Singapore Mourns its Founder Lee Kuan Yew with Deluge of Exhibitions

Thousands queue for hours to bow before his coffin.

Laudi Abilama "Kiss of Life" (2014). Image via Sana Gallery.

Crowds have been flooding into Singapore’s National Museum to view an exhibition on the life of the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, says local media.

Credited with transforming Singapore into one of the first Asian economic tigers, Lee passed away on March 23 at the age of 91. Two days later, the exhibition “In Memoriam: Lee Kuan Yew” opened at the National Museum, exploring Lee’s life and legacy.

Photographs, artifacts and audio recordings tell Lee’s story from his formative years as a law student at Cambridge University to his involvement in anti-colonial struggles and later career in politics.

Audio recordings of Lee’s iconic speeches were particularly important for curator Danial Tham: “His voice is something that Singaporeans greatly remember. There is a certain raw intensity with the early speeches he made, and you can compare that to a more assured and mature sound later on,” Tham told Channel News Asia.

Ong Yi Teck's portrait of Lee Kuan Yew. Image from Instagram/ @friedricebucket.

Ong Yi Teck’s portrait of Lee Kuan Yew.
Image: from Instagram/@friedricebucket.

Lee’s body currently lies at Parliament House outside of which thousands have been queueing for up to 8 hours to bow before the late leader’s coffin, reports Singaporean news agency Today on their live blog of the national mourning period.

Artists and cultural figures have also been paying their respects on social media. Singaporean poet Alvin Pang wrote on Twitter: “He was a giant of geopolitics, a bruiser, a charmer, a complicated man. He was our father #RIPLKY.”

Several officials in Singapore’s cultural sector issued statements, including the National Arts Council’s chairperson Chan Heng Chee who said: “Even as all Singaporeans weigh the profound loss of Mr Lee’s passing, the impact he has made on modern Singapore is enduring and will continue to inspire many.”

Ong Yi Teck created the portrait by writing "Lee Kuan Yew" 18,000 times. Image from Instagram/ @friedricebucket.

Ong Yi Teck created the portrait by writing “Lee Kuan Yew” 18,000 times.
Image: from Instagram/@friedricebucket.

During his time in office, Lee was known for being averse to building a personality cult and refused to have his image displayed in public. Singaporean artists rarely portrayed the leader in their works.

In recent years this self-censorship has considerably relaxed. This week, the most popular tribute to Lee is a portrait of the late leader drawn by 20-year-old aspiring artist Ong Yi Teck. The student created the portrait by writing the name “Lee Kuan Yew” an astonishing 18,000 times. The online video of his creative process has gone viral.

Sana Gallery also has a solo show of Lebanese artist Laudi Abilama’s portraits of Lee in a comparison of Middle Eastern versus Asian political systems and ideas. Abilama says: “Singapore has huge similarities to Lebanon in particular because of its multicultural society, yet he’s managed to make it rather harmonious where we’ve managed to implode and slightly self-destruct, if you like, over time, unfortunately.”

Laudi Abilama "A Walk in the Blue" (2014). Image via Sana Gallery.

Laudi Abilama A Walk in the Blue (2014)
Image: via Sana Gallery


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