Whether they encourage Singaporeans to be more courteous, kind, environmentally friendly or to use grammatically correct English, national campaigns have been part and parcel of Singapore life for decades.

Campaign City celebrates this facet of our national identity, and the Singapore Memory Project had a little chat with Alan Oei and Cheong Kah Kit, curator and project manager of Campaign City, to find out a little more about the project.

iremembersg: How did the idea of Campaign City come about, why an exhibition about campaigns?

Alan Oei: I’d been interested in campaigns for a long while. We look at the old posters and we think they’re badly designed and laughable – but that’s missing the point. Campaigns were incredibly persuasive and powerful back then. I wanted to find out why. The first edition started in 2010, when I transformed Evil Empire into an old bookshop re-looking at our old campaigns. NLB approached me to expand this exhibition.

Cheong Kah Kit: In 2010, me and some colleagues visited the original Campaign City exhibition and we were intrigued by Alan’s curatorial concept. We thought that it would be wonderful to bring this exhibition over to NLB. Our idea was to re-stage the exhibition to showcase Singapore creative talent as well as NLB’s poster collection, housed at Level 11 of the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library. In the many site visits with Alan that followed, our collective consensus was that level 11 at Lee Kong Chian Reference Library is the most ideal location. Firstly, it houses NLB’s poster collection and Singapore’s history / Social Science collection. As a strategic location, we hope to encourage visitors to to the exhibition to explore more Singapore’s history within these two important collections. Secondly, the giant light box panels along the book walls at level 11 would form the spectacular back drop for the artworks.

iremembersg: What was the process like to put this version of the exhibition together?

Alan Oei: Long. Very long. It took us almost 2 years to finally put it together. At times, incredibly frustrating trying to track down information on campaigns (there is no proper documentation), and other times it felt completely serendipitous. For example, Celine, our researcher managed to find the designer who made the Family Planning poster and he lent us his original version. What crazy luck?!?!

Cheong Kah Kit: Alan and ourselves worked together to set the overall curatorial and design direction. Some aspect of project management include overseeing the production of the artworks by the 50 artists invited for the exhibition, selection of campaign movements and posters to be showcased, getting copyrights approval with respective government agencies for usage of their campaign posters for the exhibition, catalogue design, as well as exhibition activities such as tours and workshops.

iremembersg: Why did you decide to involve artists in the process? It brings a very different angle from the normal “top down” approach of government campaigns.

Cheong Kah Kit: Artist involvement was already present in the original Campaign City exhibition in 2010. For this exhibition in 2013, we decided to increase the number of participants to 50 artists, based on Alan recommendations after his survey of the exhibition. These 50 artists are of various creative disciplines, such as architecture, visual arts, film, design and writing.

iremembersg: What’s your favourite part of the exhibition?

Cheong Kah Kit: I like all parts of the exhibition but one area that stands out is the interactive wall, where visitors can pen their thoughts about their most memorable campaigns. [iremembersg’s note: You can see what some visitors have been writing on our Instagram page – iremembersg on Instagram]

One of the stickers on the interactive wall (taken from iremembersg on Instagram)

Alan Oei: Probably the fact that we’ve managed to occupy and disturb the quiet of the reference library. We’ve always heard the official version, statistics of the campaigns but now we have plenty of irreverent, rebellious and colourful artists having their say too.

iremembersg: Why should someone check out the exhibition?

Cheong Kah Kit: It’s fun and informative! You will learn about the historical aspects of campaign movements and its social impact in the construction of Singapore story. Lesser-known campaigns such as “Male with long hair will be attended to last” and “Eat frozen pork” are also featured. Last but not least, be intrigued by the 50 campaign poster artworks on display, a reinterpretation of Singapore’s campaign movements by our local creative talent.

Alan Oei: Have you squatted by the drain to brush your teeth? Do you think Teamy the bee is cool or weird? I read on a blog someone said he wanted to punch Singa. No matter how we feel about campaigns, these campaigns have invariably shaped our individual and national psyche. Our lives have all been touched by campaigns.

Campaign City is currently ongoing at level 11 of the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library at the National Library Building until 3 July 2013. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to win a $100 shopping voucher!

Daryl Tay
Singapore Memory Project

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