Boat Quay, Singapore (新加坡驳船码头), 1973, Woodblock print, 42 x 57.5 cm
In this 1973 woodblock print, Koeh Sia Yong renders Singapore’s historical Boat Quay in excruciating detail. It is a feast for the eyes, as the print is packed to the brim with details. This is seen in how each shophouse window is etched out clearly, with each pane even bearing varying designs. Despite the visual noise, Koeh strikes a careful balance between chaos and order. The sampans placed prominently in the foreground draw one’s eye to the workers resting on the river bank; a reminder of the Boat Quay’s past as one of the busiest parts of the old Port of Singapore. The rising modern buildings in the background provide a nice juxtaposition, along with the multitude of construction cranes and trucks lining the bank. It is at once realistic and expressive, as Koeh mires the scene in not just historical ambience but gives a glimpse into how Singapore’s landscape has developed. It is a quiet observation of the frenzy to adapt to modernity that had gripped the country at that time.