Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Singapore’s Gillman Barracks: where history meets art

All thriving urban areas require vibrant arts clusters to keep intellectuality creative. Typically, these neighborhoods arise naturally as artists flock towards them. Sometimes, however, a little nudge is required to get the ball rolling. That is the case in Singapore where three government agencies have partnered with the private sector to push for the success of Gillman Barracks (GB) as a contemporary arts cluster.

The entrance to the Gillman Barracks arts cluster. 
The lush green area was the site of a former military camp opened by the colonial authorities in 1936 in preparation for the Pacific War. The fourteen buildings comprising the garrison were taken over by the Singapore Armed Forces in 1971. For some years, Gillman Camp (as it was formerly called) housed the Headquarters, Singapore Combat Engineers (HQ, SCE). In 2010 the site was launched as the Gillman Barracks arts cluster in 2010.

Along with Singapore's iconic Esplanade Theatres on the Bay, which opened in 2002, Gillman Barracks adds a new dimension to the country's arts scene. Given the predominance of performing arts at the Esplanade's theater and concert halls, Gillman Barracks filled a void by providing scope for the growth of Singapore's visual arts scene.

A view of the Esplanade Theatres on the Bay along with the Marina Bay area.
Today, the conserved military barracks buildings house seventeen local and international art galleries, restaurants and the Nanyang Technological University's Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA).

The CCA brings not only an 'academic flair' to the area but, from time to time, also brings internationally acclaimed exhibitions. Most recently, the Guggenheim's 'No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia' (an exhibition for which I was trained by Guggenheim to act as a docent) visited Singapore courtesy of the CCA.

GB's galleries display a diverse range of art styles and pieces in exhibitions which are continuously refreshed. Along with Singapore centric galleries such as Fost and Yeo Workshop there are regional (e.g. Shanghai Art and Equator Art Projects) and international galleries (e.g. Partners & Mucciaccia and Arndt).

To experience a Singapore far from the shopping at Orchard Road or the bars at Clarke Quay, Gillman Barracks is the perfect venue. Art appreciation, history and greenery all blended into one serving!
Imran is a licensed Singapore Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. If you wish to arrange customized tours in Singapore, including walking tours of Singapore's arts trails along the Singapore River, Orchard Road, Marina Barrage, etc. please contact Imran at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.