Statues of Wallace and his Assistant Ali Unveiled in Singapore

By George Beccaloni, September 2019

On the 30th August 2019, magnificent life-size bronze statues of Alfred Russel Wallace and his faithful Malay assistant Ali were unveiled outside the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM)  in Singapore. Wallace is pointing at a sculpture of a male Wallace's Standardwing Bird of Paradise on a nearby pillar, and Ali has his gun ready. The scene is from the island of Bacan in Indonesia in 1858, where Wallace and Ali discovered this bird, which at the time was new to science.

The statue of Wallace is only the second one of him ever made (there are however several busts and other portraits). It is based on the one of him by Anthony Smith which the Wallace Memorial Fund donated to London's Natural History Museum in 2013. The statue of Ali is unique and is based on the only known photograph of him, which was taken at Wallace's request in Singapore in 1862.

The initial idea for a statue of Wallace in Singapore was conceived by George Yeo (then Singapore's Minister of Foreign Affairs) and Prof. Peter Ng (now Director of the LKCNHM) in 2009. Barry Clarke (Taylor & Francis Asia Pacific) tried to revive the plan in 2013, but funds could not be found. In 2018 Peter Ng and Barry Clarke at last secured funding thanks to heightened interest in Singapore's history as a result of this year's bicentenary of the founding of the island nation. See a video about the statues HERE.

The Making of the Statues

The statues were sculpted by Chang Ting Hsuan, Lim XingYi, Subashri Sankarasubramanian and Lim Soo Ngee of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa). I advised on historical details and Martin Hinchcliffe provided me with information about Ali's gun.

The images below show the clay models from which moulds were ultimately made to then cast them in bronze. The images are copyright of Nafa.

The Unveiling

The statues were unveiled by Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security, Teo Chee Hean after his speech and an introduction by Peter Ng, Director of the Museum. Key supporters of the campaign, Tommy Koh, Ambassador-at-Large, George Yeo, previously Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Prof. Tan Eng Chye, NUS President were present. See a video about the unveiling HERE.

Peter Ng (left) and Peter Ng and Teo Chee Hean with the unveiled statues (right). Copyright Ru Smith.

The statues after the unveiling, including photos of the sculpture of the male Standardwing that Wallace is pointing at, and the plaque with the sculptor's names. Copyright Gavin Short.

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