Edit: An earlier version of this article incorrectly mentioned that Chip Bee Gardens was a gated community. This article has been updated to reflect the correction.
Holland Village is known for many things in the present day, such as its watering holes and hipster hangouts.
Mention Holland Village and these things also come to mind:
Holland V’s resident Sarong Party Girl:
And “Samantha” who (in)famously demanded on national radio in 2011 that “uncultured” heartlanders from Ang Mo Kio, Yishun, and Bukit Batok stay away from Holland Village – the Mecca of cultured-ness.
Its reputation as an atas (high-class) bohemian enclave can be traced back to its use as a housing estate for British military personnel. Chip Bee Gardens (previously Chip Bee Estate) was a community of terraced houses for British personnel and their families and the resultant services that sprung up were centred on this group of people.
You might not know this, but way before it became a white man’s town, Holland Village was home to a Hakka cemetery. In 1887, the Ying Fo Hui Kun clan bought over land near Buona Vista which contained two hills. They named the area Shuang Long Shan (Double Dragon Hill). One of the hills was used as a cemetery.
Here is a 1958 video of the old Hakka cemetery, shot during Qing Ming (tomb-sweeping festival), taken from the OH! Open House Facebook page:
Today, the cemetery has been exhumed and moved to a plot of land called Holland Close Graveyard, which is between Commonwealth Avenue and Holland Close. The bodies from the original cemetery were cremated, and are now buried in urns under the neatly and uniformly lined headstones of the new cemetery.
This is what the new cemetery looks like.
In its seventh edition, OH! Open House (remember that art tour that brings you into people’s houses?) will take these histories and sentiments about Holland Village and present them in an art walk in March.
As with previous iterations of the OH! Open House art walks, this year’s programme brings participants into a mix of Holland Village terrace houses and HDB flats to view a total of 18 works by Singapore and Singapore-based artists.
Three different tours
This year, the art walk is divided into three separate tours, each representing three different themes. The theme underlying the Chip Bee Gardens tour is Borders – a look into how the lines of the Holland Village enclave are drawn resulting in a pervasive stereotype of exclusivity.
The HDB tour is informed by the theme Goods – a throwback to the unique goods and services that have come to define the lives of Holland Villagers.
Lastly, the Hakka Cemetery tour covers the final theme of Rituals. This touches on order, loss and remembrance. The key anchor that ties this tour together is the old Hakka Cemetery, which participants will have a chance to walk through.
Participants can choose to go on one or all of the three tours, all for the price of one ticket.
Here is a sneak peek at the art that you’ll encounter at the OH! Holland Village art walk:
‘Creep in Three Movements’ by Yen Phang
Phang’s piece comprises toilet paper stained with ink and stacked together to form an organic disruption in the house setting. At first glance, it’s hard to notice Creep as its colour blends in with the colour palette of the home – speaking of how new developments in the Holland Village area are slowly invading and permanently changing the space bit by bit.
Phang says that his work is intended to make you realise that something so fresh and welcomed slowly takes over your space and becomes something that irks you. It reminds us of the developments that have crept into Holland Village, making it a bizarre mix of old and new.
‘Echo’ by Joel Chin
Echo is a piece that might resonate with young Singaporeans. As an artist with Hakka roots, Chin illustrates his attempts to learn Hakka by stripping traditional Chinese porcelain ware of their motifs. These ‘naked’ vessels also contain speakers, which play Chin’s pronunciation of Hakka words.
Is a Chinese vase still Chinese when it is stripped of its Chinese motifs? Similarly, participants who view Echo might question if they can still lay claim to a heritage if they lose its key identifier – language.
On a larger scale, these stripped vessels also bring to mind Holland Village which has been stripped of its Hakka roots, leaving only a tiny cemetery plot as a reminder.
‘不要问我从哪里来 (Don’t ask me where I come from)’ by Ivan David Ng
The Hakkas were a migratory people without a specific land to call their own. Ng’s work puts this aspect of the Hakkas in the spotlight. Don’t ask me where I come from consists of sculptures made of stone, clay, concrete, and paper scattered across a field in the old Hakka cemetery, reminding the viewer of how the Hakkas called many places ‘home’.
The OH! Open House Holland Village art walks will be conducted on the first three weekends of March.
The art walk is divided into three different 45-minute tours – Borders, Goods, and Rituals. Participants can choose to attend any one or even all three for the price of one ticket. Tickets are priced at $25 each.
To purchase the passes or learn more about the OH! Open House art walk, you can visit OH! official website.
More on OH! Open House art walks:
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Top image from OH! Open House Facebook.