20 December 2019: The Future of Our Pasts workshops help young people engage in Singapore’s history through art and creative projects

By Kelly Ng

TFOOP workshop titled ‘My Old Photos’. Photo by Yi Shien Sim.

From October to December, Yale-NUS College organised a series of The Future of Our Pasts (TFOOP) workshops to help young Singaporeans engage in Singapore’s history through art and creative projects. The workshops are a continuation ofthe conversations on Singapore’s historical narrative that started with the TFOOP Festival held at the start of the year.

With the aim of demonstrating how creative and artistic mediums can help expand one’s historical imagination, the themed workshops were facilitated by local art practitioners and researchers.

President of Yale-NUS College and Professor of Humanities (History) Tan Tai Yong, who is also a member of the Singapore Bicentennial Advisory Panel, said, “From TFOOP Festival, we saw many compelling stories from Singapore’s past that began with an individual’s own family history. Thus, we curated these workshops, based on the theme of ‘family’, to help more Singaporeans find their own unique entry points into Singapore’s story. We hope to continue to encourage young people to engage in history-making.”

Ms Evannia Handoyo, Programme Executive and Yale-NUS alumna, Mr Art Naming, Programme Consultant and Yale-NUS alumnus, and Ms Tan Li-Jen, Research Associate (all three at Yale-NUS College), are organising the TFOOP workshops. They explained that each workshop connects participants with local arts practitioners who work in a variety of mediums: performance, photography, writing and more. The workshops also helped participants find “personal and intimate entry points into historical study”.

Ms Janel Ang (centre of photo) at TFOOP workshop titled ‘Let’s Cook Soup Together’. Photo by Jonathan Tan.

For example, a workshop led by arts facilitator Ms Janel Ang and writer Ms Xiao Ting Teo (both Yale-NUS alumni), titled ‘Let’s Cook Soup Together’ encouraged participants to explore their family’s history originating from family kitchens. These conversations could be sparked from sharing flavours or cooking methods, or the kinds of family recipes passed down from one generation to the next.

“The act of making and eating food is a powerful window to human interaction. In the workshop, participants got to introduce themselves using cooking metaphors, and think about how they contribute to metaphorical pots of soup, or groups in society.” said Ms Ang.

Additionally, Ms Teo said that the workshop was simply an “entry point” for people to further explore their own personal histories and stories. After all, “family histories are not just stagnant memories of the past” and seemingly miniscule details like “how to remove the bitterness in bitter gourd or how chicken masala came about” show that history is alive and relevant in our everyday lives.

Likewise, the TFOOP organising team said that during the workshops, they enjoyed hearing many interesting personal stories that never made it to the history textbooks but were nonetheless important in illuminating different times in Singapore’s history.

TFOOP workshop titled ‘I Got It From Home’. Photo by Yi Shien Sim.

Other TFOOP workshops revolved around personal items or photographs. For example, the workshop, ‘I Got It From Home’, looked at personal objects that participants brought from home. Each object represented a slice of family history and the group was tasked to deconstruct and reimagine the objects, as if it were exhibited in a museum.

Perhaps, as the workshops come to a close, it is worthy to think about how history can be personal and dynamic. As the workshop organisers conveyed, “Through art and conversation, history no longer becomes one set of answers about the past, but a way to ask questions about ourselves, our identities, and our future”.

A final closing event will be held in January 2020 to conclude the TFOOP activities. As part of the closing event, a panel discussion organised in conjunction with the National University of Singapore (NUS) Museum will be convened around the topic on how history and art can come together and how to facilitate discussions on history beyond academic settings.