My Grandfather’s Road 我阿公的路

Zhao Hong 赵宏
b. 1967

My Grandfather’s Road
我阿公的路
33 x 17 cm
Chinese ink and colour pigment on rice paper
2022

My Grandfather’s Road references Singaporean contemporary artist Sam Lo (SKL0), who explores the reclamation of public spaces through applied inscription on surfaces. In Sam Lo’s Champion Colloquial (What is our Culture series, 2011—2012), Lo spray-painted the words “My Grandfather Road” on a pedestrian crossing at Maxwell Road in Singapore.

While Lo’s in situ attempt violated vandalism laws in Singapore and can be interpreted as provocative, the arts community petitioned against Lo’s arrest and raised awareness of censorship and the arts in Singapore.

The red stop sign in My Grandfather’s Road can be interpreted as a symbol of Sam Lo’s arrest and the spirit of the arts community defending Lo’s artistic expression in public spaces.

However, the left-arrowed green and white placard is an encouraging and positive symbolic representation that public acceptance and perception have changed. Four years after Sam Lo’s arrest in 2012 and with the sponsors and organisers of Circular Spectacular, Lo’s team finished the largest road painting along Circular Road – with the exact words “My Grandfather Road”.

Besides Sam Lo’s art historical intervention, yet another perspective can be applied to My Grandfather’s Road in Singapore’s context.

The familiar phrase “your grandfather’s road?” is culturally linked to Singapore’s history and is even used in official public campaigns.[1]

The phrase is a Singlish (English-based creole language spoken in Singapore) statement that claims familial ownership of a road.

For example, the sarcastic phrase “Gennermen, you think this your grandfather’s road?” is often heard by Singaporean military conscripts uttered by their commanders.

The creole phrase is historically linked to roads named after prominent community members of Singapore’s early pioneers. Such early pioneers consist of colonial governors, senior public servants, community leaders, philanthropists and wealthy businessmen active in Singapore’s colonial and post-colonial periods.

Such road names include Pillai Road,[2] Wan Tho Avenue,[3] Eng Hock Road (now defunct),[4] Stirling Road[5] and many others.[6]

As such, the statement My Grandfather’s Road can be perhaps construed as an ironic sense of shared ownership by Singaporeans.

 

Footnotes

[1] Melody Zaccheus, “Your Grandpa’s Road? Not in Tiong Bahru,” AsiaOne, 2014. Accessed August 31, 2022. https://www.asiaone.com/singapore/your-grandpas-road-not-tiong-bahru.

[2] Naraina Pillai (the first Indian to set foot in Singapore in 1819) was a former colonial administration staff who contributed to the land purchase of Sri Mariamman Temple in 1827.

[3] Loke Wan Tho 陆运涛 (1913—1964) was a Cantonese Malaysian-Singaporean business magnate and founder of Cathay Organisation.

[4] Teo Eng Hock 张永福 was a Teochew businessman who co-founded the Singapore branch of Tung Meng Hui (同盟会), headquartered at his property Wan Qing Yuan (晚晴园). Administered by Singapore’s National Heritage Board, Wan Qing Yuan is now known as the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall (孙中山南洋纪念馆),.

[5] William G Stirling (1887—undetermined) was an Assistant Protectorate of the Chinese during the colonial period.

[6] For a detailed list, refer to “Singapore’s Grandfathers’ Roads – Legacies of Our Pioneers,” 2014. Accessed August 31, 2022. https://remembersingapore.org/2014/01/09/pioneer-names-in-singapore-streets/.

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