Singapore ‘A Land Imagined’: Rising Seas, Land Reclamation and the Tropical Film-Noir City




Singapore City, Tropical Imaginary, Rhizomatics, Climate Change, Film Ethnography, Land Reclamation, Rising Seas, Migrant Labour


Sea level rise due to climate change is predicted to be higher in the Tropics. As a low-lying, highly urbanised island near the equator, Singapore is taking an active response to this problem, including through large land reclamation projects. Incorporating both environmental and aesthetic elements, these projects also serve to bolster Singapore’s reputation as a shining example of a global city, a leading arts centre in Southeast Asia, and an economic hub to the world. This paper draws attention to urban development through an ethnographic reading of Yeo Siew Hua’s film A Land Imagined. A Singaporean tropical-noir mystery thriller, the film follows the rhizomatic path of a police investigator and his partner as they attempt to solve the disappearance of two foreign labourers. Interwoven within the film is a critique of Singapore’s treatment of migrant workers as it constructs the imaginary of the ‘Singapore Dream’.

Author Biographies

Anita Lundberg, James Cook University, Australia

Associate Professor Anita Lundberg is a cultural anthropologist. Her ethnographies have explored everyday urban life, the cinematic city, and neoliberal higher education in Singapore; climate change street art in Bali; the architecture of a Malay house and garden of indigenous trees; and a whale hunting village in Indonesia. Anita has won awards and held international fellowships: LIA TransOceanik (CNRS, JCU, Collége de France); The Cairns Institute (TCI); Evans Fellow, Cambridge University, UK; Guest Researcher, Maison Asie-Pacifique, Université de Provence, France; Visiting Fellow, Institute of the Malay World and Civilization, National University Malaysia; and Anthropologist-in-Residence, Rimbun Dahan, Malaysia. She has curated exhibitions in NY, LA, Paris and Sydney, and her own research has been exhibited at the Australian National Maritime Museum, the National Art Gallery of Malaysia and Alliance de Française. Anita was a Post-Doctoral Fellow, Cambridge University, UK, she has a PhD in Anthropology, and an MA in Science & Technology Studies.

Jasmin Thamima Peer, James Cook University, Australia

Jasmin Thamima Peer is currently a Learning Advisor at James Cook University's Indigenous Education and Research Centre, and a Research Assistant at LocuSAR, a social research consultancy that provides expert analysis and professional education across Australia and the Asia-Pacific. Jasmin, originally from Singapore, is currently based in Cairns, Australia. Her research interests revolve around the anthropology of urban spaces, art, and language. She graduated in 2020 from James Cook University with a BA (Honours First Class) with a major in Anthropology and a minor in Literature. Her honours thesis was titled "Hidden Transcripts in Singaporean Film - An Anthropological Analysis". 


Abdullah, A.K. (2009). The Hikayat Abdullah (A.H. Hill, Trans.). Kuala Lumpur: The Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society.

A Land Imagined (6 June, 2018). A Land Imagined a film by Yeo Siew Hua. Locarno Festival Concorso internazionale (Press Kit).

Appadurai, A. (1996). Modernity at large: Cultural dimensions of globalization. University of Minnesota Press.

Barr, M. D. (2000). Lee Kuan Yew and the “Asian Values” Debate. Asian Studies Review, 24 (3), 309-334.

Bullock, N. (2018). Ocularcentrism in Singapore: A Preliminary Analysis of Architecture. eTropic: electronic journal of studies in the tropics 17 (1), 25-40.

Chaudhury, S. & Lundberg, A. (2018). Singapore as a Creative City: Vignettes from the Perspective of la flâneuse tropique. eTropic: electronic journal of studies in the Tropics 17 (2), 110-131.

Chin, C. (2019). Precarious Work and its Complicit Network: Migrant Labour in Singapore. Journal of Contemporary Asia, 49 (4), 528-551.

Chua, B. H. (2011). Singapore as model: Planning innovations, knowledge experts. In A. Roy & A. Ong (Eds.), Worlding cities: Asian experiments and the art of being global (pp. 29-54). Wiley-Blackwell.

Clarke, D.B. (Ed.) (1997). The Cinematic City. Routledge.

Comaroff, J. (2014) Built on Sand: Singapore and the New State of Risk, Harvard Design Magazine, 39.

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus. (Vol. 2 of Capitalism and Schizophrenia) (B. Massumi, Trans.). University of Minnesota Press. (Original work published 1980).

Department of Statistics Singapore (2019).

Geerlings, L.R.C. & Lundberg, A. (2018). Global discourses and power/knowledge: theoretical reflections on futures of higher education during the rise of Asia. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 38, (2), 229-240.

Glaser, R., Haberzettl, P. & Walsh, R.P.D. (1991). Land reclamation in Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau. GeoJournal 24, 365–373.

Gray, G. (2010). Cinema: A Visual Anthropology. Berg.

Greene, W. (March 22, 2019). Review: A Land Imagined Is a Noir-Tinged Rumination on Identity. Slant.

Hassler, U. & Topalovic, M. (Eds) (2014). Constructed land: Singapore 1924–2012. Singapore: ETH Zurich DArch and Future Cities Laboratory.

IMDb (2018). A Land Imagined, Plot Summary.

Jamieson, W. (2017). There’s Sand in My Infinity Pool: Land Reclamation and the Rewriting of Singapore. GeoHumanities, 3 (2), 396-413.

Kong, L. & Yeoh, B.S.A. (1997). The construction of national identity through the production of ritual and spectacle. Political Geography 16 (3), 213–239.

Law, L., Wee, C. W-L., & McMullan, F. (2011). Screening Singapore: The Cinematic Landscape of Eric Khoo’s Be With Me. Geographical Research, 49(4), 363–374.

Lee, H.L. (2019). National Day Rally Speech. 18 August. Prime Minister’s Office Singapore

Lee K.Y. (1966) National Day Rally Address by Singapore’s Prime Minister, National Theatre, Singapore, 8 August. National Archives Singapore. Audiovisual file.

Liew, K. K., & Teo, S. K. (2017). Singapore Cinema: New Perspectives. Routledge.

Lim, E. (2018). Celluloid Singapore: Cinema, Performance and the National. Edinburgh University Press.

Lim, T.S. (2017). Land from Sand: Singapore’s Reclamation Story. BiblioAsia 13 (1), 16-23.

Lundberg, A. (2016). Rhizomes, Weak Links and Far Flung Networks: Empowering women’s space in Tropical Asia. eTropic: electronic journal of studies in the tropics, 15 (2), 106-117.

Lundberg, A. (2020). Balinese Dancer wearing a Gas Mask: Climate Change and the Tropical Imaginary. [COP26 Perspectives Special Issue]. Scottish Geographical Journal RSGJ. 136 (1-4).

Marzin, C., Rahmat, R., Bernie, D., Bricheno, L., Buonomo, E., Calvert, D., Cannaby, H., Chan, S., Chattopadhyay, M., Cheong, W-K., Hassim, M.E., Gohar, L., Golding, N., Gordon, C., Gregory, J., Hein, D., Hines, A., Howard, T., Janes, T., …Zhang, S. (2015). Singapore’s Second National Climate Change Study – Phase 1. Published by Met Office, Exeter, UK; Centre for Climate Research Singapore, Singapore; National Oceanography Centre, Liverpool, UK; CSIRO, Australia; Newcastle University, UK

Ministry of Foreign Affairs Singapore (MFA).

Ministry of Manpower (MOM) (December, 2019).

Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources; Ministry of National Development (2016) windmills and projects on land reclamation sites (ie more drainage etc). y-state is one of the governments Climate Action Plan Singapore’s Climate Action Plan: A Climate-Resilient Singapore, For a Sustainable Future.

National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS). Impact of Climate Change on Singapore.

Observatory of International Complexity (2018).

Ong, A. (2011). Introduction Worlding Cities, or the Art of Being Global. In Roy, A. & Ong, A. (Eds.). Worlding Cities: Asian Experiments at the Art of Being Global (pp. 1-28). Wiley-Blackwell.

Oppenheimer, M., Glavovic, B. C., Hinkel, J., van de Wal, R., Magnan, A.K., Abd-Elgawad, A., Cai, R., Cifuentes-Jara, M., DeConto, R.M., Ghosh, T., Hay, J., Isla, F., Marzeion, B., Meyssignac, B. & Sebesvari, Z. (2019). Sea Level Rise and Implications for Low-Lying Islands, Coasts and Communities. In H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, M. Tignor, E. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Nicolai, A. Okem, J. Petzold, B. Rama, N.M. Weyer (Eds.). IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, In press.

Patapan, H. (2013). Modern Philosopher Kings: Lee Kuan Yew and the Limits of Confucian 'Idealistic' Leadership. European Journal of East Asian Studies, 12 (2), 217-241.

Peer, J.T. (2019). Hidden Transcripts in Singaporean Film: An Anthropological Analysis. [Unpublished Honours Thesis]. James Cook University, Australia.

Sassen, S. (2002). The Global City: New York, London, and Tokyo (2nd Ed.). Princeton University Press. First published 1991.

Shiel, M. & Fitzmaurice, T. (Eds) (2001). Cinema and the City: Film and Urban Society in the Global Context. Blackwell.

Sim, J. (2020). A Land Imagined: Transsensorial States of Transmigration. International Journal of Diaspora & Cultural Criticism. 10 (1), 31-61.

Singapore Land Authority. (2019). Total Land Area of Singapore (data set).

Tan, K.P. (2012). The Ideology of Pragmatism: Neo-liberal Globalisation and Political Authoritarianism in Singapore. Journal of Contemporary Asia, 42 (1), 67-92.

Temasek (January 2019). Climate Change and Rising Sea Levels: Mitigating and Adapting to the Looming Threats. Prepared by AlphaBeta strategyxeconomics.

The Straits Times. (2019, Aug 18). Greater Southern Waterfront & key projects that have shaped Singapore. The Straits Times.

UNEP (2019). Sand and sustainability: Finding new solutions for environmental governance of global sand resources. GRID-Geneva, United Nations Environment Programme, Geneva, Switzerland.

Voelcker, B. (August 23, 2018). Interview: Yeo Siew Hua. Film Comment. Published by Film at Lincoln Centre.

Yeo S. H. (Director). (2018). A Land Imagined [Film]. Akanga Film Asia, Films de Force Majeure, mm2 Entertainment & Volya Films.




How to Cite

Lundberg, A., & Peer, J. T. (2020). Singapore ‘A Land Imagined’: Rising Seas, Land Reclamation and the Tropical Film-Noir City. ETropic: Electronic Journal of Studies in the Tropics, 19(2), 201–227.