As Singaporeans recover from a deep and united national mourning over former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew’s passing in March, they are once again banding together in preparation for the island city-state’s landmark 50th birthday, or SG 50 as it’s officially known. I myself, as a foreigner working in this country, have the unique opportunity to both observe and take part in a show of national unity unbeknown to me. While Australia, my previous home, celebrates its independence each year on Australia Day by drinking enough beer to potentially drown a country the size of Singapore, here celebrations are handled in a more culturally sensitive manner. However, what has captured my imagination most is the daring level of creativity that the government agencies demonstrate to create a spectacle that truly examines the Singaporean national character.
The creative project at the heart of the celebration is the SG Heart Map. It’s been enabled by the government’s Housing & Development Board and executed by Black Design, possibly Singapore’s most accomplished creative agency. Officially termed as “the first-ever crowd-sourced map of the nation’s heart”, the sweetly illustrated and cleverly designed visual map began life as a postcard distributed across Singapore, asking citizens to retell their most-cherished memories from the past 50 years. The response was overwhelming and has enlivened the project, with some 200,000 locals taking the time to recount in detail the one moment that best shaped their lives in Singapore and post it back to the SG Heart team.
I was recently introduced to Jackson Tan, who heads the creative team at Black Design; he told me the stories range from first kisses to emotional recoveries from the Second World War, each one thoughtful and revealing. The theme that ran through the majority of the responses was “home”, a coup of course for the Housing & Development Board behind the project but also an insight into Singapore’s national character.
For those wanting to explore a dynamic place coming into its own creatively, now really is the time to visit Singapore. With findings from the SG Heart Map used to create a unique cultural programming mix, with a wide range of events spread out across the year, I’ll be in attendance at as many as possible. I very much hope to see you there.
Nolan Giles is Monocle’s Singapore bureau chief.