Singapore is SGXY

(pronounced “sexy”)

Singapore is SGXY (a play on the words “SG” and “sexy”) was born by a stroke of luck, as I scrolled through the Facebook news feed of my friend Medha. She had posed with a white foam box and dubbed it the “Da Bao” (Chinese for “takeaway”) clutch. Singaporeans use these foam boxes nationwide for our takeaway or to-go meals. 

A lot of talk on Singapore identity had been spurred on by the celebration of SG50 (Singapore’s 50th national birthday) in 2015. Do we have our own culture, or are we an inevitable mix being a nation of immigrants? Should Singlish be our language? These were the common debates. Everyone seemed to have the same questions but few could offer definitive answers.

Grand styles and concepts by commercial and editorial photographer Ted Chen

These events, both coincidences, gave birth to the Singapore is SGXY (Sexy) project.

In this portrait series, objects are carefully selected to represent an aspect of Singapore identity, and many of them are often overlooked when it comes to serious debate. Some are shunned and easily dismissed as of little or no value. But I hope these photographs will challenge that notion, by turning these items into attractive, sexy fashion accessories.

Grand styles and concepts by commercial and editorial photographer Ted Chen

Singapore is SGXY (Sexy) is not a finite answer to the question of Singapore identity. I believe identity doesn’t have to be one big, grand idea, but the sum of many unrelated quirks. Some of these quirks naturally include everyday, mundane items that we don’t pay much attention to. The series offers an alternate perspective – that whatever our identity may be, these quirks make Singapore culture sexy.

What the Items Symbolise:

The full gallery is below. From left to right, top to bottom:

  1. The “Da Bao” Takeaway Box (Clutch)
    Made of cheap styrofoam plastic, these boxes are the polar opposite of sexy. They are devoid of design and discarded quickly without a second thought. But many don’t realise it’s the perfect size for a clutch. 
  2. Cheese Ring Snack (Rings)
    While these supremely unhealthy Super Ring snacks did not originate from Singapore, it had become the de facto canteen break snack for many rebellious school kids like myself. 
  3. Parking Coupon (Fan)
    For all of Singapore’s efficiencies and modern infrastructure, these parking coupons stick out badly. Lots of paper used for printing, and the torn-out tabs pose a littering problem. But they also represent a visual icon unlike any other coupon I’ve seen in other countries. 
  4. N95 Mask (Mask)
    For better or worse, the haze has become synonymous with Singapore’s recent history. In bad times, many in the open streets can be seen wearing some form of these N95 masks. They are worn clearly out of necessity, but what if that didn’t have to be so?
  5. Mahjong Tiles (Necklace)
    Mahjong has deep roots, and it definitely did not originate from Singapore. Nevertheless it’s become a local favourite game for the Chinese population, difficult to ignore. The tile artwork is such a visual treat, and it could have been turned into many kinds of fashion accessories. The necklace, I feel, suits it perfectly.
  6. Good Morning” Towel (Scarf)
    A recognisable household item in past generations. Even today, Millennials can recognise the red words on white cloth very easily. My goal was to elevate the “rag” label into something elegant, classy, and sexy.
  7. Feather Duster (Tie)
    Everyone in Singapore knows what these are for (not just for cleaning). When it comes to disciplining children, nothing else comes as close in effectiveness. 
  8. EZ-Link Cards (Lanyard Fashion)
    An after-effect of modern Singapore society, the use of lanyards has become a symbol of convenience and authority (they are in events everywhere), but never fashion. 
  9. Erasers with National Flags (Earring)
    A childhood pastime involved flipping these erasers – with national flags imprinted on them – on top of your opponent’s. Successfully doing so meant a win. It still baffles me why we were so captivated with these erasers. 
  10. Durian Husk (Handbag)
    Apart from the crab (see below), the durian can be considered one of Singapore’s proudest delicacies. Although just about no durians are grown locally, Singaporeans will pay the highest dollar to get their ‘fix’ during harvest season. To exclude the durian from this list would almost be inexcusable. 
  11. Crab Claw (Necklace)
    Another rather expensive pursuit, the famous Chilli Crab has spawned a whole line of other flavours like black pepper, cereal etc. For this series I tried to avoid perishable food because they are not practical as fashion accessories. However in this case, a hard-shell crab claw could be reused again and again.  
  12. Chaptek (Hat)
    A childhood game that has nearly vanished in the wake of mobile phones and digital platforms. You had to tap these with the sides of your shoes/feet and pass or keep it in the air. 
  13. Chinese Daily Calendar (Skirt)
    Like other items in this series, I was wary of using things that represented too closely to a single race or ethnicity. In one hand, these daily tear-away calendar sheets were a household staple and was very ‘Singaporean,’ and on the other hand the Chinese wordings meant that not many non-Chinese families would use them. Visually they are incredibly iconic and I felt they could not be ignored.
  14. Military Netting and Watergun (Neckwear and Belt Accessory)
    National Service is synonymous with Singapore. Every one takes away a different experience – mine was very mixed. But I agree with something I read, that National Service is a great equaliser, where a rich tycoon’s son can be on level and close terms with someone of a less-privileged background. 
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