Serving As Silent Storytellers Of A Bygone Era

Ketna Patel’s mixed media art pieces tell nostalgic stories in Ascott Raffles Place Singapore, a historic building that dates back to the 1950s.

Issue: Apr 2016

Part of an artwork titled ‘Singapore Memoir’ by Ketna Patel, composed of images of film stars, cars, cosmetic items, soft drink labels and more – all belonging to a bygone era.
Part of an artwork titled ‘Singapore Memoir’ by Ketna Patel, composed of images of film stars, cars, cosmetic items, soft drink labels and more – all belonging to a bygone era.

Complementing the impeccable service at Ascott Raffles Place Singapore are distinctive artworks displayed in the public areas and the individual apartments. Some of the artworks act as markers to the history of the property, which was once the tallest office building in Singapore, while others are mostly about Singapore, past and present.

Serving to evoke memories

Two mixed media art pieces by British Indian artist Ketna Patel, titled Old Doors – Jalan Singapura and Singapore Memoir are displayed respectively at the second storey lift lobby and the residents’ lounge known as The Living Room. They are silent storytellers if you like, telling intriguing tales of a bygone era. Each one is a collage of colourful images – photographs taken by the artist, as well as her collection of cutouts from old magazines, posters, labels, newspapers, calendars and photos – all carefully selected by the artist with the intention of connecting one image to another to evoke the collective and individual memories of the viewers, then arranged on a gridded timber panel and glossed over with lacquer.

One might have thought that artworks with such a strong local flavour would be the creation of someone born and bred in the country, but Ketna Patel, of Indian descent, is Ugandan by birth, and a British subject by citizenship. Another surprise is that she studied architecture, but went on to pursue art instead. This award-winning artist has also lived in three different continents: Africa, Asia, and Europe. When we acquired the artworks for Ascott Raffles Place Singapore from her in 2008, she had already lived in Singapore for 15 years and had become a permanent resident of the country. In addition, she had gained a fine reputation for her “Asia-Pop” artworks which cut across multiple genres and media platforms.

‘Old Doors - Jalan Singapura’ by Ketna Patel showcases the key features of pre-war shophouses in Singapore
‘Old Doors - Jalan Singapura’ by Ketna Patel showcases the key features of pre-war shophouses in Singapore

Old Doors - Jalan Singapura features images of many doors and windows of old shophouses in Singapore, including the pintu pagar – half wooden doors that allow the breeze in while maintaining privacy – as well as road signs and ornate floor tiles. Intrigued by the title of this artwork, I asked Patel if she saw Singapore as a long road that one can continuously explore – since ‘Jalan’ is the Malay word for ‘walk’ – and she replied in the affirmative. In fact, she sees Singapore’s history embedded in the brick-and-mortar of our buildings, the tastes and flavours of our local food, the stories grandparents tell the younger generations, and even the lessons conducted in schools. “The journey of discovery is infinite. My job as a storyteller is to deconstruct these stories and re-present them with paint, texture, and composition.”

Serving to unlock feelings

‘Singapore Memoir’ evokes memories of the 1960s
‘Singapore Memoir’ evokes memories of the 1960s

Singapore Memoir communicated with me in a special way. Upon close scrutiny of this artwork, I spotted many images that filled me with a sense of nostalgia. Like the film stars who once reigned supreme, soft drinks in “old fashioned” glass bottles, telephones with old-school dials, the cars that we squeezed into as children packed like sardines for family outings, with the number 60 in bold brush strokes tying the different images together. I immediately associate this number with the swinging sixties, my growing up years, and the decade that followed the birth of the Asia Insurance Building, which was lovingly restored and converted to Ascott Raffles Place Singapore in 2008. Suddenly I am in love with this piece of work.

“We all have emotional connections to our experiences, even if we are not conscious of them. Art, music, poetry and other creative expressions can help unlock these subconscious feelings and instill a sense of belonging to places,” Ketna explains. And her keen observation of things around her has led her to document all sorts of seemingly innocuous details, “as they are all important ingredients of what eventually becomes a very tasty soup!”

I am sure many of us won’t mind more servings of this very tasty soup.

‘Old Doors - Jalan Singapura’ by Ketna Patel is the focal point of The Living Room at Ascott Raffles Place Singapore
‘Old Doors - Jalan Singapura’ by Ketna Patel is the focal point of The Living Room at Ascott Raffles Place Singapore

This article is contributed by CapitaLand's Chief of Art Management, Francis Wong Hooe Wai

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