Initiated by Logue, FOUR FACES is an interpretation of the four seasons in life through a community arts project with seniors from the SilverACE Senior Centre at Jalan Bukit Merah. Working together with a group of young artists and volunteers, the seniors produce an intimate art installation of four artworks depicting his or her life philosophy. It seeks to be a personal memoir of the ordinary man and invites the public to come into his or her world.
I was paired up with a 92 year old lady, 易婆婆, who has certainly led a humble but colourful life. Born as the first daughter to a Chinese immigrant who started his new life with his wife in Singapore, she recalls having to grow up rather quickly under the hardships of the Japanese Occupation, her father’s sudden passing and her undertaking the role of the sole breadwinner of her family. Although a great number of years were spent working very hard, she never laments shouldering this responsibility. Under her small petite frame lies the strength of her love for her father, her filial piety as a daughter and resilient love as an older sister to see her younger brothers grow up with food on the table and have a good education. Today, she enjoys each day she has, the little joys of having a simple meal, sewing, seeing old friends and walking around a flourishing Singapore that has come a long way since the 1920s.
FOUR FACES was exhibited at the Silver Arts Festival in September 2015. Thank you Logue and National Arts Council 's Community Arts team, and 易婆婆 who has been so generous in sharing her life experiences and heartening in her ever positive outlook on life!
Photo credit: Logue and Donn Tan
Where she grew up
This was where Popo spent her childhood years and the place where she lived with her family: Chinatown, 牛车水. Popo remembers the streets of her neighborhood this way. She grabs some sheets of paper and rolls of crepe paper and began laying them out on the table. Right in the middle: Hong Lim Park, where she brought her younger brothers down to watch and play football. A small Chinese button symbolizing the small humble beginning she had in a shophouse room along North Canal Road. A visual snapshot of landmarks, streets, and the Singapore River and her early childhood lying amidst all of them.
Where everything changed
Popo has never painted or picked up a brush in her life. But with broad and firm strokes, she layered white upon white until the entire board was filled. In Chinese culture, white is symbolic in death and mourning. I asked her, what were her last words to her father before he passed away when she was 23.
She said, “爸爸, 不用担心, 我负担.”
Where she had ½ her eyes open
For the next 56 years of her life, Popo worked very, very hard. When Popo’s father passed on, she took on the role of the sole breadwinner for her mothers and two younger brothers. She worked as a dentist’s assistant, for $70 a month. Because that was not sufficient to feed her family, she would come home from her dayjob and continue sewing maid uniforms for extra money late into the night with the sewing machine her late father had bought for her. “Somehow,” she wondered out loud, “I think he knew I could use this to feed us.”
Her life was split in half, a cycle of holding two jobs, one in the day, one in the night. “At the dentist’s, sometimes I would be so tired that I would close one eye and keep the other open, just so that I could rest for a bit. ”
Where life was joyful again
After retiring in 2003, Popo moved into a single apartment in Bukit Merah.
She does not need to work anymore as she receives a monthly government allowance. “I wake up, exercise while I brush my teeth, watch TV, walk to the market to buy some ingredients to cook my next meal. I am happy, very happy.”
Popo has always been good with fabric and sewing, and proudly brought a flower-shaped coaster made out of folded pieces of different fabrics. “People give me fabric that they have left, or do not want anymore, and I thought of a way to sew them into something useful again.” Coincidentally, Popo loves flowers and has a green thumb caring for her growing potted plant garden. With all the hardships in her life behind her, she has finally come to savour the joy life brings again.