Wednesday 23 September 2015

Founding Fathers exhibition: We Built a Nation

Artefacts of founding fathers give peek into history
Display includes 115 items, about half of which come from Mr Lee Kuan Yew's estate
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 22 Sep 2015

A nondescript formica-topped table from the basement dining room of 38 Oxley Road, where the nation's founding leaders once gathered to discuss how to secure independence from British rule, can now be seen in an exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore.

The executors and trustees of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's estate, his children, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, donated the table to the museum's newest showcase called We Built A Nation.

The exhibition chronicles the contributions of the pioneer team of leaders such as Dr Toh Chin Chye, Dr Goh Keng Swee and Mr S. Rajaratnam, who formed the People's Action Party alongside Mr Lee.

It includes 115 artefacts, about half of which come from the Lee estate. Some highlights are Mr Lee's writing table; a red box he used to keep his working documents until Feb 4, a day before he was hospitalised; his desktop computer; and language books he had studied, such as a 1951 publication called Malay Sayings and a 1955 copy of Lessons In The Amoy Vernacular.

It is the largest and most thorough showcase of his personal effects since he died on March 23.

It is also the first such exhibition to home in on the contributions of Singapore's founding fathers.

The families of the early leaders, who also include Mr E.W. Barker, Mr Hon Sui Sen, Mr Yusof Ishak, Mr Devan Nair and Mr Othman Wok, loaned artefacts for the exhibition.

Among these is a set of recently declassified documents from Dr Goh's "Albatross File", which comprise, among other things, handwritten notes of meetings with Malaysian leaders relating to the separation from Malaysia. Dr Goh explained in a 1980 interview that the Albatross "was Malaysia. By that time, the great expectations that we foolishly had - that Malaysia would bring prosperity, common market, peace, harmony, all that - we were quickly disillusioned. And it became an Albatross round our necks".

The exhibition details the nation's first decade of independence from 1965 to 1975 and is divided into eight sections, beginning with the birth of a nation.

It will be open daily from 10am to 7pm starting today, for a year. Admission is free for Singaporeans and permanent residents.

Culture, Community and Youth Minister Lawrence Wong, speaking at the opening, said the idea arose after an exhibition in memory of Mr Lee in March drew large crowds.

Mr Wong said the two guiding principles behind it was that it should honour not just one man but also the founding generation of leaders, and it should focus on the ideals and values they stood for. These include integrity, country above self, multiracialism and meritocracy.

"I hope visitors will also take time to reflect on the stories behind the artefacts, and how they speak of the values and ideals that underpin the foundations of our nation," he added.

Other highlights at the showcase include a Seiko gold watch gifted to Mr Rajaratnam; Mr Hon's calculator - one of the first produced in a Hewlett Packard factory here; and a Colt Cobra revolver belonging to the late national development minister Lim Kim San. The gun was issued to ministers to protect themselves in Singapore's tumultuous early years.

Speaking at the exhibition, Mr Lee Hsien Yang said the writing table had once been used by himself, his sister and elder brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, for tuition lessons. It later became the late Mr Lee's personal desk.

Other artefacts from the Lee estate include a model sailing ship presented to Mr Lee by a Hokkien shopkeeper following a "gruelling schedule" of constituency visits from December 1962 to September 1963. Mr Lee treasured it because it represented the moment he could feel the people warming to him as their leader.

Also on show is a scale model of the 100-year-old pre-war Oxley Road bungalow, which might be the only way for the public to have a close look at the historic space. Mr Lee said in his will that he wanted his home demolished immediately after his death or when his daughter moves out of it.

Our new exhibition We Built a Nation opens today!Through a selection of more than 100 artefacts, many never seen...
Posted by National Museum of Singapore on Monday, September 21, 2015

'Mr Lee's values not rooted in devotion to objects'
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 22 Sep 2015

The gifting of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's possessions to the National Heritage Board is a sacrifice by his daughter Wei Ling, who continues to live in her family home at 38, Oxley Road.

The donated pieces hold considerable sentimental value for her as well as Mr Lee's younger son Hsien Yang, who made the point yesterday at the opening of an exhibition that included furniture in use from their family home.

But, he added, their father's values have always been anchored in pragmatism rather than any devotion to physical objects.

"His (Mr Lee's) love was for Singapore and Singaporeans, and his life's work was creating and building our nation, a land of peace and prosperity, a place of opportunity for his fellow Singaporeans," said Mr Lee Hsien Yang at the We Built A Nation exhibition at the National Museum.

The late Mr Lee had made it clear that he did not need and did not want any monument.

"Lee Kuan Yew did not see his legacy in bricks and mortar, but living on in the values and principles that make our nation work," said the younger Mr Lee. "His life's work lives on in you and me, in every Singaporean and in Singapore."

The elder Mr Lee, who died on March 23 at age 91, lived a simple life in the pre-war bungalow in Oxley Road. Among the items at the exhibition are pieces of furniture used for decades.

His son later told reporters: "My father's wishes are that the house he lived in should be torn down. We thought (this exhibition) was one way that people would have a chance to see some of the things which were in the house."

The late Mr Lee wanted the home demolished after his death, or after his daughter moves out.

When asked about the call by some Singaporeans to preserve it, Mr Lee Hsien Yang said: "I suppose the question is if we respect Mr Lee's wishes, and how do you express that we want to honour the man when we can't respect his wishes?

"Many people accept that the house is historic but, at the same time, they also accept that it's part of his values, and we should honour his values."

He added: "He did not ask many things of Singaporeans. This is the one thing that mattered to him. Surely, we can find it in our hearts."

The son of former deputy prime minister Goh Keng Swee also spoke fondly of his father last night and paid tribute to the country's founding fathers, who had the guts to steer the country through its turbulent early years.

They were "politically astute persons motivated by a set of values that has seen Singapore through 50 years'', said Mr Goh Kian Chee. "Without the motivation, without strong self-belief in our values, put into practice in all aspects of policy, in public and social life, I wonder where Singapore would be today."

In Pictures: Artefacts from We Built A Nation exhibition. Mr Lee Kuan Yew's white shirt and trousers in the 1960's can...
Posted by The Straits Times on Monday, September 21, 2015

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