Rafi Abdullah
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Politics of Space:
Keramat, Makam and Tanah Perkuburan
as Alternative Historiographies ***
with Nurhuda Rafie Ang

The project, an extension of Nurhuda Rafie Ang’s work titled Poetics of Space, is a fieldwork research that surveys ‘alternative’ histories of local spiritual sites such as keramat (morgues), makam (tombs), and tanah perkuburan (cemeteries) as speculative narratives to navigate the politics of space in Singapore.

Documentation of work-in-progress

In the landscape of rapid urbanisation in Singapore, some communal beacons such as the Sungei Road Market 1 and Golden Mile Complex 2  have been ‘put down’ or face threats of being demolished, while others that fit in the neo-colonial or capitalist state narrative, such as the racial enclaves 3 are gazetted and thrive with state support. Here, the proposition to consider spiritual sites can shed light on the politics of space in Singapore, as some of the sites that the research is interested in studying — often loaded with respective historicities — remain able to contest in its own ways, the rapid urbanization in Singapore despite attempts made to demolish it.

This includes Makam Habib Noh which survived bombings in the World War II, land reclamation works, and even expresssway expansion plans. There exists formal and informal anecdotes of certain forces at play that did not allow for construction in the area to go ahead as planned, leading to government officials having to avert the makam in urban planning.

Preliminary framework adapted from Dr. Imran bin Tajudeen’s ‘Spirit of Place as a Critique of Tableau: Recuperated Ruins and Re-inscribed Identity in the Expunged Citadels of Melaka, Palembang and Makassar.’

The research is interested in employing an adaptation of the framework of ‘spirit of place’ 4 as a means to interrogate themes surrounding politics of space by way of researching the listed morgues, tombs and cemeteries in Singapore; and their historical materials (official and unoffical). The output of the research is currently intended to be an exhibition presenting a new series of artwork by artists Nur Huda that will employ photogrammetry techniques that will be able to ‘immortalize’ the sites. It is also to be accompanied with a reader and a website that will act as a resource and respository/archive for all the research gathered for each individual site.

* This serves as a working write-up of the research and is susceptible to amends.

1. The Sungei Road Market was home to Singapore’s largest and oldest community flea market from as early as the 1930s. Some of the wares that were sold included second-hand items and vintage goods and they were priced very cheaply. In 2017, the government shut down the market citing the need to make space for residential development. See: https://roots.sg/learn/resources/virtual-tours/sungei-road-flea-market

2. The Golden Mile Complex is a mixed commercial and residential complex that became synonymous with the congregation point for the diasporic Thai community in Singapore. The complex, a hodgepodge of culture, had been recently slated for redevelopment. http://www.ghettosingapore.com/golden-mile-complex-singapores-little-thailand/

3. The state has gazetted three main areas (Chinatown, Kampung Glam and Little India) as racial enclaves for the three main racial groups (Chinese, Malay and Indian) in Singapore, as part of its thrust for economic tourism. https://www.tripsavvy.com/singapores-ethnic-enclaves-1629844

4. The spirit of place is known as a notion encapsulating both, intangible and tangible domains of a space. See: https://www.academia.edu/30871009/Imran_bin_Tajudeen._2011._Spirit_of_Place_as_a_Critique_of_Tableau_Recuperated_Ruins_and_Re-inscribed_Identity_in_the_Expunged_Citadels_of_Melaka_Palembang_and_Makassar._

The research is part of and supported by the McNally School of Fine Arts [MSoFA] Fieldwork Research Grant presented by LASALLE College of the Arts.