From the 1960s to the 70s, I went to many Malay villages (also known as kampongs) to paint on the spot, these villages include the kampong at Tuas, Sembawang, Radin Mas, Kampong Fatimah and the Punggol fishing village. These countryside watercolours were creations of my earlier days.
I still vividly recall the days when I sat on a small stool holding my drawing board with the watercolour paper clipped on, sitting under the shades of the trees, sometimes under the sun, painting on-site with my paint and brush toolbox and the plastic army-style water bottle.
Countryside Watercolour Painting of Sembawang Kampong
This painting of kampong at Sembawang was painted in 1962 on-site at the village.
Sembawang is located in the far north of Singapore, close to the Straits of Johor. The name “Sembawang” is derived from the pokok Sembawang tree prominent in the area. In the past, there were many villages in Sembawang that resides along the coasts facing Malaysia.
Locals lived under traditional attap houses with high support columns to prevent coastal tides from flooding the house. With land reclamation, Sembawang coasts remain the last few natural beaches in Singapore.
The last kampong in Sembawang, Kampong Wak Hassan was removed in 1998. These land spaces were used for the development of Sembawang New Towns. This painting was painted before the separation of Singapore from Malaya in 1965.
Countryside painting of Kampong at Tuas
This painting was created at the far end of a Tuas Kampong on site in 1970.
Tuas is located in the far west part of Singapore. Like Sembawang, it is also beside the Straits of Johor. In the past, Tuas was a bustling fishing village for the locals. When dawn breaks, many fishing boats would have set off to fish in Tuas.
The name “Tuas” came from a unique method of fishing by the Malay fishermen in the villages. This painting is painted in 1970, at the height of its popularity, when it was known as a seafood haven. At the same time in the 70s, villagers are forced to resettle into HDB flats.
In just a few years, the liveliness of fishing activities dropped dramatically, affecting the business of seafood restaurants there as well. The Tuas we know as of today went under land reclamation and is mostly for industrial use.
Painting of Kampong Radin Mas
Radin Mas is located in the Southern region of Singapore. As the story goes, Javanese princess Putri Radin Mas Ayu came to Singapore in her escape from her enemies in Java. The area her house resided in when she first landed was thus named after her.
Kampongs have been a familiar sight since the dawn of Singapore. Now, due to Singapore’s growing population and rapid urban developments, these rustic residences have been forced off of their soils and replaced with those tall concrete slabs of housing across Singapore.
Kampongs were the sturdy roots of Singapore that held the country’s many people as one. They had many people of different cultural backgrounds residing on the same plot of land, allowing them to bond and develop ties with one another, making the little island then more socially stable and harmonious. Simply put, these kampongs are where the authentic culture and heritage of Singapore stem from.
The artworks evoke the primitive feeling given off by the kampongs back then. Men were living in houses surrounded by palm trees with thatched roofs and elevated floors. Instead of conventional asphalt roads, they walked on dirt paths. Times were simpler back then.