Incident 513 (May 13)
Artwork: 14.5" x 17" inches
Woodcut by Choo Keng Kwang
This artwork is framed.
513 Incident, 13 May 1954
This woodblock painting is one of the most intriguing self-portraits to be produced by a local artist in Singapore’s art history. The artist, Choo Keng Kwang had depicted himself on the far right hand section of the painting, with a stunned, confounded expression. The self-portrait shows him with his signature black spectacles. Through the painting, the artist conveys his emotions and sympathies as he had been present as a witness during the 513 incident.
513 is a shorthand for 13th of May 1954, a date charged with historical and political resonance. It was the date that National Service Riots erupted in Singapore. The Chinese Middle School students demonstrated against the British government’s decision to conscript young men in the military. The students were unwilling to defend a foreign government which they wanted to drive out of Singapore.
The Chinese students saw no future in a British ruled state. The students also sympathised with the local workers who had to work long hours with meagre pay, no medical care and poor work conditions under the British rule. The demonstration turned violent and The Riot Squad was called in to curb the mobs. Twenty students were injured and forty-five were arrested.