SAYES members and volunteers entered the Istana grounds early on a Saturday morning, passing through the security check before walking to the large field where white tentage had already gone up in preparation for the Istana Art Event 2014. On this day, the 2nd of August, not only would the Istana be open to the public, but various organizations such as the National Museum of Singapore and the Malay Heritage Centre would also run crafts and activities for young visitors.
Science Centre Singapore set up a booth which featured three different crafts that melded science and art together, incorporating weaving and folding techniques as well as electrical circuitry. For example, traditional weaving, such as that used in making ketupat, formed the body of a fish that had a glowing light inside, evoking bioluminescent fish found in the ocean. Materials for the fish craft, a ribbon rangoli craft, and a coconut leaf grasshopper were laid out on three tables.
The many booths formed an L-shape around a central area where a scattering of small tables and chairs awaited the first participants. As the people arrived, they explored the various activities, which included paper doll colouring, toy fishing, and more. Children played on the grass, kicking chapteh and rolling hoops. Many children tried out the crafts at the Science Centre booth, but parents and elderly folk also came by. At my table, volunteers guided participants through the steps of the fish craft: weaving the fish body from shiny blue and silver ribbons, gluing and trimming the fins, sticking on the eyes, and adding the circuitry to make the fish glow. Despite my training session, and the fact that the fish was supposedly the easiest of the three, I failed several times and had to hand over the task to a more adept friend. Later on, though, after a “remedial session,” we figured out the problem and I managed to successfully teach some participants.
The volunteers took turns to have breaks. When mine came around, I toured the grounds for a while with a friend. Enormous red balloons, emblazoned with the words “SG 50,” dotted the grass, occasionally getting uprooted or floating away. Beneath a large white canopy, performers played popular songs like Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” and Disney Frozen’s “Let it Go.” Just outside the Istana building, which was also open to visitors for a fee, a water feature sat in the middle of a neatly groomed lawn. Tourists and locals took advantage of the open house to enjoy the expansive grounds, with their beautiful landscaping and lush greenery.
A high point of the day was when the President himself and his wife arrived to take a look at the event. As he progressed to the Science Centre booth, a crowd of people followed, surrounding the booth and toting phones and cameras. Miss Wong from Science Centre who had designed the activities presented the President with one of the grasshoppers, demonstrating how the motor against the glass mimicked the sound made by a real grasshopper.
I had opted for the half-day slot, so I and my brother left after walking about a little more. On the way out, we saw the snaking queue to enter the Istana--which, by volunteering, we had been privileged to bypass!