The fall of Singapore in February 1942 resulted in some 130,000 Allied soldiers, sailors and airmen laying down their arms and marched into captivity. Along with them, over 3,000 civilians were incarcerated as enemy nationals at Changi gaol.
Amongst the internees was William Haxworth who sketched and painted hundreds of images depicting scenes of imprisonment. Albeit an amateur, Haxworth was a remarkable artist. He had a keen eye and a necessary sense of humour. Through his 300 odd works, he attempted different styles in order to capture his subjects in different moods, often with slivers of wit. Some of his most impressive works are the full colour scenes of Changi prison, and his fascinating breadth of portraits of fellow internees.
Haxworth managed to portray humanity as it was during those hard years, and put a face to the otherwise faceless thousands who were confined. The exhibition collectively presents for the first time the amazing art of William Haxworth celebrating the triumphant of the human spirit in one of the darkest periods of the 20th century.
'Images of Internment: The Eye and Art of William Haxworth' is the curatorial follow-up to the Adam Park exhibition, and deals with the tumultuous aftermath of the fall of Singapore - life as a Prisoner of War under the Japanese regime.
Juxtaposing themes of hope and hopelessness, the standalone form is a metaphoric cross between the cruciform plan associated with western ecclesiastical architecture and the notable prison archetype, the panopticon. A subtle gradient to the floor invokes an uphill march to enter the 'X' and a downhill stroll to leave.
Walls lean inwards on entry and outwards on exit to heighten one's spatial sense of claustrophobia versus agoraphobia, and the chiaroscuro of cold darkness contrasted with the illuminated warmth of Haxworth sketches, to impose and retell that physiological disjunction between the trapped body and a freed mind.
As a personal activity of escapism and living in the moment, Haxworth's pieces of bystander art document the broad spectrum of human experience and emotion under internment and in spite of it - grouped and displayed along intersecting axes, clashed and melded with each other. The visitor is forced to seek correlations amongst a vignette series of activities, locations, personalities, moods, and guess the artist's thoughts behind each portrayal.
Client Singapore Heritage Society & National Heritage Board
In collaboration with National Library Singapore
Duration 2.5 months
Completed February 2012. Exhibition duration from February to June 2012
Project Leaders - Lim Chen Sian and Cheah Fang Leah
Curatorship - Lim Chen Sian, Kevin Tan, Cheah Fang Leah
Exhibition Design - Cheah Fang Leah, Lim Chen Sian
Graphic Design - Cheah Fang Leah, Rafael Sampaio Rocha
Artifact Conservation - Lawrence Chin, Claire Lim, Lim Chen Sian
Photography - Ung Ruey Loon, Cheah Fang Leah
Contractor & Fabrication - Kingsmen International