The Great East Indiaman, 2016
Wood, welded steel and concrete
2400 × 500 × 1800 cm
Collection of the Artist
Biennale 2016 commission
Commingling fact and fiction, The Great East Indiaman revisits Sir Stamford Raffles’ landing in 1819, which led to the founding of modern Singapore. In place of the triumphant European male protagonist, the artist recasts the narrative as a fantastical tale of a mythical, now-extinct species of whale that brought Raffles to these shores. In this invented folklore, the whale species called the ‘East Indiaman’ was domesticated as man’s marine beast of burden. However, Chan’s origin tale is also grounded in rigorous historical research: from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, the East Indiaman was the generic name for any sailing ship belonging to the English East India Company, and it was on one such merchant vessel that Raffles sailed to reach Singapore. The work, sited on the front lawn of the National Museum of Singapore, also recalls the skeleton of an Indian fin whale that was once the highlight of the museum.