Proclamation Garden: An Artist’s Take On The Reclaimed Lands of Singapore

Vanessa Tan

Recently, conversations surrounding Singapore’s land reclamation project have grown louder and louder.

Just two years ago, environmental concerns pushed the Cambodian government to implement a permanent sand export ban. Even for Singapore, land reclamation has led to the country losing over 90 percent of its mangrove swamps and a destruction of its coral reefs.

But beyond the debacles and debates, artists and scientists alike have taken to the subject by exploring the effects reclaimed lands have had on our island. One standout is artist Charles Lim Yi Yong, whose installation, Proclamation Garden, recently opened at the National Gallery Singapore. 

Lim’s installation has transformed National Gallery’s Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden Gallery into a microcosm of thriving plant ecosystems from the reclaimed lands; it showcases 30 rare plant species from the abundant range of biodiversity sprouting across the new coasts of Singapore.

Lim explains that the installation was a way of “sharing his inquiry into the multi-layered reclamation history in unconventional ways, where the plants’ transplantation and adaptation to thrive in the roof garden reflect Singapore’s urban and coastal development”.

The title of the exhibit itself references the act of proclamation made by the presidents of Singapore over the past five decades, in which reclaimed sites are officially declared as state lands. Yet, the title also seems to reflect nature’s proclamation of narratives, histories, and sciences that do not just belong to Singapore but other cultures and nations.

The work brings to mind filmmaker Kalyanee Mam‘s 2018 documentary Lost World, which gained global attention for exploring the impact of the massive Cambodia-Singapore sand businesses.

The 15-minute film contends that Singapore has imported over 80 million tons of sand from Cambodia since 2007, affecting Cambodia’s natural ecosystems and people’s livelihoods. In the film, a woman laments the over-mining of rural Cambodia as fishermen-villagers face the gradual loss of their homes.

The irony forces us to an important question: in the midst of Singapore’s own journey of becoming a thriving garden city, hasn’t there been an equal measure of dire environmental consequences?

Proclamation Garden might not be blaring a loud message in the rising cacophony of environmental distresses, but it instead opens up an objective and meditative space within the busy city district.

Here, visitors, art enthusiasts and botanists can appreciate the ever-expanding botanical diversity of our island we often overlook, and ponder the value nature still holds in this air-conditioned nation.

Proclamation Garden will run until Oct 27, 2019 at the National Gallery Singapore (Level 5, City Hall Wing).

Admission to the Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden Gallery is free. For more information, please visit the exhibition’s official website.

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Photos: National Gallery and Go Project Films

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