Water is increasingly coming to the fore as todayʼs most politically contested resource. In light of scientific predictions that we will face a global crisis if waterʼs uneven distribution and
Water is increasingly coming to the fore as todayʼs most politically contested resource. In light of scientific predictions that we will face a global crisis if waterʼs uneven distribution and monopolisation are not addressed, we must look to regions in which water remains central to nation- building. This paper considers the material and symbolic role of water in the construction of national identity, focusing on how this resource shapes local and global perceptions of Singaporeʼs colonial past and projected future. Water was critical to Singaporeʼs survival when it gained independence; its combination of profit-based initiatives with altruism, steps toward self-sufficiency, and sharing of water management strategies helped it brand itself as a global hydrohub. Moreover, its no-regret adaptation measures already provide buffers against climate change. Awareness mechanisms and incentives further enable conservation and appreciation. I investigate water in Singaporeʼs political imagination, demonstrating how, from 1965 onward, water was strategically tethered to imagery and public space. I analyse icons and adverts used by the Public Utilities Board, placing them in conversation with art, sculpture, and architecture. Water is harnessed to reflect Singaporeʼs past and reinforce its drive toward self-sustainability; it is a site of myth and aspiration, which combine on the riverfront to solidify liquid national identity. Yet official imagery does not address unofficial narratives surrounding the Singapore River cleanup. I conclude by turning to literature (Suchen Christine Limʼs 2014 The Riverʼs Song and Roger Jenkinsʼ 1995 From the Belly of the Carp) that resurrects memories tied to Singaporeʼs waterways.
Kira Alexandra Rose is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Division of English at Nanyang Technological University. She received her PhD in Comparative Literature from Princeton University and holds a masterʼs degree with distinction from the University of Oxford, where she was a Clarendon Scholar. Her postdoctoral project, Watermarks: Political and Aesthetic Afterlives of an Element, engages shifting representations of water in transnational literature, art, and media. Rose is the former co-editor-in-chief of Princetonʼs journal of literary translation, Inventory. Her work has appeared in The New Collection, The Oleander Review, and Journal of Modern Literature.
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