Pulau Belakang Mati

Photos by Ed Gorwell

The island of Sentosa, meaning ‘Peace and Tranquility’ in Malay, lies just off the coast of the main island of Singapore. Before 1972, the island was known as Pulau Belakang Mati, which translates roughly to ‘island of death from behind’. The name change came with the Singaporean Government’s decision to develop the island into a tourist resort.

Following the Japanese invasion of Singapore in the Second World War, the island became home to a prisoner of war camp detaining Australian and British troops. During the invasion, Sentosa hosted the mass and summary executions of Singaporean Chinese, many of whom were civilians, by the Japanese military. It’s estimated that between 50,000 and 100,000 Chinese people were executed across Singapore. Berhala Reping at Sentosa’s beach was a major killing field. The site is now occupied by Sentosa’s eighteen hole Serapong golf course.

This work explores the experience of claustrophobia, anxiety and dread in man-made places that profess to offer relaxation and escape. It examines the peculiar incongruity between the aesthetic of touristed places and the feelings they can elicit; vibrancy, lightness and colour somehow render a sense of their opposite.

Ed Gorwell is a photographer living and working in Melbourne, Australia. He studied Media and Communication at The University of Melbourne and is currently undertaking a Master of Environment. He is interested in social documentary and the urban landscape.

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