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A PilGrimAge

"CATWALK – a PilGrimAge" was a contemplative walk through the liminal landscape of imagined and real wilderness in Singapore.


The journey traversed an area that once housed real tigers but is now filled with imagined and symbolic substitutes. The walk concluded in Bukit Timah, one of Singapore's few remaining forests, where stuffed tigers are displayed in the visitor center. These stuffed tigers represent a melancholic replacement for the once-revered guardians of the sacred forests of Southeast Asia.

Documentation from the walk was displayed at L’Observatoire (2019), aiming to prompt reflection on whether we are content with this tamed, symbolic, and artificial wilderness or if there are ways to accommodate real wilderness in the contemporary landscape.

Historically, just over a century ago, 100,000 wild tigers roamed across Asia; today, only about 5,500 remain. In Southeast Asia, in particular, the number of tigers has plummeted, pushing them to the brink of critical endangerment. This drastic decline is driven by habitat loss due to logging, plantation expansion, and extractive industries, as well as poaching, snaring, and the illegal trade in tiger products. The use of tiger parts in medicine originated in China and spread throughout Southeast Asia via maritime trade, becoming ingrained in many indigenous cultures. This exploitation continues in today’s consumer society, facilitated by the internet, social media, and a lack of political will to invest in wildlife conservation.

Before the British arrived in 1819, indigenous Southeast Asian communities coexisted with tigers, viewing them as guardians of sacred places and stewards of the forest. If tigers occasionally ventured into villages and attacked livestock or humans, they were seen as a moral force punishing those who violated customs. This relationship was rich with stories, rituals, and lifeways centered around coexisting with the tiger.

However, as forests in Singapore were cleared for plantations, the relationship between humans and tigers became antagonistic. The last wild tiger in Singapore was shot in 1930. As live tigers disappeared, they were replaced by tigers in zoos, stuffed tigers in Bukit Timah Visitor Centre, and a parade of imagined and symbolic tigers in consumer goods and commercials. These substitutes often idealize symbols of wilderness. For instance, in commercials, drinking Tiger beer became associated with "uncaging yourself, igniting the tiger inside," and breaking free from conformity to follow your dreams. Drinking many Tiger beers might bring you closer to your inner wilderness while numbing your unconscious longing for a lost wilderness.


But as this work aims to reflect on and ask: is this truly what we want?

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The Last Tiger, Mural by Yip Yew Chong,

Singapore, 2019.

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