Singapore pays tribute to nation's historic figures as part of bicentennial commemoration

The four statues will be on display alongside the Raffles statue until January 8.

To mark Singapore’s bicentennial year in 2019, the Singapore Bicentennial Office (SBO) has created four new statues of Sang Nila Utama, Tan Tock Seng, Munshi Abdullah, and Naraina Pillai to stand alongside Sir Stamford Raffles statue at the Raffles Landing Site along the Singapore River.

In the lead up to the unveiling of the new statues, SBO created an optical illusion of the Raffles statue to engage Singaporeans in an open dialogue on the arrival of the British in 1819, and the contributions of those who came before and after.

The effect was created in partnership with local artist Teng Kai Wei, who specialises in public sculptures and is best known for his interactive light art installation, Leap of Faith, at the 2018 Singapore Night Festival.

SBO hopes that four new statues will help Singaporeans discover the nation's cast of contributors and milestones from as far back as 1299.

Sang Nila Utama was chosen because he claimed to have seen a vision of a lion, which led to the establishment of the Singapura Kingdom in 1299, while Munshi was a gifted linguist who first set foot in Singapore in 1819 as secretary and interpreter to Raffles. He also worked as a teacher and writer and is known for his early literary contributions to the Malay community.

Like Munshi, Naraina also set foot in Singapore in 1819, becoming the island’s first Indian building contractor and was involved in the construction of the Sri Mariamman Temple in 1827, while Tan, who also arrived in the same year, became a well-known philanthropist and is best known for being the main donor to Tan Tock Seng Hospital. He was the first Asian to serve as Justice of Peace.

“While most might associate the Singapore Bicentennial with only the British and 1819, the appearance of the four additional statues clearly articulates the approach we are taking for this year-long effort. 1819 is an important point in our history, but before and after the British also came many people and communities,” said Gene Tan, executive director of the Singapore Bicentennial Office.”

“Even the four statues represent only a fraction of the huge cast of characters who contributed to the evolution of Singapore in our long history of 700 years. Through the various events planned throughout 2019, we hope that Singaporeans will be able to broaden their understanding of how different communities, including their own, had a part to play in Singapore’s history.”

The four statues will be on display alongside the Raffles statue until January 8, after which they will be shifted to different locations along the Singapore River promenade for the rest of 2019.

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