Retiree, 77, turns heads with community artwork using 80,000 bottle caps in Bedok
Crouching down on his knees, a man in a batik shirt gingerly hammered another bottle cap into the cement, working on a mosaic artwork in the middle of an open neighbourhood square in Bedok.
The artist, retiree Sim Boh Huat, said he empties his mind and simply lets intuition guide his work, which has bottle caps forming the shape of Singapore, framed by bright flowers.
The 77-year-old, who lives in the neighbourhood, turns up every day from 3pm to 8pm. Work on his creation started in July 2022.
Of the community artwork, which is located adjacent to Block 26 New Upper Changi Road, he said: “Like a gardener, I plant each bottle cap naturally into the ground like a flower.”
The work, which is currently untitled, is one of East Coast GRC’s projects that aim to involve the community under the East Coast Plan, getting residents to take greater ownership of their neighbourhoods.
The plan was introduced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat during the 2020 General Election. The pillars of the plan include making the neighbourhood more vibrant through improving living and common spaces while involving residents.
Mr Sim, who had originally experimented with bottle cap mosaics at a community garden where he volunteers, said the ground was not suitable for laying the caps, which kept getting washed away by the rain.
He brought this issue up to the Bedok Bougainvillea Residents’ Committee (RC), which manages his zone, seeking approval for a site for his artwork.
Mr Lanard Ng, 45, an engineer and chairman of the RC, said: “We were already looking for people to beautify and personify the area in line with the East Coast Plan, and it is difficult to find people who have the time and energy to put in effort for their community.
“Mr Sim is passionate and meets both criteria, so we were happy to help him.”
Initially allotted a small plot near a coffee shop in May 2022, Mr Sim soon realised that his art would require more space.
He was then provided with a larger plot in the centre of the neighbourhood square, said Mr Ng.
This allowed for the artwork to begin in July 2022, when the plot of grass was cleared and the RC began a publicity campaign to collect bottle caps.
Over a period of one month, residents gathered around 80,000 bottle caps. These were sorted by Mr Sim and hammered into the cement to form the mosaic.
He said he has also managed to stay fit and make many friends.
Mr Sim said: “I work on this mosaic from 3pm to around 8pm every day and, during this time, many people walk by and buy me drinks or meals.”
He added that he met some of these friends through the open call for the bottle caps, which resulted in some unique-looking caps being handed to him.
Among those who help him is social worker Sheryl Yeo, 24, who turns up once a week.
She lives a few blocks away from where the artwork is located and came across Mr Sim at work on her way to lunch.
She said: “I just thought it was so rare that it was an initiative done by an uncle alone and not the Government… People are often so busy with their own lives and they hardly do things for the community, especially if there is not much to be gained from it.”
She added: “I like community art and I hope that we will see more of it in Singapore.”
DPM Heng paid a visit to Mr Sim’s mosaic on Thursday and said he was very impressed with Mr Sim’s ability to make art out of discarded things.
In a Facebook post, he thanked Mr Sim for making Bedok more colourful and vibrant.
With the artwork to be completed by the end of this month, Mr Sim said he hopes his creation will inspire joy in those who chance upon it.
Pointing to the heart in the centre of the mural, he added: “The heart stands for my love for the kind people in Singapore with a heart… I hope that with my art, everyone and all my neighbours will be happy to be surrounded by beauty.”
The artwork will be at the site permanently. The RCs in Bedok welcome proposals from residents on community projects. Applications will be assessed on a case-by-case basis and processing time may vary.