Heirlooms – Lives Told, Retold, Untold

This is a journey into the homes of 10 individuals whom we are extremely grateful for opening their homes and hearts to us, sharing stories that are cherished by them and now by us. Heirlooms also documents homeware and furniture that are overlooked daily objects to some, heirlooms to others, elevated to art objects by us, by enticing the viewer to isolate its lines, angles, perspectives, releasing pre-conceived knowledge of it, and reimagining what it could become.


SCENE SHANG initiative supported by MCCY SG50 Celebration Fund.


I recall having memories of playing with it as a child, when there was a sewing machine still attached to it. The thing I love most obviously was the foot pedal. As a kid, it was a magical thing to see a machine function entirely on its own. I’ve always had this fascination with seeing how things work and I love old things because I feel like a lot of functions of things are hidden nowadays. The way the sewing machine is made, you can really see how the mechanism works.

Seed of Creation / Ho Renyung

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Seed of Creation / Ho Renyung

What is an heirloom to you?

Renyung: Something that has intangible value that you want to pass on because it tells a story of where you came from and in it, you feel will help the next generation understand themselves better.


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Remembering Mak / Shirlene Noordin

What was she like?

Shirlene: We all called her Mak, which means mother in Malay. She was half Chinese and half Bugis, and was brought up as Malay. But physically she looked very Peranakan—in the way she dressed. She also had a wicked sense of humour and she was sharp right till the very end. She passed away last year at age 96. She lived a really long life.

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far above the moon planet earth is blue



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When I was six years old, I was curious about what was inside the drawer. There was a spider web and I screamed. I went “Kong Kong, there’s a spider inside!” and my grandfather, who was visiting us then, took a stick and started fiddling with it. He made a lot of noise—“pah pah pah”—and I thought to myself then that he was going to take the whole thing apart. I freaked out. I thought “Oh no, don’t ruin it, because it’s mine”.

A Season Forgotten / Audrey Low

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“I’ve always been here”.

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I see this young couple. I see a postcard of British Myanmar. I see romance, but I also see the struggle…. But he was half Asian and she was white and Catholic. How easy could it have been for them?

A Serving of Romance / Sandra Cameron

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Drawn Together / Charmaine Seah-Ong

Do you remember seeing the table before you got it?

Charmaine: It was in my mother-in-law’s bedroom downstairs. I would see it in her room. She would do her work on it. She had a computer and a lot of files and paperwork on it. Both of them used the table—my father-in-law was an accountant. Above the table was a beautiful portrait of her.

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His father was the glue in this house. He brought everybody together. I have very good memories of being in this home with him. When I sit here and look outside, I am reminded of them as a family, his love for her and him taking of her and now her trying to take care of rest of the family. I really love the desk.



Drawn Together / Charmaine Seah-Ong

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My grandmother took care of me when I was young, so the first place where I lived was in Kampong Bahru. The cupboard was also there, and I remember there was a set of Encyclopedia Britannica on it. Everybody used to have it. Whether everybody read it or not… (laughs).



Built to Last / Prashant Somosundram






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only connect the dots when you’re looking back



He’s not someone that will say “take it, I made it”. He wouldn’t force it on you. I didn’t want him to feel like it was just a piece of scrap wood or junk, after all the work that has gone into it. I made it very clear to him that I wanted it.

I think he’s secretly proud and very happy that I’ve kept it.

Memory Box / Eugenia Ye-Yeo


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As we adapt to our environment, the bed has adapted to our changing lives as well. I like that our very intimate moments are spent on it, with our friends and with the children.

Practical Magic / Dr Jade Kua

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The stories that are now spilled on this opium bed are written by Dr Seuss, Eric Carle and Beatrix Potter.



Practical Magic / Dr Jade Kua

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Deep-seated Connection / Valerie Loh

So for you, Valerie, what is an heirloom?

Valerie: It depends on how you define “heirloom”. It can be something that you inherit and you keep out of respect for the person who gave it to you. The other definition is that it is something you want to keep and it’s got some functional use as well.

For me an heirloom is the second meaning. It’s also got to have sentimental value. I have friends who keep their grandmothers’ old sewing machines. It may not be practical to keep them but they try their best to still use the sewing machines or convert them into a coffee table or a side table. So I guess if you treasure something enough, you try to make it functional.

I would consider the reclining chairs heirlooms because they’ve already been passed down two generations.


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pour your heart out like a river



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Counting on Family / Patrick, Jane Hia

Jane: I didn’t know my grandparents had a Teochew pastry
shop before. It totally gives me some street cred (laughs).

Patrick: It runs in the family.

Jane: No wonder I love the tau sar piah stuff.

It was kept in my parents’ place in the cupboard. It was probably a treasured item for my dad because it’s one of the few things that he kept from the shop.

Counting on Family / Patrick, Jane Hia