

City Hall – A Building Seeped in History

The City Hall Chambers or the erstwhile City Hall has witnessed many historical moments unfolding in Singapore, such as the Japanese occupation of Singapore in 1942 and the surrender of its forces in 1945. It is also a standing testimony to the onset and end of the British colonization.

The grand City Hall Chambers have witnessed the swearing in of Singapore’s first Cabinet of Ministers under the Founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in the year 1959. The same year in December, Yusof bin Ishak was sworn in as Singapore’s first Head of State. The national flag and the national anthem were also unveiled in the very precincts. On 9th August, 1966, City Hall proudly oversaw Singapore’s first National Day parade.

Singapore’s First National Day Parade – a historical event witnessed from the City Hall facade

The present day National Gallery Singapore was opened in 2015 as a center for art and culture. It has two distinct wings – the City Hall Chambers (housing the old City Hall) and the Supreme Court chambers (housing the old Supreme Court).

The Exhibition- an Immersive Lesson in History:

City Hall: If Walls Could Talk is the first long-term exhibition in the City Hall Chambers that aims to walk visitors down the lanes of Singapore’s history and heritage. It also attempts to bridge the gap between several art masterpieces that don the DBS Singapore Galleries here and the historical events that they represent; lending a backdrop & context so visitors can appreciate both better.

The exhibition comprises of 3 distinct parts – a. a multimedia projection chronicling 90 years of City Hall, b. an interactive digital social wall to connect art and history and c. Memories of City Hall that brings alive real stories of those who worked in these very premises.

The Multimedia exhibition begins with visitors being invited to click their own photos, at one of the many photo kiosks located at the entrance to the City Hall Chamber.  

Inside the City Hall chamber, the digital exhibit chronicles the defining moments of Singapore’s history as seen through the eyes of “Encik Awang” – a character inspired by a real-life caretaker. It traces key events such as the naming of City Hall thus in 1951 under the British rule, the swearing in ceremony of the cabinet and more. Visitors are held in awe as the building transforms itself from a Municipal Office, housing the Municipal Commissioners to a bomb shelter under the Japanese occupation to an important building housing the Prime Minister’s Office to its present form as part of the National Gallery.

Through digital projections of past photographs, visitors can learn of now-forgotten occupations such as that of lamplighters who climbed up lamp posts every day to manually light up the streets with gas lamps.

The Social Wall located at the Singapore Courtyard at level 3 of the City Hall building is a multi-touch, interactive wall made up of twelve 55-inch panels that visitors can play with to bring forth historical events of Singapore and forge a connection with selected artworks that are displayed at the DBS Singapore Gallery.

Visitors can choose from seven curated themes namely: Portraits of Lives, Architecture and Stories, Conflicts and Concerns, War and Adversity, Places and Inspirations, Changing Landscapes and a customized option, Surprise Me!

The Digital Map that allows visitors to look for the artwork as per their choice on the Social Wall

The Social Wall also provides a digital map for visitors to download onto their mobile device, using a QR code. They can then locate the thematic artworks on display at Level 2 of the Gallery.

One of the significant artworks in the DBS Gallery that the Social Wall leads visitors to explore and appreciate for its historical connect.

Memories of City Hall, Visual Display The exhibition culminates with Memories of City Hall, comprising of personal stories of people who had walked and worked within the walls of City Hall in the past. Their stories lend a humane touch to the exhibition and are a window to life in early days of Independence.  Visitors would be enthralled by the stories of former staffers in the Prime Minister’s Office and ministers who helped shape independent Singapore.

Archival pictures of ministers and staffers who worked at City Hall form the Memories of City Hall, such as the above picture of Ministry of Culture Staff members clicked in Berlin.

Memories of City Hall will be displayed at the Singapore Courtyard at level 2 of the City Hall building until 29 December 2019.

“City Hall : If Walls Could Talk”- An Experience for the Whole Family!

History can be a tough subject, even for adults. However, this exhibition with its immersive experience and digital storytelling is an excellent way of introducing our children to the pivotal events of Singapore that shaped the city-state and rendered historical significance to City Hall.

Families will be able to engage children through the fun photo booths at the entrance and later through touch screens during the exhibition and the interactive social wall. Children can also navigate the DBS Singapore galleries to locate the artworks with help from the digital map on the Social Wall.

Catch the exhibition, City Hall- If Walls Could Talk at the City Hall Chamber, National Gallery Singapore from on 1st September, 2019 to 29th August, 2021 every day from 10 am to 7 pm.

For more information visit: https://www.nationalgallery.sg/