Becoming Heritage: Bukit Brown Cemetery by Dr Liew Kai Khiun
Date : 11 Oct 2017
Time : 16:00 - 17:30
Venue : Asia Research Institute, Seminar Room
AS8 Level 4, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260
National University of Singapore @ KRC

Jointly organized by the Asian Urbanisms Cluster of Asia Research Institute, and Department of Architecture, National University of Singapore.


Dr Lee Kah Wee, Department of Architecture, National University of Singapore


In rapidly changing landscape of Singapore, a large part of Bukit Brown Cemetery has been tucked away quietly by the forest for close to a century. Dating back to the colonial period, cemetery spaces have been constantly relocated by urban planners to accommodate the constantly burgeoning city of Singapore. With the exception of the Kranji War Memorial, cemeteries in contemporary Singapore are not accorded with official heritage status and several, like Bishan and Bidadari Cemteries have been cleared for public housing. With a constructed highway and eventual plans for residental developments, it is likely that the same fate will befall on Bukit Brown cemetery that is home to not just uniquely designed tombstone, but a rich biodiversity. Unlike the relatively limited localized objections and general indifference in the past for cemetery, the advocacy for Bukit Brown cemetery was unprecedented as it drew different segments of society into a more concerted conservation effort through documentation, public education and outreach. From my autobiographical experience and research, this talk shows how conservationists have mapped the otherwise forgotten Chinese cemetery onto public imagination on both the local and international platform through a multiplicty of platforms from traditional advocacy to that of social media. It was also a case where the latest tools of documentation were being deployed, reflecting on the co-relationship between advocacy, documentation and technology in spaces their histories, heritage and meanings.

For further Reading

- Liew KK and Pang N. 2015. "Neoliberal Visions, Post-Capitalist Memories: Heritage Politics and the Counter-Mapping of Singapore's Cityscape" in Ethnography 16(3), 331-351.
- Singapore Heritage Society. 2012. Position Paper on Bukit Brown. Singapore: Singapore Heritage Society.
- Huang, JL. 2014. "Resurgent Spirits of Civil Society Activism: Rediscovering the Bukit Brown Cemetery in Singapore" in Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 87:307: 21-45.
- Loh, KS. 2012. "History of the Dead, Heritage of the Living: Bukit Brown Cemetery in Singapore" in Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia 12.


Liew Kai Khiun has been involved in heritage and conservation since 2000 and he is currently an Assistant Professor at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at the Nanyang Technological University. His research interests includes that of popular culture studies, cultural memories and heritage in the contexts of East and Southeast Asia.


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In recent years, the multifaceted forms of civic practices—ranging from participatory urbanism, to artistic interventions, and to street protests launched by activists—have become more prominent in Asian cities, attracting scholarly attention across different disciplines. The transformations in civil society have raised the following questions: What are the emerging challenges and contingencies the varied interest groups are facing? What kind of conflicts can arise during and after instances of civil activism, and how can these tensions be ameliorated? How can social engagement, practice and research be bridged together by, and for, different individuals and agencies? When does social engagement become perceived as civil activism?

This seminar series, jointly organized by Asian Urbanisms cluster (ARI) and the Department of Architecture, critically presents and examines the novel forms of civic practices that have manifested in the Asian urban context through a transdisciplinary framework. Bringing together academics, practitioners, students, and the general public interested in urban spatial strategies in relation to negotiate the formation and role of civil societies, the seminars seek to initiate discourse on the following themes: First, to explore how the varied stakeholders involved in civil society groups, including academics and educators, activists, artists, NGOs, NPOs, informal interest groups and community associations, political parties, and governmental organizations currently de/reconstruct the contextual and physical understanding of shared urban space in Asia. It is of interest to review the main goals of the novel civic practices, and the extent in which these aspirations are realised. Secondly, these seminars seek to articulate how stakeholders engage in the process of collaborative knowledge production through these practices. More importantly, the aim of the series is to conceptualise civic practices as a product of the distinctive trajectories of socio-economic development, spatial/cultural policies, and the structures of political governance in the Asian region. To reiterate, these seminars provide an overview on the distinctive challenges and opportunities that contemporary Asian cities pose for civil societies, and the kind of local and global characteristics that are emerging in these locales.


Asia Research Institute | Minna ValjakkaSonia Lam
Department of Architecture | Cho Im Sik & Lee Kah Wee

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Minghua TAY