representations of ethnicity and the curation of the verancular city

Representations of Ethnicity and the Curation of the Vernacular City as Heritage in Singapore

By Imran Tajudeen



How has Singapore's historical urban landscape been set up to play the role of signifiers and stage sets for the performance of our cultural identities, as defined by both state and community actors? In this talk I focus on heritage as a verb - sometimes rendered in the literature as "heritageisation" - through which it may be read as an arena of social (re)production, manifested through the curation of the urban artefact, from the packaging of whole neighbourhoods to its streetscapes to individual buildings. Through a look at the hidden, typological and social history dimension of individual shophouses/dwellings and the shared toponymic framework for old neighourhoods in Singapore Town that existed beneath official labels, this talk explores the collective bases by which we built the city in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the multi-ethnic and cross-cultural interactions therein that is rendered invisible and is overwritten by our current framings of the historical urban landscape. I review the heritage discourses and interventions for the shophouse, compound house, and old urban quarters (kampung) through specific cases, the outcomes of the counter-narratives that have emerged, and whether it matters for cultural identities to be specifically "promoted" and if organic community-led, everyday continuities in urban communities could suffice.

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