2019 marked the 200th year of Stamford Raffles’ founding of Singapore. The commemoration of this milestone came from a deeper desire to reframe Singaporeans’ perceptions of our history, and to paint a more holistic picture about Singaporean history.
While Singapore has a long and storied history, one that dates all the way back to 1299, and indeed, one that has been shaped by a cast of contributors that goes beyond Raffles, many are unfamiliar with this narrative. The idea was thus to take the Singapore Bicentennial as an opportunity to have a larger conversation about our history in order to strengthen our national identity.
In a pre-campaign survey that was conducted, 92% of Singaporeans were aware of Sir Stamford Raffles but only 16% knew about Naraina Pillai, an important leader in the Indian community who also arrived in Singapore in 1819.
With the low level of awareness of our early arrivals (outside of Raffles), it was clear that we needed to reach Singaporeans of all ages and walks of life, but especially younger Singaporeans who are the least familiar with the long and storied history of Singapore.
The job to be done was daunting but clear. Before we could begin to educate Singaporeans about our history, we first had to open their minds to a different perspective, with a bold stance that made clear our intentions.
On the banks of Singapore River, there stands a statue of Sir Stamford Raffles, a national monument that commemorates the place where he landed on our shores and changed the trajectory of our island forever. What if we sparked a national conversation using this statue, a physical and vivid representation of this controversial figure himself?
The Idea: Recasting Singapore’s Colonial History – The Disappearance of Sir Stamford Raffles and His Reappearance with a Wider Cast of Contributors
By making the iconic statue ‘disappear’, before bringing him back with other specially-commissioned statues of early contributors, we wanted to send a powerful message about the intentions of the Singapore Bicentennial to go beyond Raffles.
Using an optical illusion technique, we orchestrated the ‘disappearance’ of the iconic Sir Stamford Raffles statue just before 2019, the start of the Singapore Bicentennial.
Raffles ‘reappeared’ together with four other statues: Sang Nila Utama, Munshi Abdullah, Naraina Pillai and Tan Tock Seng to represent the wider cast of contributors in our history.
This phase allowed us to bring home the point that the Singapore Bicentennial will look to provide a more holistic picture of our history – one that goes beyond Raffles.
The experience led Singaporeans to discover the fuller story of our early days. Plaques on the statues told the stories of these figures, and led passers-by to the Bicentennial website where they could discover an even wider cast.