2008 Faces of Bukit Brown

Bukit Brown cemetery in SIngapore, also called Coffee Hill, or Kopi Sua has been established in early 20th Century. Its name was given after a ship owner, George Henry Brown. Brown arrived to Singapore in 1840’ and acquired the area, which he named Mount Pleasant.

In 1919 the estate was under control of municipal authorities and the aim was to provide a burial ground for the community. The cemetery was officially opened on 1st January 1922. Between 1922 and 1973, Bukit Brown was the only public Chinese cemetery in Singapore. In 1970s the graveyard was abandoned.

The area of the cemetery covered 80-hectare and is situated between Lornie Road, Mount Pleasant Road and Khem Hock Road. Estimated 100 000 graves are located in this area. Many of the tombs were architectural gems that reflect on the local tradition and heritage. The cemetery was also a resting place for those who contributed to Singapore as it is now. Furthermore, Bukit Brown is home for many species of birds. With its unusually lush greenery, the cemetery resembled a beautiful garden.

Unfortunately, this unique monument of local heritage is soon facing destruction. The authorities have proposed a construction of a new road that would relieve the heavy traffic on the nearby Lornie Road. The new road would affect at least 50 % of the historical graves. Despite of the protest from conservation and history societies, the construction started in 2013. Within 40 years, the authorities are planning to clear the entire area of the Bukit Brown and to introduce there a housing programme

Since 1965, around 156 cemeteries across Singapore have been destroyed due to housing development programmes. Together with the destruction of Bukit Brown, another unique monument of Singaporean heritage will vanish.

The intention of this project was to catch the last glimpse of this significant area. In years 2008-2012, I have regularly visited the Bukit Brown. Each time I would wander for hours around the alleys of this lush garden, I would be touched by its peacefulness and serenity. But the very element that would touch my heart most, these were the portraits on the tombs. These images tell us about the lives of those who found their final rest here. Some of these people died decades ago, so have their families and friends. Thus, these photographs might be the only reminders of their appearance. It is heart-breaking to think that these very last mementos are soon going to fade into oblivion.

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