In a statement on Friday (Feb 17), Communications and Information Minister Dr Yaacob Ibrahim explained his decision to remove the words “Syonan Gallery” from the name of a new exhibition that provoked a public outcry.
This is his statement in full:
When I opened the exhibition “Syonan Gallery: War and Its Legacies” on Wednesday, I explained that we had designed this exhibition to capture the dark days of the Japanese Occupation, and remind ourselves never to take for granted our peace, harmony and sovereignty.
Far from expressing approval of the Japanese Occupation, our intention was to remember what our forefathers went through, commemorate the generation of Singaporeans who experienced the Japanese Occupation, and reaffirm our collective commitment never to let this happen again.
The name of the exhibition reflected the time in our history when Singapore was forcibly renamed “Syonan”. We have used the word “Syonan” before to factually describe this difficult period. For instance, in 1992, for the 50thAnniversary of the Fall of Singapore, we held an exhibition at the National Museum, titled “When Singapore was Syonan-to”.
But this particular exhibition name provoked a strong reaction. Over the past two days, I have read the comments made on this issue, and received many letters from Singaporeans of all races. While they agreed that we need to teach Singaporeans about the Japanese Occupation, they also shared that the words “Syonan Gallery” had evoked deep hurt in them, as well as their parents and grandparents. This was never our intention, and I am sorry for the pain the name has caused.
I have reflected deeply on what I heard. We must honour and respect the feelings of those who suffered terribly and lost family members during the Japanese Occupation. I have therefore decided to remove the words “Syonan Gallery” from the name of the exhibition, and name it “Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies”.
The contents of the exhibition remain unchanged. They capture a painful and tragic period in our history which we must never forget, and which we must educate our young about. It is vital for us to learn the lessons of history, and reaffirm our commitment never to let this happen to Singapore again.