An art installation that depicts the iconic facade of the National Theatre, which was demolished in 1986, is fighting to avoid a repeat of history.
National Theatre @ 50, the artwork by architectural historian Lai Chee Kien, made its debut last October in Tank Road, opposite Fort Canning Park, the site of the original theatre, as part of the Singapore Biennale.
The open-air theatre was built in 1963 and was one of the first major fund-raising projects of self- governing Singapore.
When the Biennale, a major showcase of mostly South-east Asian contemporary art, ended its run in February, the artist-owned installation had to be relocated to a long-term home.
Mr Lai has found a suitable spot at Fort Canning Park with the help of the National Parks Board but the fate of the 40m-tall painted steel sculpture remains in limbo without the $10,000 required to transport it to its new home.
NParks' director of parks, Mr Chia Seng Jiang, says it is glad to provide space within Fort Canning Park for the art installation, "given that it will evoke a sense of nostalgia and memories of the iconic theatre". He says the sculpture will be placed "close to the original location of the former National Theatre to retain the essence of the artwork".
Mr Lai says he hopes sponsors will contribute to the preservation of the work. This is not the first time he is raising funds for the installation. He appealed for donations last year after construction costs of the sculpture exceeded its budget by $30,000. He has so far raised $10,000 to meet that shortfall by writing to friends for aid, as well as through public donations.
Those who made contributions received copies of paper bricks that were used in the public fund-raising campaign of the original theatre, financed in part by the Government.
Veteran Singapore architect Richard Ho, 58, who was among the donors, says: "I contributed because firstly, I believe Mr Lai's passion and dedication to our architectural heritage should be supported, and secondly, the National Theatre should never have been demolished. It was a true icon of Singapore's early years of independence."
The artwork has drawn warm response from people. Mr Lai says: "Many of them sent in old photos of themselves taken with the theatre as a backdrop and they also unearthed paraphernalia such as old concert tickets, record covers, photo album covers and even the $1 paper brick from its first fund-raising campaign." These nostalgic contributions are posted on its Facebook page.
He adds: "One donor, Mr Lee Chin Pong, sent a pair of photos, one of himself taken against the old theatre when he was 11, and another of his daughter, currently 11, against the new sculpture."
He is now exploring ways to raise funds for the transfer of the sculpture, including appeals to public grants, corporate sponsors and public donations. "If funds for the transfer of the work are not raised, the work will have to be scrapped," he says.
Of such an outcome, Mr Ho says: "It's sad but this is the reality of living in Singapore. It would be good if the powers-that-be put their money where their mouths are."
This article was published on April 8 in The Straits Times.
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