A local artist made a batik kebaya adorned with Singapore’s many prohibitory signs

Video screengrab
Video screengrab

As part of the Malay Heritage Centre’s exhibition on batik, seven Singapore-based artists were commissioned to present their take on the traditional art form in an exhibition called “Of Wax, Dyes & Labour”.

Batik, is of course, not at all easy to make. The Indonesian fabric technique involves a tremendous amount of patience and attention to detail — one would need to carefully apply wax on the patterns, soak the cloth in dye, remove the wax, and repeat the whole process until complete.

For her contribution to the exhibition, local artist Toh Bee Suan (known by her moniker Almostasthma) combined the ancient Indonesian art form with another ancient (ish) Singaporean art form. We’re talking about the hundreds of prohibitory signs scattered across the island to forbid people from committing illegal things. No smoking, no feeding of pigeons, no bringing of durians onto trains, and more.

Photo: Toh Bee Suan / Facebook
Photo: Toh Bee Suan / Facebook

Her piece, called “Expensive Kebaya” is her attempt to create Singapore’s own unique fabric by using found prohibitory signs. But why these widespread symbols?

“I’ve been collecting prohibitory signs designs I’ve seen in Singapore since 2014 (cc: @singaporeprohibitorysigns) because it speaks a lot about the society we live in,” she told Coconuts Singapore, adding that she needed quite a bit of help to execute one of her most ambitious projects so far. “When I got the opportunity for this exhibition, I knew it will be a good platform to showcase this project.”

The result is something that can be assuredly declared as uniquely Singaporean.

“Expensive Kebaya” can be checked out at the Malay Heritage Centre until the exhibition’s closing date this Saturday.


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