Those of you familiar with Lau Pa Sat might recognise it for its plethora of hawker stalls offering an endless variety of culinary delights. Its iconic high-ceilinged octagonal structure is made even more prominent by its recent renovation.
More importantly perhaps, the historical building is synonymous with Singapore’s hawker culture, which has been recognised as an item on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list.
From January 7th onwards, keep your eyes peeled as the hawker centre will feature 8 new artworks by artists Veronyka Lau, Aaron Chan, Alison Kuo, Cynthia Delaney Suwito, Ezzam Rahman, Liana Yang, Oh Yam Chew and Yen Phang, in the show Hawker! Hawker!.
Located in the heart of Singapore’s commercial district, the show is about hawker culture. The unfeeling facade of the Central Business District (CBD) provides an interesting counterpoint to this theme, as the show reminds us of the things that we hold dear about our country’s hawker centres. They embody a living heritage that is present in our everyday lives — from warm greetings over exchanges of money, to frivolous banter over kopi and toast.
As artist Yen Phang reminded us, Lau Pa Sat is at its very core, a shared space where people from all walks of life meet, opening up dialogues on both human relationships and food, creating an ecosystem of human exchanges and rituals. Phang’s work The Skin of Your Floor unpacks these ideas. His art work is a ‘camouflage suit’ made up of cleaning materials, compelling viewers to confront things that we don’t normally notice, ranging from dirty footprints to microscopic dirt and skin cells.
The sculptural works in this show also call out for attention.
Standing at 2 metres tall, Cynthia Suwito’s installation, Pegs, is composed of a fabricated wooden clip standing stoically in the middle of a busy cross-section in the hawker centre:
Suwito explains that the project takes its cue from the humble clothespin, an object that has become a common utensil in hawker kitchens to facilitate orders. With numbers or symbols often written at the tip of each wooden pin, these objects speak in a code which narrates the specific orders unique to each patron. In interpreting these codes, hawkers become instantly aware of things like the types of food which have been ordered, the size of bowls and plates, and the number of condiments to add to the dish.
Veronyka Lau’s fluttery installation In Perpetual Motion is an homage to “accomplished hawker hands in perpetual motion.” It’s a beautiful tribute to the manual labour expended by hawkers through their “hands (which) move with the depth of experience, cultivated flair and an innate sense of their own rhythm and timing, through a thousand often invisible acts of repetition, to recreate deeply rooted textures and flavours.”
These are just a few of the works presently on display at Lau Pa Sat. Come take a look for yourself, and you might notice a similar theme of transformation in each of these artists’ works — transformation in the physical space we occupy, as well as in the fleeting memories and exchanges we have with our community. The show invites us to consider what our hawker culture truly is, and to imagine for ourselves what Singapore’s hawker culture of the future might look like.
The show runs from 7th to 28th January, with a number of workshops and talks that you can register for here.