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6 September 2021 – OH! Open House “Refuge for Strangers”

How do you organise an art tour that goes into people’s homes, in the middle of a socially- distanced pandemic ?
Well, if you’re OH! Open House, you don’t. Even if that’s what your audiences know you best for. Over the weekend, we attended OH!’s latest offering “Refuge for Strangers” — an approx. 2hr walk around the neighbourhood of Jalan Besar. The tour introduces guests to the area’s resident communities, through artworks placed in different buildings.
Let’s cut to the chase- what did we love? The boundless enthusiasm of our guide who had to spend long amounts of time talking to us through an audio device. Alan Oei’s stunning stop motion artwork in a tradesman’s workshop with brushstrokes that looked like wood come to life. The distinct sociopolitical slant of the tour – highlighting important and controversial issues associated with migrant worker rights, race and economic marginalisation. The high proportion of first- timers in our tour group who were out there, exploring Singapore and art. The amazing architecture in the neighbourhood.
What did we think could have been improved ? Well, it’s a tough one because one can only imagine the difficulties associated with planning an art walk during a pandemic. We missed seeing specially – commissioned art works that responded to specific spaces. A segment at the end which saw us standing in ‘Bangla Square’ to watch migrant workers congregate and relax (while being told about the space) felt a little uncomfortably close to slum tourism. Perhaps the tour commentary could have been done more discreetly, away from the space ? Finally, the heat. If you go, try to book a slot in the evening as the tour requires you to walk a good deal, with minimal shelter from the blazing sun (or rain).
In all, this was a really interesting pivot by OH!, offering additional entry points to its new permanent space and art experience New World’s End. Definitely worth a visit, with lots of topics for conversation after, if you want to hang out in one of the area’s many excellent eateries.