Telok Ayer Street is a street located in the central business district of Singapore.
The Story of Telok Ayer Street
In Malay, telok means bay, ayer means water. Telok Ayer Street, ie "bay water" street, was so named because it was facing the sea, which was then known as Telok Ayer Bay.
Located at the foot of Mount Wallich, it was the main landing point for early immigrants to Singapore.
Many of these travellers were grateful for having survived the perilous sea journey from their homeland to reach Singapore safely, so they built places of worship along the street to give thanks to their gods.
The Hokkien Chinese built Thian Hock Keng Temple for the MaZu Goddess while the Hakkas and Cantonese Chinese built Fuk Tak Chi Temple for the earth god Tua Peh Kong. The Indian Muslims built Al-Abrar Mosque and Nagore Durgha Shrine.
In 1822, when Singapore was still a British Colony, Sir Stamford Raffles designated Telok Ayer Street as a Chinese district for the Chinese community.
It became the main settlement area for the Chinese immigrants, which slowly extended to nearby Amoy Street, Market Street, Smith Street, Temple Street, when the number of Chinese immigrants increased.
In 1887, Telok Ayer Bay was reclaimed, which created Cecil Street and Robinson Road. In 1930s, more reclamation works took place and Shenton Way was created. And soon Telok Ayer Street was no longer facing the sea.
It slowly transformed itself from the main commercial and residential street for the Chinese immigrant community into part of Singapore's Central Business District, with high rise office buildings towering over it.
It was gazetted for conservation and the old pre-war two and three story shophouses were preserved and still remain today.
The Story of the Painting
In this oil painting by established Singapore artist Low Hai Hong, the Telok Ayer Street of 2013 feels modern and light.
The shophouses remind us of its history and remains the key focus of the street and this painting.
The high rise buildings in the background are simply represented by vertical shades of blue, hoping to be hidden but definitely still discernible.
Older artists like Low Hai Hong, who have witnessed Singapore's rapid developments through their paintings over the years, are often in a dilemma when painting such scenes - old short traditional buildings now towered by new high rise modern buildings in the background.
What should you do with these tall buildings? Pretend they don't exist? Hide them with clouds? Present them as they are?
We can preserve history, but we cannot stop progress.
What do you feel?
Title: Telok Ayer Street (2013)
Artist: Low Hai Hong
Medium: Oil on Chinese Rice Paper
Dimensions: 60cm x 70cm
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Learn more about the painting.
This painting has been exhibited in public only once, in:
"A Tale of Two Rivers - a solo art exhibition by Low Hai Hong" was held at The Fullerton Heritage Gallery, The Fullerton Hotel Singapore from 30 May to 30 July 2014.
The exhibition showcased Low Hai Hong's 18 oil on Chinese rice paper paintings that captured the historic icons along the two rivers that he painted most in his artistic journey, the Singapore River in Singapore and the River Seine in Paris, France.
In an interview with the Business Times for the exhibition, he shared how he paints oil on Chinese rice paper:
"But with oils on rice paper, I don't sketch. I paint free hand to get that feel I'm looking for. My paintings on paper are still very much impressionistic."
In this "A Tale of Two Rivers" art exhibition, while the Singapore River has Telok Ayer Street, the River Seine in Paris has Rue d Arcole.
Art is my cure to all this madness, sadness and loss of belonging in the world and through it I'll walk myself home - Nikki Rowe