By Aw Tee Hong
Material : Bronze
Location : Singapore River, in front of Maybank Tower
Duration : Permanent
Collection : Singapore Tourism Board
Dimensions : Dimensions variable
This sculpture depicts the daily routines of merchants and labourers conducting business around the Singapore River in the 19th Century. Comprising two sets of figures, it features prominent merchant Alexander Laurie Johnston mediating between a Malay chief and a Chinese trader on one side, and coolies loading sacks onto a bullock cart on the other. These activities are probably unfathomable around Singapore’s modern-day Central Business District, where smartly-dressed professionals go to work in high-rise buildings. However, these forms of labour and transaction were a common sight around the river as trade expanded over two centuries ago.
The artwork is located at the site of Alexander Laurie Johnston’s former warehouse, which is now the 32-storey Maybank Tower, illustrating how much Singapore has developed since the days of Aw’s river merchants.
This sculpture is one of four pieces that are part of the People Of The River sculpture series depicting various historical scenes of people who lived and worked along the river. It commissioned in the early 2000s by the Singapore Tourism Board. The other three pieces - First Generation, From Chettiars to Financiers and A Great Emporium - are also located nearby.