Interview with Zelda Tatiana Ng, Creative Director of Shadows IN the Walls

Gwen Sin catches up with GroundZ-0’s 原。空間 Creative Director, Zelda Tatiana Ng on her latest theatrical piece, Shadows IN the Walls

Publicity image of Shadows IN the Wall (source: GroundZ-0)

Shadows IN the Walls takes place like a time-traveling odyssey at the National Gallery Singapore, as part of the Light to Night Festival’s special edition to commemorate Singapore’s Bicentennial celebrations and in relation to its main theme of Traces and Echoes. A series of characters came alive from the past and unraveled hidden tales along its passageways. The audience turned into voyeurists, as they listened to poignant dialogues shared by these characters about the rich history of the National Gallery’s past, which interestingly comprises of two of Singapore’s national monuments – City Hall and the former Supreme Court.

Shadows IN the Walls’ Creative Director and Co-Writer, Zelda Tatiana Ng talked to The Unpublishables about her own process in the making of GroundZ-0 原。空間’s latest presentation.

What was your inspiration behind Shadows IN the Walls?

Zelda Tatiana Ng: Talking about inspiration, I wanted to create a kind of night tour around National Gallery Singapore, where I do not wish to touch on already known figures like Sir Stamford Raffles. I wanted to step back a little and question what do we understand about Singapore’s history. Because nowadays it is very easy for us to google anything and whoever so online. But who or what is the official history?  Or are there other forms of history – such as the audio, or the spoken from our forefathers? And that is also history, just that it is not written down. So the inspiration came from not what we thought we already know. I want to focus on the second ‘line’ of people in the history, such as Munshi Abdullah. Rarely we talk about him in the past, till it is the Bicentennial this year, and everybody remembers him. What about the blue Samsui woman? When we talk about the Bicentennial, we always think about 20 years of development and of course, Samsui women were one of the contributors to our nation-building. But there is also the blue Samsui women that we never talk about. Why? But they are part of the contributions, as the red Samsui women.

So I chose something that is at the side; the ‘peripheral’ type of characters. And the major question is – what do we understand about history?

What are some of your thoughts while producing it?

Zelda Tatiana Ng: We started preparations in early September 2018, where we did initial scripting and research. Because there’s so much materials on hand, we eventually narrowed down to five major inspirational points that are related to significant people like David Marshall; Mamoru Shinozaki; Cavaliere Rudolfo Nolli; Munshi Abdullah and the blue Samsui woman.

I learnt a lot along the way because of the research. And the more I researched, the more I questioned. The research on Munshi Abdullah was interesting, and that’s how we developed one fo the characters based on the ‘Hikayat Abdullah’ that he wrote (The Story of Abdullah; first published in 1849 and became an important source to understand the social history of 19th-century Singapore).  In it, he shared about the other side of Sir Raffles Stamford that is interesting; more like a human being and not so much like a legend and his relationship with his co-worker, William Farqhuar.

What is the response so far, based on the opening reception and trial runs?

Zelda Tatiana Ng: I’m very glad and grateful that I have received a lot of good comments. People are very encouraging. There are some who said they view the National Gallery Singapore very differently now. They wrote in the feedback form that they now see the gallery in a very different light, in terms of the space, and the stillness of the sound, and the history itself. That’s very touching.

Any final words?

Zelda Tatiana Ng: It is our aim and objective that we hope the audience will not just remember the people that are already very ‘出名’(‘famous’/ ‘choot meng’ in Cantonese). We also hope that people will remember there are also others that are not prominent, that is, those in the second / third / fourth categories of people who have also contributed to Singapore’s significant developments over the years. They are just as important. History is much more than what we think we already know.


Shadows IN the Walls opens at the National Gallery Singapore on selected dates and is limited to 20 people in each tour. Ticket admission fees apply. Please check for more details here.

Photos on Shadows IN the Walls taken by Gwen Sin can also be viewed here.


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