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Contemplation (Indian worker at Bukit Timah factory) (沉思,   武吉知马工厂的印度工人), 1958, Woodblock Print, 20 x 14.5 cm

Artwork Highlight

Koeh Sia Yong finds an Indian worker in a moment of rest in this woodblock print, as he lays down his work to catch a breath. The scene is based on the artist’s visit to the Bukit Merah Bricks factory, where bricks are made by shaping clay and water. The mixture is then fired in kilns to create a solid break—a process that means the workers sit in a constantly simmering bubble of heated air. Sweating bullets from the sweltering heat inside the factory, the man has taken off his shirt, draping it over his shoulder where it may be occasionally used to wipe off his sweat.  His makeshift chair is nothing more than a pile of bricks, making for an uncomfortable seat. Though his gaze is on the pile of bricks, the viewer has the sense that he isn’t looking at the bricks themselves, so much as he is thinking about his surroundings. Like the title states, it seems to be a contemplation of the future—of his own identity as a worker. In this moment of inactivity, he sheds off the weight of his role to become a silent reflection of the very human and oft overlooked side of the coolies. The hard lines of his face then become less of a stern expression and more of a tired one, exhausted from a hard day's work.

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