There are many speculations as to how Ang Mo Kio derived its name.
Literally translated from Hokkien, it reads “red-haired man’s bridge”—the most often cited reference being a bridge built by redhead John Turnbull Thomson in the Upper Thomson area in the ‘70s. Personally we prefer the alternative explanation—that in the ‘20s, the red-haired wife of a wealthy merchant lost three children at a stream running off Pierce Reservoir. Only two of the bodies were found, and she spent the rest of her days sitting by the bridge to accompany the soul of her last, lost child.
Delightfully morbid, but there’s also the less sensational reason that rambutan trees (or ang mo dan in Hokkien) were abundant in the village during Ang Mo Kio’s kampong days.
Whichever your preference, expect to see some kind of tribute to the town’s past in this year’s Arts in Your Neighbourhood (AYN). The bi-annual arts festival, which falls under the Arts for All initiative by the National Arts Council, returns this March, and will spotlight the northside heartland for its 10th anniversary. From Mar 8-25, look forward to nearly 50 activities, a third of which will draw inspiration from Ang Mo Kio’s rich history.
As usual, the arts experiences will be spread across locations island-wide, but the main hub of activity remains in the focus town. Of the programmes on offer, six were specially commissioned. There’s Nomadic Art Caravan, a pop-up event by placemaking studio Lopelab featuring a full line-up of music, dance, theater and film; and Tell Me An (Ang Mo Kio) Story, a photo project by community photographers who will exhibit stories of the town through their pictures.
If you’ve only got time for one highlight, make it Stop and Smell the Ang Mo Dan, a showcase commissioned by the Public Art Trust and featuring four visual art installations sited at iconic landmarks in Ang Mo Kio and Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park. The artworks by Angie Seah, Chen-Sai Hua Kuan, Lai Wei Min and Yip Yew Chong include a rotating mirror installation (Lai) and a series of mural paintings of the past (Yip); which come together to form a narrative trail about the history of the town.
On top of celebrating Ang Mo Kio, this edition of AYN aims to further promote inclusivity in the arts. Presented by Very Special Arts Singapore, both artists with and without disabilities from Epic Arts and Ill-Abilities will put up performances; while ground-up movement Superhero Me will organize an inclusive arts festival for all ages. Other programmes include a multi-language mash up by a cappella group 1023, gamelan performances, a Chinese classic Huangmei Opera, and tons more.
Ang Mo Kio might seem like an ordinary neighborhood that doesn’t hold much for outsiders, but it has come a long way from rambutan trees and landmark bridges (haunted or not). March is the time to fully appreciate that.
Arts In Your Neighbourhood happens Mar 8-25 at various locations. Check out the full line-up here.