Visitors at the Singapore: Inside Out exhibition checking out the aural-visual showcase Each Sound Is A Flower Image: Singapore Tourism Board

Sisters Nonoka and Nina Mashimo, aged five and three, spent last Saturday morning dabbing paint on traditional Japanese Daruma dolls, which bore more than a passing resemblance to the Merlion. They were participating in a workshop in Tokyo led by Singaporean lifestyle label Supermama, which came up with the concept of merging the Merlion and the Daruma, regarded as a talisman for good luck. This was part of the Singapore: Inside Out (SGIO) showcase in Tokyo, which ended its three-day run yesterday. More than 7,000 people have attended the SGIO and its partner events.

The purpose of SGIO, says Singapore Tourism Board (STB) chief executive officer Lionel Yeo, is to “refresh perceptions of Singapore by showcasing its vibrant creative scene and to catalyse collaborations and opportunities for our talents”.

Unlike the first SGIO series in 2015, which featured only works by Singaporeans in a roving exhibition to Beijing, London and New York before returning home, the works this year were jointly put together by 13 Japanese and Singaporean creatives across diverse disciplines. Civil servant Hideya Mashimo, 31, who took his family to the event, says he was surprised at how the exhibits were a “seamless blend of Singapore and Japanese creativity”. The SGIO’s revival comes as the Singapore Tourism Board unveiled its new tagline, Passion Made Possible, with a focus on stories and forming deeper connections.

On the next SGIO leg in Sydney, to be held from Nov 3 to 5, another fresh showcase will feature 20 Singaporean and Australian artists. Flower designer Takashi Kimura, 35, of plantica, has been a regular fixture at Japanese cultural events in Singapore. But it was the first time he worked with Singaporean sound artist Zulkifle Mahmod – on Each Sound Is A Flower. The sounds of Singapore were given a visual response in the form of more than 200 plant species selected by Mr Kimura, who says the SGIO showcased the maturity of Singapore’s young art scene.

Visitors at the Singapore: Also on show was immersive work Xhe  Image: Singapore Tourism Board

Another first is the joint effort by Singaporean performance artist Daniel Kok, also known as diskodanny, and Japanese costume designer Miho Shimizu. Both were classmates at Goldsmiths College in London more than 20 years ago. But with SGIO came the chance for them to work together and their immersive showcase Xhe may come to Singapore next year.

Meanwhile, David Wang, 25, of Japanese design studio Ishinomaki Lab, says working with Supermama was a chance to “create a new language and a new body of work”. Their exhibit, “made in Japan, but designed in Singapore”, pays homage to cultural icons of both countries.


Visitors at the Singapore: A chilli crab-inspired dessert (above) that costs $30 is on sale at Dominique Ansel Bakery’s Omotesando store until Sept 10 Image: Walter Sim

Besides the main SGIO showcase at the minimalist Bank Gallery in the trendy Omotesando district, there were also partner events, some of which are still ongoing. A chilli crab-inspired dessert is on sale at Dominique Ansel Bakery’s Omotesando store until Sept 10, for 2,400 yen (S$30) each. Twenty- five pieces will be available daily. This was jointly created by head chef Malcolm Lee of one-Michelin star Peranakan restaurant Candlenut with chef Ansel. It packs a blend of flavours familiar to Singaporeans, including dark chocolate, white chocolate, mango mousse, tapioca pearls, pandan jelly and coconut panna cotta.

“Even we surprised ourselves,” chef Lee says. The dessert even comes with a wooden hammer for cracking open the hard white chocolate shell, fashioned to look like a crab.

Dietitian Sachiko Kato, 49, says after eating the dish: “It is surprising as it is not just chocolate or mango, but so many different flavours coming together.”

Another fusion dish to look out for is the bak kut teh ramen by chef Keisuke Takeda of the acclaimed Ramen Keisuke eatery. It will be available at three stores in Tokyo – two in Akihabara and one in Ginza – from Sept 1 to 30. It took trial and error to get the tenderness of the pork ribs right, he says. “If not stewed for long enough, the soup doesn’t taste good and the spareribs remain hard. If stewed for too long, the soup tastes good, but the spareribs don’t.”

Guests at an STB event last Friday got a first taste of the dish, which was described by travel agency JTB Corp chief executive Toru Ikuta as “bearing a strong taste of Singapore while being Japanese”.

Besides food collaborations, a pop-up store featuring 13 Singaporean fashion and accessories designers is ongoing at By Parco in Aoyama until Sept 3. Brands include crochet designer kllylmrck, jewellery atelier Carrie K and wallpaper and fabric designer Onlewo. Also present is menswear label Biro, which is known for its made-in-Japan clothing. Biro already has an ardent fan in Mr Taiki Inoue, 33, whose love affair with Singapore designers was ignited when he was working in the republic from 2012 to 2015. He tells The Straits Times that he preferred to buy from labels such as Biro and In Good Company for their craftsmanship, instead of mass-market brands.

The showcase not only reminded him of the “simple, elegant and minimalist aesthetic” favoured by some Singaporean designers, but also opened his eyes to the outlandish style of others.

“This is true to the heart of Singapore’s diversity,” he says.

This story first appeared on www.straitstimes.com

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