Time Out Singapore: Best of 2015 – Attractions

23 Nov 2015: Not as though we didn’t have enough already, we list the talks-of-the-town of the year

The Karting Arena (Best New Attractions 2015)

Coney Island

Also known as Pulau Serangoon, Coney Island reopened in October. If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and reconnect with nature – and maybe play a game of ‘spot the cow’ – then this is the place to be. Try to book a free guided tour on the NParks website if you want to see a few hidden spots, including the former mansion of the Haw Par brothers.

Lee Kong Chian National History Museum

Opened in April, the uniquely shaped museum is home to 2,000 specimens of South-East Asian plants and animals, which are spread across two floors and 15 zones. The highlight, though, has got to be the three 150-million-year-old dinosaur fossils.

Indian Heritage Centre

With a glowing glass façade inspired by stepwells that are commonly found in South Asia, the Indian Heritage Centre has a wealth of artefacts that are dotted around five galleries. They document and explore the history and culture of Indians, especially in relation to Singapore, all the way from the 1st century to the present day.

The Karting Arena

The opening of The Karting Arena may have been delayed by a few months, but we’re glad it’s finally here. It’s the first place in town to boast a fleet of electric go-karts, which means they produce little noise and no fumes. These can still reach speeds of 30 to 50km/h, though, just like their gasoline-powered brothers.

New rides at Universal Studios Singapore

The kid-friendly Puss in Boots suspended roller coaster doesn’t go any faster than 36km/h, so little ones can go get in on the action, too. The journey follows the fearless feline as he searches for golden eggs to save an orphanage from closing down. For older tykes, though, we’re thrilled that the Battlestar Galactica reopened after a two-year closure.

Katapult Trampoline Park

If you’re looking for a place to let the kids go wild, this is it. The main court features more than 30 interconnected trampolines, and there’s also a whole bunch of other activities for bouncy fun times, including ‘slam dunk’, ‘wall run’, and, for daredevils, ‘free fall’.

Time Out Singapore: ‘Pepper and Juno in a TV-less World’

Pepper & Juno

10 Nov 2015: It started, as many great things do, with a child’s tantrum. Juno Tay was six and bored at home – her mum, Pepper See, had been sleeping – when she acted up. But she wasn’t banished to the dunce corner. Instead, See gave her paint and a canvas: ‘I tasked her to surprise me with anything she paints, and I asked her to wake me up once she’s done, so I can surprise her back by adding something.’ Sure, it helps that See is an artist herself.

The day after completing the work, the duo received an offer to buy that piece, christened ‘Tantrum’. See and her daughter were on to something. And now, three years later, they’re putting together a show of their collaborations.

The works in Pepper and Juno in a TV-less World feature bright swathes of colour colliding with light-as-air characters, set against whimsical backdrops, that flesh out the connection between mother and daughter. ‘We don’t have a TV at home,’ says See. ‘Art is our lifestyle. Sometimes, when I don’t feel like taking Juno out, we just stay home to create.’

But what happens when the inevitable creative differences arise? Like the one time Tay painted her entire canvas in the colours of the rainbow – it was impossible for See to add anything of her own. ‘My favourite part is when mummy has no idea what to paint over my backgrounds,’ the nine-year-old chirps. ‘I do whatever I want. But sometimes, I’ll listen to mummy. Like when she tells me no more rainbow colours.’

With Tay’s exams just around the corner, however, their biggest challenge now is to find time to make art when Tay’s grandmother – ‘Juno’s schoolwork monitor’, as See puts it – isn’t looking. Don’t let their efforts don’t go to waste, and be sure to check out their heart-warming pieces at Artistry when you pop by this month.

Time Out Singapore: BooksActually Turns Ten

17 Nov 2015: Established in 2005, BooksActually has become something of an institution for book lovers in Singapore, giving local writers, artists, designers, independent publishers – and three super cute cats – a place to call home. Things haven’t always been easy for founder Kenny Leck and his dedicated team, but as the bookstore celebrates its tenth anniversary this month with an exhibition at The Substation, we get Leck to reflect on how far they’ve come.

Books Actually

1) Leck started BooksActually for, unsurprisingly, the love of books: ‘Well, mostly. It was a combination of wanting to set up a business and growing up reading too many books. Couple that with a few years of experience working in a bookstore, and it led to BooksActually.’

2) There have been plenty of memorable moments at the store, but the one that stands out is:‘When we still get at least one or two customers who walk one round in the bookstore, and then ask, “What are you selling?” It sounds hilarious but on the flip side it also shows how unbelievable our book culture, and the existence of bookstores, is in Singapore.’

3) The most important lesson he’s learnt is: ‘To not become big-headed no matter how successful we are. Also, the learning never ends.’

4) He hasn’t been drawing a salary for ten years: ‘[I live on] an allowance. Basically, my meals and transport expenses are all paid for by the bookstore. So this is like schooling days when my mum will give me just about enough to cover the meals that I had at recess!’

5) He thinks the local literary scene is heading in the right direction: ‘It has certainly progressed in leaps and bounds in the past decade. There is a sense of urgency, and a sense that we need it. It is no longer an afterthought. But until the day bookstores become a common business that folks want to set up – like the multitude of cafés – can I say that we’ve reached our proudest moment.’

6) If he could change one thing about the literary scene here, it would be: ‘The crutch – the reliance on state funding. Independence does not mean anti-censorship; it means sustainability. The latter is the driving force and the nurturing “soil” for Singapore literary arts to grow.’

7) The exhibition at The Substation is a re-creation of the ten-year journey of BooksActually: ‘You will see pictures of the four different locations that we were at. Almost every single artefact that we are exhibiting will be made for sale. My wish is for everyone to own a “piece” of BooksActually regardless of what happens next – all retail concepts, and its owner, have finite life cycle. So in this sense, I can be assured that everyone will have a physical memory of the bookstore to hold on to.’

8) Looking ahead, the future for him is still books (phew!): ‘It has always been the same. To get a book into each and everyone’s hands.’

9) Each night, he goes to sleep happy that: ‘My cats are all fed, litter-box cleaned, safe, and guarding the bookstore.’

10) And if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to co-own BooksActually with three cats – Cake, Pico and Lemon: ‘You mean: they own it. Co-owning is a foreign concept for them. But they do bring a light to our bookselling lives every day!’

Time Out Singapore: National Gallery Singapore

26 Oct 2015: The wait is over, folks – the National Gallery Singapore has finally opened, promising loads of artsy activities in a beautifully restored space. We find out more about the new jewel in the Lion City’s crown

National Gallery - NGS

Photo by National Gallery Singapore

Sixty-four thousand square metres, spread across two monumental buildings, with thousands of pieces of art on its walls. That’s the scale of the National Gallery Singapore, which has finally flung its doors open after five years of renovation works. The culture vultures in us are already salivating. We picked our jaws off from the ground to hear more about the Gallery’s grand plans from curator Adele Tan.

How will the two buildings – City Hall and the former Supreme Court – be used differently?

The Supreme Court building will be home to the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery, while the DBS Singapore Gallery will be featured in the City Hall building, along with the Singtel Special Exhibition Gallery.

The Keppel Centre for Art Education, Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden Gallery and other F&B and retail spaces will also be housed in the City Hall building. In addition, there will also be smaller galleries and event spaces across both buildings.

What can we find in the permanent exhibitions?

We have more than 10,000 artworks in Singapore’s national collection, approximately 8,000 of which are to be displayed in the Gallery. At any one time, about 1,000 pieces from the collection will be on display. The Gallery will focus on displaying Singapore and South-East Asian art from the 19th century to the present day.

Some highlights include Chua Mia Tee’s ‘Epic Poem of Malaya’ and Raden Saleh’s ‘Wounded Lion’, which will be featured in the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery, as well as Liu Kang’s ‘Artist and Model’ and Cheong Soo Pieng’s ‘Drying Salted Fish’ in the DBS Singapore Gallery.

Tell us about the curatorial process.

Our team of curators work in full gear to put together the exhibitions – from researching new aspects of the art history of the region and selecting pieces for the exhibitions, to working closely with regional scholars, artists and curators.

We also establish relationships and build trust with art collectors and art institutions around the world to loan key artworks that complement our collection.

What temporary exhibitions will be hosted?

The Singtel Special Exhibition Gallery will feature exhibitions curated and presented in collaboration with art institutions from around the world. Our first collaboration with Centre Pompidou [from Paris] will be presented in April 2016, followed by our second international partnership with Tate Britain in October 2016.

What will the visitor experience be like?

Visitors can expect a unique experience that is inspiring, engaging and moving, through the Gallery’s presentation of art perspectives that are meaningful and thought-provoking.

Other than showcasing one of the world’s largest collections of modern South-East Asian art from the 19th and 20th centuries, we also offer interactive art programmes and activities at the Keppel Centre for Art Education to nurture the next generation of art lovers, and for visitors to continue their art journey beyond the galleries.

What are some of your personal favourite pieces from the collection?

I don’t like playing favourites, but I enjoy the uncovering of unexpected finds in the collection or the serendipity in the process of commissioning new or reconstructed works.

I was quite chuffed to discover the late Malaysian artist Ismail Zain’s ‘From There to Now’ (1986). I had encountered it by chance at our Heritage Conservation Centre (where the nation’s artworks are stored) and was surprised to realise the complexity of its pictorial composition and the vividness of its colours.

The work was badly photographed when it was accessioned into the collection database, which probably contributed to it being overlooked. At that point, it was the only work by Ismail Zain in our collection, although I am pleased to say that we have more now: a set of prints from his seminal series of digital collages.

So when is it opening, already!

The Gallery will open its doors on November 24, and a key highlight of the celebrations will be the National Gallery Opening Festival, titled Share the Hope.

The festival will be held at the Padang from November 27 to 29, with events and performances – including film screenings and a spectacular façade show – for both the young and old.

We will also be launching the Art Connector, and we will be holding tours, talks and discussions about the new galleries, as well as Singapore and South-East Asian art.

Time Out Singapore: River Nights 2015

23 Oct 2015: Get off the couch and get in on the arty party happening at Empress Place this weekend. Held in conjunction with the River Festival, River Nights comprises a series of art installations and performances taking place around the Asian Civilisations Museum with the theme, ‘Colours of Life’. The artworks will be around until October 31, but the bulk of the performances are taking place this weekend. Here are five cool things to check out.

River Nights 2015 - Artwork- Li Hongbo; Photo- Asian Civilisations Museum

Li Hongbo’s ‘Ocean of Flowers’. Photo by Asian Civilisations Museum

‘Ocean of Flowers’ by Li Hongbo

Asian Civilisations Museum

You might have seen this Chinese artist’s works before – his amazing plaster-like paper sculptures were shown at Art Stage earlier this year – but here they are again in their full multi-colour glory. ‘Ocean of Flowers’ is an installation that takes up an entire room at the museum, and at first glance, it looks like a pretty landscape of arches and towers. But then you realise that when folded shut, each component is actually in the shape of guns or bullets. It invites visitors to consider the relationship between beauty and destruction, and the price that has to be paid for there to be peace.

‘Les Voyageurs’ by Cédric Le Borgne

River Promenade

The last time Le Borgne’s art visited our shores was at the Singapore Night Festival, where his huge chicken wire sculptures of birds rested on the branches outside the National Museum. This time, he brought over his human-shaped works instead. Suspended beneath the canopy of leaves beside the river with the CBD lights glittering behind them, these Peter Pan-like figures highlight how fleeting our existence is in relation to our surroundings.

‘Walter’ by Dawn Ng

ACM Hardcourt

Singapore’s favourite bunny is back! The dorky, somewhat disproportionate – but still very lovable – Walter has been popping up guerrilla-style around Singapore since 2010. He exists to get people to re-examine the spaces around him, and this time, he’s set to invade the space in front of the Asian Civilisations Museum to remind us of the link between art and history.

New Opera

Oct 23; 10.30pm; Empress Place Lawn

Intimidated by opera? New Opera Singapore is here to demystify the art form and make it more accessible to the general public. The group is set to perform a series of songs, including ‘Habanera’ from Carmen in Mandarin, as well as ‘Una Furitva Lagrima’ from L’elisir d’amore and ‘Les Oiseaux dans la Charmille’ from Les contes d’Hoffmann, as a tribute to the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall nearby.


Oct 24; 10.30pm; Empress Place Lawn

Let your heart beat to the sound of ZingO’s drums during the closing performance of River Nights. The local percussion collective combine traditional and modern techniques, and hope to swing the spotlight on Chinese culture, music and education.

Time Out Singapore: The Updated Singapore River Walk

16 Oct 2015: The National Heritage Board’s Singapore River Walk has been around for a decade, but the trail just got a facelift courtesy of the American Express Foundation, which donated US$160,000 to the cause. Here are the seven additions to the trail.

Singapore River Walk

Collyer Quay

Comprising Clifford Pier and Customs House, Collyer Quay was once the gateway for travellers into Singapore. It’s named after George Chancellor Collyer, who built the road and seawall in the early 1860s. Customs House was built in 1969, and the 23m-high tower’s purpose was to allow officers to keep a look out for smugglers coming in from the sea.

Raffles Place

Originally established by Sir Stamford Raffles in the 1820, Raffles Place used to be known as Commercial Square, and it was Singapore’s main shopping district. The only underground mosque in Singapore is also located here – Masjid Moulana Mohamed Ali been in the basement of UOB Plaza since 1994.

Former Thong Chai Medical Institution

Tucked away inconspicuously along Eu Tong Sen Street is the former Thong Chai Medical Institution. It was founded in 1867 by seven Chinese merchants in order to provide free healthcare advice and treatment for all. The building style is a rare example of a secular Chinese architecture, and it was declared a National Monument in 1973.

Masjid Omar Kampong Melaka

Masjid Omar is the oldest place of worship in Singapore, and it served the Malay community as well as Muslims from India, the Middle East and South-East Asia. It was built by an Arab-Yemeni man called Syed Sharif Omar bin Ali Aljunied – after whom the mosque was named – a merchant whose family built many mosques, wells and bridges for the community.

Tan Si Chong Su Temple and Clemenceau Bridge

The Chinese temple – also known as Po Chiak Keng, which means ‘protection of the innocent’ in Hokkien – was built by merchants from the Tan clan, and gazetted as a National Monument in 1883. Nearby, Clemenceau Bridge was first built in 1940 to replace the old Pulau Saigon Bridge, and named after the French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, who visited the country in 1920.

Alkaff Bridge

The 55m-long bridge was built by the Alkaff family in 1996 in the shape of a tongkang (traditional river boat) It’s named after a cluster of warehouses – or godowns – called Alkaff Quay.

Robertson Quay

It’s now an enclave of condos, restaurants and shops, but back then, Robertson Quay was dominated by warehouses. There were also settlements such as Kampong Martin, where boat-builders and fishermen used to live, until it was destroyed by a fire in 1916.


Time Out Singapore: WTA Finals Weekend Itinerary

11 Oct 2015: Here’s to a great weekend of on and off-court attractions and happenings for you to enjoy as the WTA Finals unfolds

WTA Finals Weekend Itinerary

Singapore is a place with many nicknames. Locals call it the ‘Little Red Dot’ – a pet name affectionately adopted by locals due to the city-state’s size and appearance on world maps. But don’t let its size full you. In this city where rustic shophouses exist alongside glassy skyscrapers, hawker food gets cooked up a few streets away from restaurants helmed by celebrity chefs, and nearly every month features a massive city-wide event like the WTA Finals, there is plenty going on. Here, we recommend a few spots you must check out if you’re planning to pop by the ‘Lion City’.

OCT 31, 2015


Wake up early and explore the area of Kallang, home to the Sports Hub, where the main WTA Finals events are happening. If you’re a morning person, head to the Kallang Leisure Park for a game of bowling or a few rounds of ice-skating to psych you up for the day. Little ones can visit the Peek-a-boo Playground, located on the second floor, which features a four-storey structure complete with slides and a ball pit. They’re all open from 10am. However, if you prefer starting your day with a hearty brunch and a cuppa – and you should indeed line your stomach, since it’s going be a long day ahead – drop by Loysel’s Toy, a breezy Melbourne-style coffee hangout by the Kallang River, and get a shot of its famous espresso.


The first set of Doubles and Singles semi-finals is taking place at the Centre Court, Singapore Indoor Stadium from 12.30pm. Make sure you get there on time to avoid lengthy queues. Assuming the matches don’t go on for too long – the world record for the longest tennis match is set by John Isner and Nicolas Mahut in 2010, which went on for a whopping 11 hours and five minutes –  take the afternoon to explore Orchard Road. Malls like ION, Ngee Ann City and 313 Somerset are all indoors and air-conditioned, and you can get your shopping fix. For something a little more local and hipster, head to the Tiong Bahru area, where you can find a cute little bookshop called BooksActually, which focuses on selling local titles, while Strangelets and Fleas & Trees offer an eclectic collection of accessories and furniture. There are also a few cafes here if you want a snack to tide you over, such as 40 Hands or Plain Vanilla.


Go back to the Indoor Stadium before 6.30pm for the second set of Singles and Doubles semi-finalmatches, which will determine the line-up for the last match of the season tomorrow. After that, go to Kilo for some homely Italian-Japanese comfort food for dinner. Head upstairs to Kilo Lounge for the tunes afterwards, or maybe go to Brewerkz – a branch of the local microbrewery – for a pouring of Made-in-Singapore beer. We like the Golden Ale, while the Oatmeal Stout is a good substitue for a hankering for Guinness. If you don’t mind venturing into town for a nightcap, then we recommend checking out 28 HongKong Street and Sugarhall in Chinatown, Gibson in Outram Park, or Antidote at Fairmont Hotel near City Hall.

NOV 1, 2015


For those of you who chose to skip the drinks in Chinatown the night before, or want to explore the more cultural side of the district, then, the morning is a good time to go. Start your day with a quick bite at Maxwell Road Hawker Centre, which offers a selection of local fare like Xing Xing’s ondeh ondeh (ping pong ball-sized glutinous rice dumplings with brown palm sugar filling and coated by grated coconut, $0.40, stall 31) or Hajmeer Kwaja Muslim Food’s roti prata (fried flat bread served with curry, from $0.70, stall 103). Walk along Maxwell Road when your stomach is satisfied, take a right onto South Bridge Road, and you’ll find the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, which has six floors of religious artefacts plus a tranquil rooftop garden. Further down the road is the Sri Mariamman Temple, the oldest Hindu temple in town. There are also some stalls selling souvenirs around the area, in case you need to stock up on a little present for mum and pops.


Reward yourself with some local food cooked up with an international twist at The Tuckshop on Guillemard Road after all the walking. From there, walk to Dakota MRT station and head to Stadium, which is just one stop away. Be sure to head over early so you don’t miss the biggest match of the tournament, as two of the best female tennis players compete for the title of champion. If you find yourself with a bit of time to kill before the matches, swing by the Fan Zone, where you might catch a glimpse of some of the players and maybe even get an autograph or two. You’ll also find an art installation called Tennis Swing here – it comprises six LED swings from which visitors can experience what it’s like to be a tennis ball, as they’ll hear the ‘pock’ of the ball being hit by a racket while they swing. The Doubles and Singles finals are due to take place from 3.30pm, once again at the Centre Court at the Indoor Stadium.


The game may be over, but fans of the tournament can continue to soak in the spirit of tennis at Bugis+ and Marina Square. The shopping malls are both partners of the WTA Finals, and a number of their tenants are offering discounts to ticketholders – check their websites or Facebook pages for details. Shoppers can also look out for a series of interactive 3D artworks related to tennis on their glossy floors, which are created by locally based artist, Ben Quek. Snap a photo of yourself with them and stand the chance to win prizes. For those who decide to go to Marina Square, take a short walk across the Helix Bridge – take in the views of Marina Bay at sunset while you’re there – and reach Marina Bay Sands. Arguably the most famous building on the Singapore skyline, it’s home to a hotel, a casino, and a whole bunch of high-end shops and restaurants. If you’re looking for something that’s pocket-friendly, we suggest booking a table at Long Chim for some delicious Thai food. Wanna go all out? Head to Waku Ghin, a Japanese restaurant that’s featured as one of ‘Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants’. To round off the night – and a weekend of courtside action – check into Adrift and sip on a Golden Ace, the official drink of the WTA Finals. It’s a refreshing mix of Jack Daniel’s, calamansi juice, rosemary, Schweppes tonic and soda. It costs $23, but present your tennis match ticket and enjoy 50% off. Cheers to that!

Time Out Singapore: ‘Hello Goodbye’ Review

14 Sep 2015: The Singapore Repertory Theatre stages its very first rom-com, but the bland production fails to arouse any sort of warm, fuzzy feelings in us


Hello Goodbye - SRT

Photo by Singapore Repertory Theatre

The Singapore Repertory Theatre is known for staging some pretty hard-hitting stuff, but for the first time in its 22-year history, the company decided to delve into a much more whimsical world of romantic comedy by performing Peter Souter’s Hello Goodbye. It’s a refreshing change, especially since the local theatre scene is currently dominated by works that deal with more serious topics. But while the idea sounds appealing, the choice of play leaves much to be desired.

Hello Goodbye’s fundamental flaw lies in its script. It begins with two strangers, Juliet (Denise Tan) and Alex (Shane Mardjuki), both moving into the same apartment on the same day. Rather than getting their incompetent estate agents to sort the mess out, they choose to squabble like children for the entire hour of the first act – which culminates in a make-out session and the curtains coming down just before their clothes fall off. The second act takes place ten years down the line, when the couple is on the brink of a divorce. It makes us wish that we hadn’t nipped to the bathroom during the intermission, as the most important, tender part of the play seems to have taken place then.

Since we didn’t get to see how Juliet and Alex’s relationship developed, it’s impossible to empathise with them when they fall out of love. The premise of the play is that opposites attract – but we struggle to find anything attractive here. Every play requires the audience to suspend a certain degree of disbelief, but their match is so improbable that it leaves us feeling completely incredulous. Tan portrays the spoilt, crazy, selfish Juliet perfectly well (after all, she did play a similar role in Pangdemonium’s The Rise and Fall of Little Voice a couple of years ago), and Mardjuki is great at playing up all the quirks and quiet eccentricity of Alex – and yet there’s almost no chemistry between them. In fact, it almost seems like they couldn’t quite believe that they lasted ten years together, either. Their exchanges are often predictable and their jokes are more cringey than witty.

The production could have used a much stronger direction from Lisa Spirling. We don’t see the point in bringing onstage the two secondary characters – Juliet’s ex-boyfriend (David Howard) and a pretty auctioneer (Amanda Tee) – for instance, as they appear for a grand total of around five minutes each, and their physical presence adds little to the story.

Don’t get us wrong. We love a good rom-com as much as anyone, but the play simply doesn’t have enough charm or soul to keep us engaged for two hours. It’s by no means a terrible production, and there are one or two rather heart-warming scenes in the second half, but we’re not sure what to take away from the production, and we certainly didn’t leave with the warm, fuzzy feelings that we were looking for.

Time Out Singapore: Sukki Singapora

24 Aug 2015: Yes, Sukki Singapora is the Lion City’s first professional burlesque artist. No, that’s got nothing to do with stripping

Sukki Singapora

Luscious waves of electric blue and purple hair, a chic vintage dress, sky-high designer heels and a perfect, lipsticked smile that lights up the café we met in one rainy afternoon – you simply can’t miss Sukki Singapora. She looks every part the pin-up girl, but make no mistake that behind her glamorous exterior is a hardworking, determined, and surprisingly down-to-earth… ‘dork!’ she grins. ‘I’m such a huge dork!’

Except this dork is Singapore’s first burlesque artist. Yes, the corseted, sensual, titillating, swinging-from-the-ceiling kind of performance. Sukki is a true trailblazer in that regard: she’s the woman who successfully convinced local authorities to legalise the misunderstood art form. Because that’s exactly what it is, says Sukki. Misunderstood. And she’s taking it upon her lithe shoulders to change that perception.

Born Sukki Menon, the 25-year-old grew up as a half Singaporean-Indian, half British girl whose parents wanted her to be a lawyer or doctor. ‘I had a very traditional upbringing, and I wanted to do something that felt liberating,’ she recalls. ‘I’ve been trained in classical ballet since the age of seven, and I discovered vintage clothing during university [in the UK]. So one day I was googling dresses – I’m such a millennial, I know – and found this thing called burlesque. Two questions popped into mind: “What is it?” and “Where do I sign up?”’

Fate stepped in, and a comedy club called The Laugh Inn opened down the road from where she lived in the UK. Sukki marched up to the owners and talked them into believing she was an experienced burlesque dancer. She had never done it before.

‘So I had seven days to teach myself how to do burlesque by watching YouTube videos!’ she laughs. ‘When I went in, everything that could go wrong went wrong. I couldn’t even find the zip at the back of my corset, so I literally spent, like, 5mins wiggling around the stage like this.’ She sticks out her elbows as she awkwardly reaches for her back, ducking her head around to check. The crowd assumed the gaffe was part of the comedy, and went wild.

Burlesque began as a type of comedic musical performance that poked fun at highbrow theatre in the 17th century. It became popular in Victorian England, and soon spread to the other side of the Atlantic. Unlike the European style, American Burlesque is more focused on female nudity. That – and burlesque’s association with alcohol when it stormed the US – explains its seedy reputation.

Not any longer. When the art form made a recent comeback as ‘neo-burlesque’, performances centred on nostalgic showgirl glamour. ‘Burlesque is not sleazy, and it’s not just someone prancing around on stage. There’s a real art behind it,’ Sukki insists.

In fact, a 5min act can take up to two years to wrought. That may sound excessive, but then again Sukki is a one-woman machine. She does everything from designing and hand-sewing all her gorgeous costumes to coming up with the full choreography and deciding how to light the show. Pretty astounding for someone who read geography at university and who used to work as a computer programmer.

Burlesque also requires a Sisyphian amount of physical stamina. Sukki hits the gym five days a week while trying her best to maintain a balanced diet – but she’s quick to point out that burlesque is not only for petite girls. ‘Anyone can do it,’ she shrugs. ‘It’s all about body confidence and loving the skin that you’re in. When you’re confident, you exude sexiness.’

Which might account for Sukki’s audience: it’s 80 percent female, not the leer-and-sneer frat boy affair you’d expect. ‘Burlesque is more sensual than outrageously sexy,’ she clarifies. ‘Striptease does play an important role, but it’s more about the tease than the strip.’

In the four years practising the craft, Sukki is already seeing her hard work bear fruit. She’s headlined shows around the world. She’s founded The Singapore Burlesque Society, attracting a flock of 600, including several guys who’re interested in ‘boy-lesque’. Hell, she was even invited to Buckingham Palace two years ago for her contributions to the global burlesque scene.

‘That was surreal!’ Sukki smiles, her eyes widening. ‘I was told that in the 312 years that Buckingham Palace has existed, I was the only burlesque artist to be invited for tea. It really helped put Singapore on the map.’

All that swayed her once-averse relatives – they thought it was a shameful profession – to her side. They’ve even started collecting magazine and newspaper clippings that feature her. But that pales in significance to Sukki’s biggest coup: convincing the Singapore government to legalise her art.

In January, with the ban only just lifted, Sukki made history by performing at an event at Clifford Pier. This debut of the dance on our shores was long in the making, she reveals, and involved a touch of subterfuge. That Singapore Burlesque Society? It ran burlesque workshops, disguised as yoga classes.

And now, she’s about to participate in the island’s largest fiesta – the Grand Prix. Sukki is strutting her stuff at the post-race party Boudoir Noire, co-organised by New York’s (in)famous ‘theatre of varieties’, The Box. She’ll be performing two of her favourite acts, including ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’, which features a huge sparkly ring with lights and a champagne bath.

‘I think that burlesque is going to explode after Boudoir
Noire. It might even be the next big thing to take over the fitness scene, like pole dancing did four years ago,’ she muses, and then giggles. ‘It’s called “burlexercise”. Really! Go google it!’

Time Out Singapore: Chan Hampe Galleries’ Fifth Anniversary

Eugene Soh - Creation of Ah Dam

Eugene Soh’s ‘Creation of Ah Dam’

14 Aug 2015: In just five years, Chan Hampe Galleries has built a name for itself as a popular, exciting and successful art space. It regularly sells out at art fairs and the young local artists it represents are among the most sought-after both in Singapore and overseas. Now, with its reputation consolidated, the people behind the gallery want to do something different.

‘Money is important, of course, but nowadays everywhere you go, people are always flogging you something,’ says the gallery’s co-owner and director Benjamin Hampe. ‘I mean, what happened to just looking at art, y’know? There’s a real dearth of not-for-profit art spaces in Singapore, and we’d like to fill that gap.’

The opportunity to do so came up when Angie Chan and her husband Nick Davies – both co-owners, too – bought a home on Lorong 24A in Geylang. It’s no ordinary space: the beautifully renovated shophouse is part of development consultancy firm Pocket Project’s Shophouse Series.

The project paired seven local architects with eight shophouses from the ’20s. They were tasked with marrying the structures’ old world-charm with contemporary sensitivities. So Chan and Davies live upstairs, in a home filled with brightly coloured furniture and pieces of art adorning almost every surface, and they’ve ‘donated’ the ground floor to build a ‘gallery’, named Shophouse 5 after its unit number.

Stepping through the blue-grey front door, the first thing we notice is how quiet and enclosed the space is. Shophouse 5 is decidedly cosier than Chan Hampe Galleries, and Hampe tells us that’s precisely the idea: ‘We want this to be a space for quiet contemplation, an intimate place for people to get to know the art and the artists. We’re not looking for foot traffic here. It’s for those who are in the know. People should go and look for art, otherwise it’s not worth it!’

In order to further differentiate itself from Chan Hampe, Shophouse 5 is a place that Hampe hopes can host more controversy. ‘We’re not looking to offend people; this is not a platform to push any sort of political agenda. But we want the works to explore truths and discuss issues that should be talked about,’ he explains. He pauses, then adds with a grin: ‘Though, I’ve always told my artists that if they can get my gallery shut down, I’d be very proud!’

‘Not another SG50 show’

In celebration of Chan Hampe’s fifth anniversary and the opening of Shophouse 5, the two venues are holding a joint exhibition, Common Ground. The idea started when Hampe gave gallery director Samantha Segar a curatorial challenge: to put together a show that explores what binds – and divides – Singaporeans. It features 21 works by 16 artists that Chan Hampe has worked with in the past, but Hampe didn’t want this to be ‘another SG50 show’, as he puts it. ‘A nation’s story is made up of so many different stories. Some stories are of pain, or loss, or disagreements both politically and socially, but they’re all still real.’

Highlights include Eugene Soh’s ‘Creation of Ah Dam’ – a play on Michelangelo’s ‘The Creation of Adam’ – that Hampe describes as having ‘an immediate sense of humour and irreverence, but also has a lot of small, interesting socio-political elements’. Another is Alvin Ong’s oil painting, ‘Swee Chai’, which depicts Ang Swee Chai, a surgeon living in exile in London. ‘She’s an activist, although not a bitter one,’ Hampe says. ‘But still, this isn’t a work that will be collected by the National Gallery!’

The works on display, many of which are commissioned especially for this exhibition, are loosely divided by theme: the ones at Chan Hampe are mostly about the nation and identity, while those at Shophouse 5 are more concerned with universal topics such as nature. The works at Shophouse 5 can only be viewed on a by-appointment basis, although there will be an open house on August 15 and 16.

Although Common Ground is curated in-house, Hampe prefers to be hands-off with the projects at Shophouse 5. ‘There’s so much you can do with this space,’ he says. ‘I don’t want to have another commercial gallery.’