Where’s Singapura?: Illustrator Lee Xin Li’s show is big on nostalgia

Lee Xin Li's Peta Singapura II at his ongoing Sayang Singapura exhibition. Photo: Lee Xin Li
Lee Xin Li's Neo Tiew at his ongoing Sayang Singapura exhibition. Photo: Lee Xin Li
Lee Xin Li with Peta Singapura II, an expanded map of his Singapore, a place filled with stories and rediscoveries he's learnt along the way. Photo: Lee Xin Li
Lee Xin Li's Teh Tarik In Katong at his ongoing Sayang Singapura exhibition. Photo: Lee Xin Li
Lee Xin Li's Red House Bakery at his ongoing Sayang Singapura exhibition. Photo: Lee Xin Li
Lee Xin Li with his graphic novel Commute which tries to explore their hidden personas of commuters.
A huge, detailed digital painting of Singapore is the centerpiece of the illustrator’s first solo show at URA
Published: 4:15 AM, March 16, 2016
Updated: 10:56 AM, March 16, 2016
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SINGAPORE — If there is one artwork that every Singaporean should take a long, good look at, it’s Lee Xin Li’s Peta Singapura II.

Looming large at 6.33m x 2.74m, the digital painting of Singapore is part of the illustrator’s ongoing, first solo exhibition Sayang Singapura at the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) Singapore City Gallery.

Every nook and cranny of it is filled with the smallest insider detail and sometimes long-forgotten information: The pineapple playground in Tampines, Dr Sun Yat Sen’s visage in Balestier (a nod to the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall there), elephants in Buangkok (remember the white elephant debacle for its station?) and, for this writer, the words “Dona Manis” — an old cake shop famous for its banana pie — above Mountbatten Shopping Centre.

What’s more amazing was the fact that Lee managed to add more recent pop culture references, such as actor Chen Tian Wen and the lyrics to Chen’s hit Stunned Like Vegetable at East Coast Beach, where the music video was filmed.

It’s a bit like Where’s Wally, Singapore-style.

“(Such details) are meant for people to discover,” revealed the 28-year-old Lee, who picked up doodling as a child and graduated from the National University of Singapore’s School of Architecture last August.

Currently working at DP Architects, Lee is best known for his posters of different kuehs in Singapore and nostalgic images of Singapore such as Chong Pang Village.

Peta Singapura II is three times the size of Peta Singapura I, which Lee first did in 2014 and whose prints are currently sold at homegrown retail store Naiise.

As for this current huge piece, Lee said he spent last year doing research “on and off”, consulting old nautical maps for names of locations, such as Red Cliff Bank off the coast of Changi, and digging up information on websites such as the Urban Explorers of Singapore. Once he had enough material, he spent a month completing the work.

Besides Peta Singapura II, Lee’s exhibition features a selection of his other works and personal journeys set against the larger urban planning work done by URA in the Singapore City Gallery.

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