Keeping the memories of Bukit Brown cemetery alive

A collective of seven photographers have come together to showcase the rich cultural history of  Bukit Brown cemetery before it undergoes redevelopment.

Their upcoming photo exhibition aims to highlight the three themes of nature, heritage and spiritualism associated with the place which is the burial place of many pioneering heroes of Singapore.

The cemetery made headlines last September after authorities said they will be constructing an expressway across it. The news also galvanised the online community to protest the decision and fuelled debate about preserving the country’s heritage and history. Around 3,700 graves out of the estimated total 100,000 graves are expected to be affected.

inSing News spoke with 34-year-old photographer Shawn Danker who organised the upcoming photo exhibition titled “Bukit Brown: Spaces for The Living”. It will take place The Arts House from 1-7 October. For more information on the exhibition, click here.

(inSing News) Why did you decide to organise this exhibition?

(Shawn Danker) I decided to put this show together because I want to engage and educate Singaporeans about what I consider as one of Singapore’s greatest treasures. Bukit Brown offers Singaporeans who are looking for a way to connect with their roots, the means to do so.

It's a very awe inspiring experience to stand at a pioneer's tomb, say Ong Sam Leong (Sam Leong road is named after him) and suddenly realise that he was a real person who lived a very real life.

The key goal behind this exhibit is to create vivid memories and a deeper understanding of a place that will soon disappear because of urban redevelopment.

(inSing News) What did you get out of the experience?

(Shawn Danker) It was humbling to say the least. Over 100 years of raw history in one location and the epic giant rain trees that make us look insignificant. Working on this project has given me a much deeper appreciation of our history and Singapore's place in the world.

(inSing News): You mentioned that Bukit Brown, like many places, has been taken for granted by people. Why do you think that’s the case?

(Shawn Danker) This is something I ask myself a lot. Personally I think it could stem from the fact that we've become a society that's too preoccupied with living in the present and building for the future.

We tend to forget that our past makes us who we are today and gives us direction towards our future. Perhaps that may explain, the rampant feeling of disconnection people seem to have these days with our home.

(inSing News) Can you tell us more about the ‘spiritual’ aspects of the photo exhibition?

(Shawn Danker) It's a theme that allows the work to present people with a look at how the living connect with the dead. We showcase rituals that were conducted on the grounds during Qing Ming and the Hungry Ghost month, for example. By showing how people honour the dead we are actually educating the audience on how the living go about using the Bukit Brown space. Hence the title: “Bukit Brown Spaces for the Living”.

(inSing News) What's next for you and your collective of photographers?

(Shawn Danker) This isn't a one-time gathering on our part. We're looking to do something related to dance. So we are actually on the lookout for dancers to collaborate with. For myself I will be working on continuing my documentation work on the Recovery of the Tsunami stricken region of Japan and bringing that work to American and Japanese audiences.

Check out a sample of the photos here.

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