New Haw Par Villa exhibition features vanishing trade of paper offerings
The exhibition showcases works of the Yeo Swee Huat Paper Agency, a pioneer of the paper offerings industry in Singapore.
An exhibition showcasing the contributions of the Yeo Swee Huat Paper Agency to Singapore’s vanishing trade of paper offerings is now running at Haw Par Villa.
Titled End of an Era – The Legacy of a Vanishing Trade: Yeo Swee Huat Paper Agency, the exhibition falls under the line-up of Haw Par Villa’s Spirits Festival commemorating the seventh lunar month.
It aims to offer insights and document the significance of paper offerings produced for traditional rituals in Chinese festivals.
The exhibition space is divided into three sections that encompass different types of paper offerings produced by the company – A Transient Trade, Sculpting a Disciplinarian of the Chinese Netherworld and Dedications to Deities and Death.
A Transient Trade
Designed to resemble the original premises of the Yeo Swee Huat Paper Agency located at Toa Payoh, the first section titled A Transient Trade, transports visitors back to the company’s heyday.
The space also features photos and murals of the company’s workers handling orders, giving visitors an insight into the hectic processes.
As the company’s ability to cope with orders slowed down, it finally shut its doors after 63 years in July this year. Several unfinished projects such as a lantern with traced motifs are also on display at the exhibition.
Sculpting a Disciplinarian of the Chinese Netherworld
The second section, Sculpting a Disciplinarian of the Chinese Netherworld, sheds more light on the paper effigy deities that are a crucial part of the company’s exports.
Greeting visitors at the section is a colourful two metre tall paper effigy of the deity, Da Shi Ye, also known as King of Ghosts (Gui Wang). Creating such ornate paper effigies is the company’s speciality, with some of the largest standing at seven metres tall.
Visitors can also see a deconstructed form of the Da Shi Ye on display. Due to their sheer size, the effigies often have to be prepared in parts and then put together on-site.
After the Da Shi Ye paper effigy has graced the rituals, it will be burned to commemorate the end of the festivities.
As large rituals were halted due to COVID-19, one of such ending ceremonies is screened for exhibition attendees to experience it for themselves.
Dedications to Deities and Death
Besides its main exports of lanterns and paper Da Shi Ye effigies, the Yeo Swee Huat Paper Agency also dabbles in creating other paper products commonly used in funerals and festivals.
The exhibition’s third section, Dedications to Deities and Death, showcases such works.
One notable product from the range of paper products produced by the company is the dragon head for the Nine Emperors Gods Festival. The dragon head on display was crafted by owner Mr Yeo himself, to be placed atop dragon ships (long chuan) made of paper.
Also on display are the masks of deities and officials in Heaven. Part of Mr Yeo’s own collection, the masks often served as a means for him to practise his art, further honing his skills beyond painting lanterns.
The End of an Era – The Legacy of a Vanishing Trade: Yeo Swee Huat Paper Agency will run until Dec 3. It is located at the Cloud Pavilion next to the Culture Courtyard, at Haw Par Villa.
The exhibition is part of a line-up of activities for Haw Par Villa’s Spirit Festival. For those who are interested in the full range of activities offered, more information is available on its website.