Many people have the perception that Singapore lacks arts and history, but in reality there are many beautiful bronze sculptures on our island. Some are pure artistic creations, a couple of them are rich in their historical values, while others tell stories of the early days of Singapore. Perhaps one can take a moment to admire the sculptures when he or she passes by one of them.
This list, containing only a small part of the collection of bronze sculptures in Singapore, is not in any chronological or alphabetical orders.
Sir Stamford Raffles, Victoria Concert Hall (1887)
Probably the most famous sculpture in Singapore, the statue of Sir Stamford Raffles was installed by the 14th governor of the Straits Settlements Frederick Weld (1823-1891) in 1887 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s reign. Initially located at the middle of Padang, it cost $20,446.10, an astronomical price during that era.
In 1919, during the 100th-year celebration of Modern Singapore, the statue was moved to its present-day location of the Town Hall. There was also another statue of Sir Stamford Raffles, made of stone and white in colour, along the Singapore River.
Thai Elephant, Old Parliament House (1864)
The black elephant statue in front of the Old Parliament House was given to Singapore in 1872 to commemorate the visit of Singapore by the King of Siam Somdech Phra Paramindr Maha Chulalonkorn (1853-1910) on 16th March 1871. It was the first ever foreign trip by a Siamese monarch, and he had another elephant sculpture gifted to Netherlands East Indies (present-day Indonesia).
Chulalonkorn, also called Rama V, was credited with the modernisation of Siam and his efforts in preventing the kingdom from being colonised by the West.
Farmer Toiling At The Field, Chong Pang (2003)
The vast area of Nee Soon saw its appearance developed from a rural estate to a vibrant new town. In the olden days, gambier, pepper, pineapple and rubber plantations covered much of Nee Soon. By the sixties, its main economic activity had changed to agriculture, with many villages engaging in fruit tree planting, vegetable farming, as well as the rearing of pigs and poultry.
Standing in front of the neighbourhood of Chong Pang, this statue of a farmer carrying water cans shows the perseverance and dauntless courage of our forefathers who had helped to shape this part of Yishun.
Bird, UOB Plaza (1990)
This huge plump bird is the work of Colombian figurative artist Fernando Botero (born 1932) in 1990. It is sponsored by United Overseas Bank Limited (UOB) and stands by the side of the Singapore River. Botero displays his unique style in most of his works where the figurines are proportionally exaggerated and fat.
The bird symbolises peace, serenity, joy of living and optimism, and with all these qualities, Singapore will continue to grow and prosper.
Progress & Advancement, Raffles Place (1988)
This grand sculpture is the work of Yang-Ying Feng, commissioned and donated on 8th August 1988 by local entrepreneur and founder of Overseas Union Bank Limited (OUB) George Lien Ying Chow (1907-2004).
Showing a detailed Central Business District (CBD) by the Singapore River, this 4m-tall sculpture signifies the progress and advancement of Singapore’s financial sector and stands at Raffles Place.
Dual Universe, Raffles Place (1994)
Sculptured by Charles O. Perry, this piece of abstract art is located in front of Singapore Land Tower of Raffles Place with description of “Two forms intertwine to become one as they whisper of the mysteries of space and time”.
Homage to Newton, UOB Plaza (1985)
Standing tall at UOB, this sculpture was cast in 1985 by Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dali (1904-1989), most famous for his painting The Persistence of Memory.
The ball falling from the right hand of the statue represents the falling of apple which led to Sir Isaac Newton’s discovery of gravity. The suspension of the “heart” indicates “open-heartedness” and the open head symbolises “open-minded”, which are two necessary qualities for the discovery of important natural laws as well as success for all human endeavours.
Struggle For Survival, Raffles Place (1988)
Shaped like a ship, this is the work of Hainan-born local sculptor Aw Tee Hong (born 1932). The materials used are actually copper, brass and iron instead of bronze. It is installed in front of OUB Centre in 1988.
Beside sculpting, Aw Tee Hong is also an expert in oil painting, Chinese calligraphy and opera mask painting.
Pioneering Spirit, Raffles Place (1988)
Another work of Aw Tee Hong, this piece of art is also known as Vitality of the Forerunner.
It is located in front of the Arcade, less than 50m away from Struggle For Survival, and is part of the three distinctive sculptures at the exit of Raffles Place Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Station.
Reclining Figure, OCBC Building (1983)
One of the largest sculptures created by Englishman Henry Spencer Moore (1898-1986), this bronze sculpture, measures 9.45m by 4.24m and weighs 4 tonnes, was actually enlarged from his lead model of 1938.
The sculpture was commissioned by the Overseas-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) in 1983 as a gratitude to the people of Singapore for their trust and support throughout its history.
Mother and Child, Tampines Central Park (1996)
The Grandfather of Singapore Sculpture Ng Eng Teng (1934-2001) produced three pieces of Mother and Child which reflects the tender love he experienced from his mother. This sculpture, located at Tampines Central Park, depicts a caring mother carrying a cheerful and secure baby.
One of Dr Ng’s Mother and Child sculptures was originally located outside Far East Shopping Centre in 1980, but has since moved to Orchard Parade Hotel. It was one of the iconic installation at Orchard Road in the eighties.
First Generation, Fullerton Hotel (2000)
A brilliant piece of work by Chong Fah Cheong (born 1946), this sculpture depicts scenes of early days of Singapore. Singapore River was once the lifeline of our country in the past, when the first migrant communities settled around here. It was not an uncommon sight to see naked boys swinging from trees beside the river and jumping into the water with gutso.
The boys learned how to avoid the muddy depths and the dangers of bumboats crossing the river, and had no fear of the polluted waters that were sometimes filled with garbage. When the Clean Rivers project was launched in 1983, families, hawkers and bumboats were removed from this area, and the innocent laughter of the swimming boys were heard no more.
Fishing At Singapore River, The Riverwalk (2004)
Taiwan-born sculptor Chern Lian Shan has been creating marvelous pieces of art since he settled in Singapore in 1980. “Fishing At Singapore River” is one of his works, which describes the life during the colonial times.
The native Orang Laut had earned their livelihood through fishing, before the Singapore River became a centre for trading upon the arrival of the British. When the city grew, the river was used as a dumping ground and sewer. By 1970, Singapore River was so polluted that all the fish had completely disappeared.
Marine life only returned more than a decade after the launching of the Clean Rivers project.
The River Merchants, Maybank Tower (2003)
This group of sculptures is another piece of Aw Tee Hong’s creations. Its shows a seated Alexandre Laurie Johnston, a prominent Scottish merchant of the early days, negotiating with a Chinese trader and a Malay chief, while the Indian and Chinese coolies were loading goods onto a bullock cart.
In 1820, Johnston had set up his company at the spot (present-day Maybank Tower), where the statues are currently standing. It was then commonly known as Tanjong Tangkap (means “catch” in Malay), because Johnston’s godown was nearest to the Singapore River’s mouth and he would be the first to “catch hold” of the merchant captains as their boats entered the river.
The highly respected Johnston was the also first chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, and he also introduced the five-foot way, a unique covered walkway of local traditional shophouses (other sources cited Sir Stamford Raffles as the one who proposed the five-foot way).
Tanjong Tangkap lasted until 1848 before it was replaced by the Flint Building. Whiteway Laldlaw & Co was built in its place in 1910 after the Flint Building was destroyed in a fire. The site has been occupied by Maybank Chambers (later Maybank Towers) since 1962.
A Great Emporium, Asian Civilisation Museum (2002)
When Sir Stamford Raffles established the trading post in Singapore, he wrote “our object is not territory but trade; a great commercial emporium.”
Sculptor Malcolm Koh gave a perfect description of the scene at the Singapore River during its heydays of a busy trading port. Commodities such as cotton, spices, rubber and tin were actively traded. It was a common sight to see European traders making deals with Chinese towkays, while Chinese pigtailed coolies and turban-wearing South Indian labourers doing the manual hard work of loading and unloading of the goods at the harbour.
The towkay would measure the weight of the goods by a traditional weighing scale called the daching, and then proceed in his negotiation with the traders from all around the world.
From Chettiars to Financiers, Asian Civilisation Museum (2002)
In the early days, many trading houses and financial businesses were set up along the Singapore River. The Bank of Calcutta was the first bank to be established here, in 1840. The Chettiars from South India were well-known for their successes in the moneylending business, while the Chinese working in the clearing houses made full use of their capabilities in the thriving trade between Singapore and China.
An interesting aspect of this sculpture is the inclusion of a lady stock trader in a modern dress. Appearing to be engaged in a business deal with the depiction of the early Chettiar and Chinese, sculptor Chern Lian Shan was brilliant in showing the transformation of the commercial area around Raffles Place and the Singapore River from the past to the present days.
Another Day, Singapore Art Museum (2004)
This is another piece of art by Chong Fah Cheong, who also created the excellent “First Generation”. It depicts two lean coolies having a simple meal after another day of hard work.
Coolies were bonded manual labourers assigned to work at the waterfront and warehouses often under harsh conditions during the colonial days. They had to work for long hours with little salaries, in which they saved up every penny to send back to their homelands in China. Many however would fall victims to addiction of opium and gambling. Their contributions certainly led to the rapid growth of the trading industry along the Singapore River.
Initially located at the Singapore Art Museum, this sculpture has been relocated several times since 2011.
Street Hawker, Far East Square (1999)
Taiwanese sculptor Lee Yun Hung created this work to describe the life of a street hawker, who was a common sight in Singapore from the thirties to early eighties.
This sculpture is an image of a “tick tock man”, who would use a bamboo stick to hit a hardwood rod, producing a rhythmic “tick tock tick tock” sound. It was certainly an innovative way to announce his arrival to the customers. In his baskets, there were homemade noodles with fish balls, a local Chinese hawker dish that remains popular till this day.
Singapura Cats, Cavenagh Bridge (1991)
The Singapura Cat is actually not a local breed but a controversial case of mix-up in the identification of the cat during the seventies. Americans Tommy and Hal Meadows had worked in Singapore in 1975, bringing in their cats before exporting to USA. Back home, they presented the cats as a new natural breed. However, Singapura Cats resemble nothing like the local stray cats found here.
Also known as the Singapore River Cat, Singapore Tourism Board (STB) decided to use the cat as a national mascot in 1990, calling it Kucinta, which was derived from the Malay words of kucing (cat) and cita (love). The name was proposed by Madam Ang Lian Tin, the winner of the naming competition held by STB.
As many as 15 sculptures of Singapura Cats were placed along Singapore River, but sadly many were vandalised by the public; one piece was even stolen. Three of them still stand at the corner of Cavenagh Bridge.
Simon Road Market Scene, Kovan (2010)
Standing in front of Kovan Residences along Upper Serangoon Road, these two bronze statues describe the early scene of the former Simon Road Market, where a lady buyer is bargaining in her purchase of some chicken and ducks.
The popular Simon Road Market was built in August 1948, initially at the nearby Lim Ah Pin Road before moving to where the sculptures stand today. Vegetable farmers from Potong Pasir and fishermen from Kangkar and Serangoon River would bring their products to this market for sale, and it was a common sight to see busy crowds doing their marketing in the early mornings everyday.
The market would later become a makan haven, serving delicious Hokkien Mee, Muah Chee, Pork Congee and Mee Rebus. However, it was demolished in 1999, with some of the stall holders moved to the markets in Hougang to continue their businesses.
Price of Peace, Bukit Chandu (1997)
It is a reminder of how the 1st and 2nd Battalion of the Malay Regiment helped the British in defending Bukit Chandu in the Battle of Pasir Panjang in 1942 during the Japanese invasion.
Malay lieutenant Adnan bin Saidi (1915-1942) led his troops in the stiff resistance against the Japanese despite heavily outnumbered and short of ammunition. He was eventually caught, brutally tortured and killed. Many of the defending forces perished, but their heroics in defending the country against the aggressors would forever be remembered.
Firemen, Central Fire Station
Before 1908, there were three small fire stations located at Beach Road, Hill Street and Cross Street. But they were insufficiently equipped to deal with large-scaled fire disasters.
By 1908, the Municipal Authorities recognised this problem and decided to built a modern Central Fire Station, which is now the oldest existing fire station in Singapore. Equipped with a watch tower, four portable water pumps, modernised fire engines and living quarters for the firemen, the station was considered a large improvement for professional fire-fighting in the early 20th century when fire hazards regularly plagued Singapore.
The Central Fire Station was gazetted as a national monument in 1998, and the sculptures here are installed for the recognition of the fire fighters and rescuers who risk their lives and go beyond the call of duty in protecting and saving lives and property for a safe and secure Singapore.
Sun Yat-Sen, Sun Yat-Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall (1937)
This statue of Sun Yat-Sen (1866-1925) sitting on a chair was gifted by Kuomintang (in China then) in 1937. It is situated right in front of the Sun Yat-Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall at Ah Hood Road in Balestier. There are several more Sun Yat-Sen’s bronze sculptures at the villa-turned-memorial hall such as the one below.
At the back of the villa, there is also a huge 60m-long and 2m-tall bronze wall mural, possibly Singapore’s longest bronze mural, with inscriptions depicting the history of Singapore from a fishing village to the Japanese Occupation. Completed in 2005, it took the sculptors from China six years of hard work.
St John Baptist de La Salle, Singapore Art Museum (mid 19th century)
Completed in 1996, the Singapore Art Museum is the former site of St Joseph’s Institution along Bras Basah Road.
St Joseph’s Institution had a long rich history, being founded by French priest Jean-Marie Beurel and a group of LaSalle Brothers in May 1852. The school was completed in 1867, and later expanded to include the Anderson Block in 1907 and the Chapel in 1912. During the Second World War, the school compound was used as a makeshift Red Cross Hospital. It was also briefly renamed as Bras Basah Road Boy’s School during the Japanese Occupation.
When St Joseph’s Institution moved to Malcolm Road in 1987, the sculpture of St John Baptist de La Salle (1651-1719), created by Italian sculptor Cesare Aureli, was left behind as a remainder of the school’s rich heritage. St John Baptist de La Salle was a priest who dedicated much of his life for the education of the poor children in France during the late 17th century.
Pope John Paul II, Cathedral of the Good Shepherd
Built between 1843 and 1847, the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd is the oldest Roman Catholic church in Singapore. It began as a church for the residents of the European Town, an area designated by Sir Stamford Raffles for the Europeans, Eurasians and wealthy Asians.
One of the early residents Denis Lesley McSwiney came up with the design of the church, which was heavily influenced by the Roman Doric style of architecture. In 1897, the church was elevated to the status of the cathedral. The compound was used as an emergency hospital during the Second World War and was gazetted as a national monument in 1973.
The bronze sculpture standing in the compound of the cathedral is the life-sized statue of Pope John Paul II (1920-2005), the second longest serving pope in history and one of the most influential leaders of the 20th century.
Indian Settlers of Telok Ayer, Telok Ayer Street
Many Indian immigrants settled at the area between Telok Ayer and the southern bank of the Singapore River in the 19th century. Some of them worked as milk traders, and were often seen walking down Telok Ayer Street and carrying buckets of milk slung across their shoulders.
Other Indian Immigrants were lightermen, loading and unloading cargoes from the merchant ships that docked at the Telok Ayer Basin. The Al-Abrar Mosque and Nagore Durgha Shrine at Telok Ayer Street, two places of worship with significant historic values, were built by the Indian community in the vicinity.
Chinese Processions, Telok Ayer Street
The Chinese immigrants shared the Telok Ayer Street with the Indian Immigrants in the 19th century. During the Chinese festivals, the streets would be adorned with colourful flags and banners, and elaborate street processions were carried out, where performers dressed in colourful costumes attracted thousands of spectators with their acrobats, decorated palanquins and musical bands.
Both the bronze sculptures of Indian Settlers of Telok Ayer and Chinese Processions were the masterpieces of local sculptor Lim Leong Seng (born 1950).
Heading Home, China Square Central (2013)
The realistic sculpture shows a rickshaw puller with a Peranakan lady setting off for home, portraying the clear divide between the rich and poor in early Singapore.
Rickshaws were a common form of transportation in the late 19th century and early 20th century, and the rickshaw pullers were mostly poor immigrants from southern China, who came to Singapore in search of a better life. Beside the tough work under the hot sun, they had to live in cramped cubicles in shophouses with poor hygienic conditions. Many, in the end, turned to opium for relief for their overworked bodies.
Published: 28 January 2012
Updated: 01 May 2018