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Once Upon an Island

Images of Singapore (1950-1980) through the lens of Dr. Ivan Polunin

Once Upon An Island is a historical picture book illustrated with nearly 1,000 iconic images of Singapore from the archives of Dr. Ivan Polunin, showcasing the different lost crafts and traditions that no longer exist in modern-day Singapore. It was awarded the Heritage Project Grant from the National Heritage Board of Singapore.

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Discover The Lost Memories of


Polunin began this project during his lifetime, working on it for over ten years. Upon his death, he left behind a voluminous draft entitled Once Upon An Island: Singapore’s Lost Memories Unveiled. This book takes off from this point, utilising Polunin’s original writings and design.

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Embark with us on an extraordinary journey in a bygone era of Singapore's history, as seen through the lens of one man.

“What was life like and what did Singapore look like in those early days?”

In his own words, this is the question that Polunin tried to address.

The book is visually focused and intended for a general audience. Captions provide context for the images, giving us a glimpse into Singapore's fascinating past. It will appeal not only to a local audience but also to international readers with an interest in Singapore’s historical and cultural life.

Our wish is for the book to encourage older readers to share their own stories and to rekindle memories of their past. For younger readers, the book will provide a window into Singapore’s formative years as an independent nation, forging a link and a deeper understanding of their elders’ personal histories.

Preview the book

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