I want to save my home town

SINGAPORE - Singapore permanent resident Wilfred Lim feels it is his duty to create works that draw attention to the plight of his home town - a small fishing village in Pengerang, Johor - which is making way for an oil refinery.

The 25-year-old, who is pursuing a degree in fine arts at the Nanyang Technological University, was one of six winners of this year's Noise Singapore Award, which comes with a $5,000 grant for young artists to further their artistic aspirations.

My Paper speaks to the visual artist, known as Wilfred Weegee in art circles, about growing up in a kampung and the trade-offs that come with urban development.

What was it like to spend the first 18 years of your life in a kampung?

My family and I lived in a wooden house surrounded by coconut trees for eight years, before moving into a concrete house in the same kampung.

My childhood wasn't filled with video games or computers; instead, we spent most of our time with nature. There was a big drain in front of my house where I caught guppies and other tropical fish. There were floods every December, and fish would end up swimming right outside my house. My dad used to catch and cook some of them for us.

How do you feel about the redevelopment of your home town?

When I was young, the idea of development excited me. After all, development is supposed to offer everyone a better future.

But the construction of the oil refinery in my home town has been totally destructive. With (the) cultural and environmental destruction, it is far from the kind of development I had envisioned.

As far as I know, the offshore drilling construction started in 2011, without the consent of the villagers, and the official announcement on the redevelopment plans came only after construction had begun. Of course, the villagers were against the development.

Evicting the villagers and tearing down their houses to make way for infrastructure at the cost of their livelihoods is a form of destruction. Naturally, I felt upset and devastated when I saw what was happening to the place where I grew up.

What do you hope to achieve through your art?

My photographs allude to everyday occurrences around me. But by magnifying realities and portraying them in surreal settings, I'd like viewers to contemplate and feel unnerved by seemingly "normal" settings. I want my works to be visually interesting and quirky enough to attract the curious.

Eventually, I hope to bring up the issue (involving my home town) on a larger platform and raise public awareness on the environmental and cultural destruction that come with such "development".

As a native of Pengerang and an artist, I have a responsibility to do my part in helping to sustain my home town.

Wilfred Weegee's works are on display at the Singapore Art Museum at 8Q, from 10am to 7pm daily, until Sunday. Admission is free.

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