The name of an exhibition on World War II-era Singapore will be changed, out of respect for the people who suffered under the Japanese Occupation.
The exhibition, titled Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies, will now be called Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies, said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim in a statement on Friday (Feb 17).
The exhibition is housed in the historic Old Ford Factory at Upper Bukit Timah, where the British formally surrendered to the Japanese 75 years ago.
Previously known as Memories at Old Ford Factory, the exhibition had been renamed Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies following a year-long revamp by the National Archives of Singapore.
NAME EVOKED “DEEP HURT”: YAACOB
In his statement, Dr Yaacob said that when he opened the exhibition on Wednesday, he explained that it had been designed to capture the dark days of the Japanese Occupation.
“Far from expressing approval of the Japanese Occupation, our intention was to remember what our forefathers went through, commemorate the generation of Singaporeans who experienced the Japanese Occupation, and reaffirm our collective commitment never to let this happen again.”
Workers seen dismantling the sign of the original name of the exhibition on Friday night (Feb 17). (Photo: Howard Law)
Dr Yaacob added that the name of the exhibition reflected the time in Singapore’s history when the island was forcibly renamed Syonan.
“We have used the word ‘Syonan’ before to factually describe this difficult period. For instance, in 1992, for the 50th anniversary of the fall of Singapore, we held an exhibition at the National Museum, titled When Singapore was Syonan-to.”
“But this particular exhibition name provoked a strong reaction. Over the past two days, I have read the comments made on this issue, and received many letters from Singaporeans of all races.
“While they agreed that we need to teach Singaporeans about the Japanese Occupation, they also shared that the words ‘Syonan Gallery’ had evoked deep hurt in them, as well as their parents and grandparents. This was never our intention, and I am sorry for the pain the name has caused,” Dr Yaacob said.
“I have reflected deeply on what I heard. We must honour and respect the feelings of those who suffered terribly and lost family members during the Japanese Occupation. I have therefore decided to remove the words ‘Syonan Gallery’ from the name of the exhibition, and name it Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies.”
The gallery features many new archival materials, which were contributed by members of the public in response to a call for contributions. To date, it has received more than 400 public donations, with items ranging from personal letters, diaries and photographs to war artefacts and maps.
Dr Yaacob added that the contents of the exhibition remain unchanged. “They capture a painful and tragic period in our history which we must never forget, and which we must educate our young about,” he said. “It is vital for us to learn the lessons of history, and reaffirm our commitment never to let this happen to Singapore again.”
Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan said he fully supports Dr Yaacob’s decision to drop the words ‘Syonan Gallery’ from the exhibition’s name.
In a statement, Mr Khaw said that the exhibition captured the dark days of the Japanese Occupation, when Singapore’s forefathers lost their freedom and suffered immensely.
Mr Khaw, who is a Member of Parliament for Sembawang GRC, added that he will be visiting the exhibition with his residents, some of whose parents or grandparents were killed during the Japanese Occupation.
Mr Khaw said: “My own maternal grandfather died of starvation and for lack of medical care while in hiding. These personal sufferings and losses form deep scars in us.
“That is why the initial naming of the exhibition gallery provoked such a strong reaction among a segment of the population. It does not mean that we should strike ‘Syonan’ out of our vocabulary but using it to name the gallery can unintentionally cause hurt.
“I fully support Minister Yaacob’s decision to drop it from the name.”