OH! Open House Joo Chiat: It Will Surprise You.

The OH! Open House Joo Chiat Art Tour is truly one of a kind in Singapore, and perhaps even around the world (at least I haven’t encountered similar tours yet). The tour is interactive, extremely satisfying for voyeurs, and best of all, leaves you more fascinated, intrigued and curious about Joo Chiat after the tour than before it.

The story of Joo Chiat is one of multiple attempts to define and redefine it; and accordingly, multiple failed contests for ownership. Somehow, the neighbourhood has resisted multiple calls to order: it has always been a stubborn, messy, diverse, and shape-shifting place. And in Singapore, where boundaries are often arbitrary but clear-cut and authoritative, Joo Chiat’s vague identify and shifting meanings are a real achievement.

The walkabout took us to 7 different locations, each characteristic of Joo Chiat in its own unique way, and in retrospect, presented a tapestry of the complex demographic that makes this neighbourhood so special. Each location has been touched by the works of designated artists, who aim to further challenge our notions of what Joo Chiat symbolises, and showcase the personal narratives of its inhabitants. That was my favourite part, really, as there was evidence throughout of how this neighbourhood means something different for everyone who has had the privilege of living in it –  how often is it on walking tours that you actually get to hear the voices of the community?

This series of photos should give you an inkling of what you can expect to see on the tour.

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Next to No Man’s Land, you will find a collection of letters to Joo Chiat. This is just a teaser of the complexity of emotions that people have towards this enclave.


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What? Not a boat in my backyard?! Go early to check out SS Nimby as it contains a fascinating collection of personal artefacts and narratives that you can literally trace across the installation.


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Voices of Joo Chiat


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In Mr and Mrs Tan’s traditional Peranakan shophouse, and the artist Guo Yi Xiu’s juxtaposition of authenticity with contrived artificiality.


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What many consider to be the icon of Joo Chiat – Mr and Mrs Tan’s shophouse. I love how we were deliberately allowed to experience this house from its back door to the front so as to consider how once upon a time, it was considered ordinary.


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You can leave your mark on the Penghulu, which is Hafiz Osman’s interpretation of the chief that Joo Chiat never had.


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Polaroids of the people of Joo Chiat in Andrzej and Evie’s Sandalwood Condominium, one of the terraces with conserved facades that I’ve always loved peering into. It did not disappoint.


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I’ve to admit that I laughed at this because it’s exactly like those orientation flags that we made in school that ended up being thrown away somewhere … but this is literally a tapestry of the Joo Chiat identity. I hope it gets a good home.


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The Golden Sultan of Pahang (that was rejected because it was considered sacrilegious) now overlooks this row of terraces.


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This was my favourite house and definitely the most astounding. The artist, Alecia Neo, did a good job in manipulating light and shadows to allow us to feel like we were part of some metaphysical nature. But her real investigation was into how religious rituals are very much a facet of life in this community.


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And surprise! I would never have expected that one of the stops would be the Fragrance Hotel (that is apparently trying to be de-sleazified as it’s now rebranded as a budget hotel). I’m not going to reveal much though – it’s the kind of art that can only be justified through actual experience.


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Definitely the most thought-provoking of the lot, the tour ends at Wei Chun’s apartment, a walk-up that is right in the heart of Joo Chiat Road, surrounded by its sleaze and grittiness. You’re looking at photos of Shauna, the alter-ego of the artist Sean Lee, who went through the ritual of cross-dressing as a ladyboy in Siem Reap for 3 years, almost losing himself in the process.


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The final and perhaps most important question: what exactly are we saving Joo Chiat from – its sleazy past, or its gentrified future?

On a side note, we were also really glad that we chose the evening tour option (and would strongly recommend it) as it not only allowed us to enjoy the cool evening breeze, but towards the end, to sensually experience the changing vibe of the neighbourhood.

The OH! Open House Joo Chiat Art Tour will allow you the opportunity to trespass (legally) into spaces you wouldn’t have imagined existed in Singapore (or that you would normally have the chance to see). It will, at some point, challenge you to contemplate how this narrative fits in with that of Singapore’s sterile stereotype. But most importantly, its stories will touch you and make you wish that you could be a part of this community as well.

Joo Chiat is like that Ah Lian. It might not be the coolest, but it is full of different corners and hidden finds, it is organic, gritty, sleazy, full of colourful lights and characters.

One Comment:

  1. Pingback: OH! Potong Pasir: Why we love Open House. — etsy/explores

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