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Salvaging history from home of late sculptor

Open house at bungalow belonging to Ng Eng Teng draws 150 visitors. -ST
Bryna Singh

Sun, Dec 02, 2012
The Straits Times

Among the visitors to the bungalow of late Singapore sculptor Ng Eng Teng yesterday were Mr Nicholas Tse, 38, and Ms Michelle Tan, 33, seen here removing a window, as well as Ms Michelle Lim, 29, who salvaged wood to be used symbolically as firewood at a Jalan Bahar dragon kiln.

SINGAPORE - With tools in hand, visitors from all walks of life streamed into the house of late artist Ng Eng Teng on Thursday, determined to take home a piece of history.

They doggedly unscrewed windows, sawed off pieces of wood and even uprooted plants at the bungalow left behind by the grandfather of Singapore sculpture.

In what was billed as Ng's final contribution to the art scene, members of the public had been invited to the house to give them a chance to salvage their own mementoes before it is demolished.

Among the visitors were history enthusiasts, artists, well- heeled professionals who came after work, and even housewives with babies in their arms.

Those who came with tools got to work swiftly, while others borrowed hammers and saws from the workers on site and eventually left with their own potential family heirlooms.

Many items had been reserved or taken by arts and heritage bodies. But this did not daunt the 150 or more visitors, some of whom knew little about the Cultural Medallion recipient.

The bungalow at 106 Joo Chiat Place was where Ng - who died in 2001 - created his sculptures, ceramics, drawings and paintings. It will soon be developed into four terraced houses by its new owner Kim Choo Holdings, which bought the land in 2008 and arranged the open house.

On Thursday, the only evidence that the building used to contain Ng's masterpieces was the nails embedded in the walls.

Many of his works have been loaned or donated to the National University of Singapore (NUS) Museum, which is holding an exhibition about his life until Feb 3.

However, a kiln remained, as well as some of Ng's personal effects. Kim Choo Holdings assistant director Edmond Wong, 29, said he would keep them safe. He was at the house yesterday, where he greeted every visitor.

The bungalow, one of the few traditional Sumatran houses left in Singapore, is a type of rumah panggung (stage house). Discussions were held about preserving it, but the idea came to nothing.

Many of the visitors who came on Thuraday had heard of the open house via a report in The Sunday Times, and turned up within the 2pm to 8pm window.

But one group of eager profiteers arrived at 9am and demanded to be let in, said Mr Wong.

When he rushed to the premises, they had already filled their truck with items, some of which were reserved. "I couldn't believe there were people like that," said Mr Wong. He added that he managed to save only some of the items before the group drove off abruptly.

Despite the incident, Mr Wong said he was "touched" by the number of people who came.

Accountant Sarah Lee, 27, turned up with a group of colleagues.

"So much has already been taken away. I think I'll make a trip to NUS to see the items," she said.

Artist Suriani Suratman, 52, managed to salvage a rack which Ng used to dry his works.

"We'll be using this in our studio. His legacy will live on."

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