Singapore’s growing population

In her series 6.9, Amrita Chandradas explores the uneasy effects of conscious population growth in Singapore

“Singapore has very little natural resources,” explains Amrita Chandradas. “Its resources are its people.” Several years ago, Singapore’s government pledged to increase the country’s population to 6.9 million citizens by 2030. At the time, Chandradas was studying in London, but these plans to increase the country’s population called her back to her home in Singapore, to document the changes happening there. “My friends and family were telling me about lots of landmarks and places of great historical significance that were disappearing,” says Chandradas.

Nek Nek Lisa resides in the last village of Singapore. She has dementia. Her daughter moved back to take care of her, claiming that moving her mother to a modern flat would lead to even greater memory loss. From the series 6.9 © Amrita Chandradas

Singapore is nicknamed “Little Red Dot” in reference to its small size. Despite having a very low birth rate, it is the third most densely populated country in the world. When plans to increase the population were unveiled in 2013, there was outrage. “Everyone was asking the government where they were going to fit people into such a tiny space,” says Chandradas. “Housing is becoming a lot taller and narrower.”

On returning to Singapore, Chandradas was struck by just how much the skyline had changed. In one of the photographs in her series 6.9, a girl looks out over the side of a rooftop pool. “That photograph reflects how I felt when I got to Singapore,” Chandradas explains. “There were so many things in the landscape that I didn’t recognise.”

Bukit Brown cemetery is noted to be the resting place to some of Late Lee Kuan Yew’s maternal ancestors. During 2013 it was entitled as one of the World Monuments to watch however 3000 or more graves have been exhumed to make way for roads. Along with the exhumation, the thriving ecosystem is being eradicated. It’s future a questionable one, most have assumed that the rest of the cemetery will be demolished in the future to make way for housing and commercial complexes to keep up with the future population boom of Singapore by 2030. From the series 6.9 © Amrita Chandradas

Chandradas was eager to use the work to explore many ways Singapore was changing under these new aims to increase the population. “I didn’t just want to photograph the country’s new infrastructure,” she says. “I also wanted to show what we were going to lose.” Several images show the exhumation of graves to make way for new roads and highways. “The second largest Chinese municipal cemetery outside of China is located in Singapore,” says Amrita. “A part of it has already been cleared away – it contained the graves of many of our country’s pioneers.”

A local elderly musician taking a cigarette break at Bukit Brown cemetery during the Chinese Ghost Month festival widely celebrated by Taoist and Chinese folk religion believers. The instruments he plays are a part of a ritual known to appease the restless souls of the dead. From the series 6.9 © Amrita Chandradas

Elsewhere, Chandradas photographs the cramped conditions people occupy in the new high-rise buildings, in contrast with ritualistic dances taking place on a beach. Many of these coastal areas are now being turned into accommodation for tourists.

Chandradas originally intended to shoot the series over a couple of months, but she has been documenting change in Singapore for several years now, and is continuing the project through to 2030, the year the government hopes to reach its target of 6.9 million inhabitants. “There are a lot of spaces where our childhood memories, superstitions and nostalgias are tied to,” she says. “Now that it is being cleared away, I wonder what connection we are going to have to our country.”

For this year’s OpenWalls Arles award, we are looking for work that responds to the theme Growth. We are calling for images that convey a sense of change or transition, which can draw on personal growth, or the changes that one witnesses in everyday life.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to exhibit your work during Les Rencontres d’Arles. Apply to  OpenWalls, your invitation to Arles.

87% of Singaporeans resides in HDB (Housing Development Board) estates. The room sizes vary according to price. Today with the demand in housing spaces, some couples have to wait for a few years before moving into their new homes. Most Singaporeans spend their entire lives paying for their house. From the series 6.9 © Amrita Chandradas
They are few, but some have chosen not to change and move forward with their surroundings. They are the inhabitants of the last village of Singapore, Kampong Buangkok. For almost 60 years, Awin Bin Yudin has resided in the village together with his wife Salmah and their six kids. From the series 6.9 © Amrita Chandradas
An expat office worker, looking out at the modern private housing from his luxurious office space. He has never visited the indoor of a public housing (HDB), despite living in Singapore for the past three years. From the series 6.9 © Amrita Chandradas