Installation view of CHARLES LIM’s SEA STATE 9: proclamation garden, 2019, more than 30 lesser-known plant species gathered from reclaimed areas, dimensions variable, at Ng Teng Fong Roof Gallery, National Gallery Singapore, 2019. Courtesy National Gallery Singapore. 

Whose Land?

Land reclamation is a fact of life in Singapore. For decades, the country has been one of the world’s largest importers of sand, maintaining a rhetoric and practice of expansion that began almost as soon as the British first laid claim to the island in 1819. Following its independence from the British in 1965, Singapore’s land reclamation has persisted as policymakers continue to view the city-state’s small land area as a limitation on urban development and, subsequently, economic, political, and cultural growth. The island has increased its size by 25 percent to 725 square kilometers since British colonization, and, under current plans, will have another 41 square kilometers by 2030. The act of reclaiming land has, in this way, become a symbol of the continuing colonial logic that underpins the development of the island. 

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