The 16th century sailor seen wandering at the National Museum

30 01 2016

With all that’s been rumoured about the National Museum, the curious sight of a lost soul dressed in the manner of a 16th century Portuguese sailor wandering around one of its galleries would not be unexpected. Strangely though, rather than stay well away from the sailor – as one might expect, those present in the gallery seemed instead to be drawn to him.

The Level 2 galleries.

The National Museum – where the past comes alive in more ways than one.

There is little that is sinister about the sailor who roams the basement gallery with two muses in tow. On a quest to find what he thinks will offer an escape from the curse of his long but lonely existence – attributed to the consumption of the Elixir of Life, the sailor enlists the help of those around. The sailor, the two muses, and his quest – to find the greatest treasure in the world, is all part of the fun of an experiential play, “The Greatest Treasure in the World”.

A muse and Aesop (as well as several other characters from the past), also help Afonso in his quest.

A pair of muses and several other characters from the past, also help Afonso in his quest.

The experiential play also has the audience take part.

The experiential play also has the audience take part.

The play, created by Peggy Ferroa, has the audience, embark on a rather enjoyable adventure through time with Afonso, the Portuguese sailor – whose full name sounds as long as the life he has had. The search for the treasure takes place in the in the Treasures of the World from the British Museum exhibition –  where Afonso suspects he would, with the help of the audience, find what he seeks.

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Tickets to join Afonso on his quest cost $38 and can be booked through SISTIC. Two sessions of the hour-long experience will be held on the evenings of 30 January, 25, 26 and 27 February, 24, 25, and 26 March and 28, 29 and 30 April 2016. More information on the The Greatest Treasure in the World can be found at the National Museum of Singapore’s website.

The cast with Peggy Ferroa (standing second from right).

The cast with Peggy Ferroa (standing second from right).

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Treasures of the World from the British Museum

8 12 2015

The British Museum’s Keeper of the Department of Asia, Ms. Jane Portal, speaking at the opening of the Treasures of the World from the British Museum exhibition.  The exhibition, which opened on 4 Dec 2015, has been brought in by the National Museum of Singapore in collaboration with the British Museum. It features 239 exceptional artefacts from the British Museum’s collection, representing a period of some 2 million years and runs to 29 May 2016. Further information on the exhibition can be found at : Highlights: Treasures of the World from the British Museum.

Ms. Jane Portal, Keeper of the Department of Asia, British Museum at the opening of the exhibition.

Ms. Jane Portal, Keeper of the Department of Asia, British Museum at the opening of the exhibition. The picture in the backdrop is of one of two Lewis Chess Piece made of Walrus Ivory from about AD 1150-1200, measuring about 9 cm in height, found on the Isle of Lewis that is on display at the exhibition.

 

 





Highlights: Treasures of the World from the British Museum

4 12 2015

It is from the treasure trove of what our ancestors have left behind that we find out much of what makes us who we are, the remarkable progress of the human race, and perhaps the common values that binds humans even the most diverse of cultures together. We have now an opportunity in Singapore to have a look at some very significant artefacts that have help to tell us the colourful and eventful story of humankind’s existence when the Treasures of the World from the British Museum exhibition opens on 5 December 2015. The exhibition, which will run for six months until 29 May 2016 , brings some of the best from the British Museum’s rather sizeable collection to the National Museum of Singapore.

Bust of Emperor Hadrian. From Tivoli, Italy. Around AD 125–130. Marble.

Bust of Emperor Hadrian. From Tivoli, Italy. Around AD 125–130. Marble.

The British Museum’s repository of history provides us with a view that spans a period of more than two million years. For the exhibition, the oldest object being brought over is an 800,000 year old hand axe. The Quartzite axe, dates to the lower Palaeolithic period and originates from the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. Said to be the “Cradle of Mankind”, the gorge is where some of the earliest evidence of existence of our ancestors has been found.

Stone handaxe. Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Lower Palaeolithic, about 800,000 years old. Quartzite.

Stone handaxe. Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Lower Palaeolithic, about 800,000 years old. Quartzite.

The exhibition has been laid out such that it spans out from the axe, much as humankind has spread out from the African continent. Objects are presented at a regional or continental level, providing a taste of the evolution of the diverse cultures in regions such as Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Europe, the Americas and Oceania.

The exhibition spans out from the 800,000 year old axe.

The exhibition spans out from the 800,000 year old axe.

Among the exhibits, all of which have more than a story to tell, several caught my eye. There is the must-have mummy plus objects from the tomb from the museum’s well-known collection of Egyptian antiquities. The 2nd Century mummy, that of an adolescent boy, is particularly interesting for its “mummy portrait” – which shows the influence of the Greco-Roman tradition. The portrait – an Egyptian practice, is Roman in terms of style and technique. Such naturalistic portraits are thought to be among the finest surviving works of art from classical antiquity.

Mummy of an adolescent boy. Hawara, Egypt Roman period, AD 100–120 Human tissue, linen, gold, wax.

Mummy of an adolescent boy. Hawara, Egypt Roman period, AD 100–120
Human tissue, linen, gold, wax.

Among the funerary objects is 900 BC mummy board that gained the reputation of being an Unlucky Mummy. A series of misfortunes were attributed to the board – including a suggestion that it was onboard the ill fated SS Titanic when she sank on her maiden voyage.

Mummy-board. Probably from Thebes, Egypt Late 21st or early 22nd Dynasty, 950–900 BC Wood, painted detail on plaster.

Mummy-board. Probably from Thebes, Egypt Late 21st or early 22nd Dynasty, 950–900 BC Wood, painted detail on plaster.

Another exhibit that is worth looking at is a memorial portrait bust of a priest from Palmyra – especially so with the recent destruction of the antiquities there. The limestone bust dates from AD 150 to 200 and is identified as that of Yedibel, the son of Oge Ya’ut. The hat identifies him as a priest.

A memorial portrait bust of a priest from Palmyra, Syria.

A memorial portrait bust of a priest from Palmyra, Syria.

A set of objects from pre-Columbian America also provide a rare insight into the cultures of the period. One artefact that caught my attention is a deity mask representing Xipe Totec, a principal god of the Aztecs. The stone mask, interestingly, has a decorated inside surface carved with a four-armed figure – thought to represent a priest or the deity. Another interesting fact is that Xipe Totec means the “the flayed one”. This apparently alludes to the practice of wearing the flayed skin of sacrificial human victims during springtime planting festivals to ensure the renewal of life – the mask of dead skin was likened to dead vegetation concealing new life beneath it.

Deity mask. Mexico. Aztec (Mexica), around AD 1400–1521. Grey volcanic stone. (The reflection shows the carved inside surface).

Deity mask. Mexico. Aztec (Mexica), around AD 1400–1521. Grey volcanic stone. (The reflection shows the carved inside surface).

Lintel showing a Maya ruler. Yaxchilán, Mexico. Maya, AD 600–900. Limestone.

Lintel showing a Maya ruler. Yaxchilán, Mexico. Maya, AD 600–900. Limestone.

Besides the Aztec mask, the funerary and memorial objects, many other representations of human forms and deities are noticeable throughout the exhibition. There are some of the tallest and heaviest exhibits that are found amongst these. One seemingly friendly chap is a 2.4 metre Welcome figure of the Kwakwaka’wakw people from Vancouver Island, who holds a hand out in welcome. Another tall object and striking form is one that was one half of a pair of door posts from a New Caledonian chief’s house.

Welcome figure. Vancouver Island, Canada. Kwakwaka’wakw people, 19th century AD. Wood.

Welcome figure. Vancouver Island, Canada. Kwakwaka’wakw people, 19th century AD. Wood.

Door post. New Caledonia. 19th or early 20th century AD. Wood.

Door post. New Caledonia. 19th or early 20th century AD. Wood.

The Oceania section.

The Oceania section.

A skull holder from New Guinea.

A skull holder from New Guinea.

Two Young Explorers’ Zones, designed for children aged 7 to 12, will provide the younger ones with an excellent learning opportunity to. The zones feature activity sheets and learning stations. Also, in conjunction with the exhibition, public programmes such as workshops, curated tours, lectures by representatives from the British Museum and other historians, and theatre performances will be held. More information on this can be found at the National Museum of Singapore’s exhibition page. Admission charges apply.

An activity sheet for young explorers.

An activity sheet for young explorers.

A young explorer zone (in the foreground).

A young explorer zone (in the foreground).


Some other highlights:

Figure of a pregnant woman. Cyclades, Greece. Early Bronze Age, 2600–2400 BC. Marble.

Figure of a pregnant woman. Cyclades, Greece. Early Bronze Age, 2600–2400 BC. Marble.

During the third millennium BC, relatively prosperous and wellpopulated settlements flourished on the Cycladic islands in the central Aegean Sea. Among the most striking artistic creations of this period are schematic figures carved in marble. Most are female and are typically shown with their arms folded across the chest, the right arm always placed under the left. This well-carved example is notable for its swollen abdomen, which suggests pregnancy.

The significance of Cycladic figures has been the subject of considerable debate. Many come from graves, perhaps indicating that they were made particularly for funerary use. However, since numbers of them have also been found in settlements, they may have been important in the rituals of the living as well. The depiction of sexual characteristics, and occasionally pregnancy, points to an emphasis on female fertility.


Early erotica perhaps. Marble group of a nymph escaping from a satyr. Tivoli, Italy. 2nd century AD. Marble.

Early erotica perhaps. Marble group of a nymph escaping from a satyr. Tivoli, Italy.
2nd century AD. Marble.

In ancient Greek myth, satyrs were part-human, part-animal beings closely associated with Dionysos, the god of wine. Given to wild passion, they are often shown in art as sexual predators chasing after nymphs and maenads, the female followers of Dionysos. In this marble group, a nymph struggles to free herself from a rapacious satyr who has locked his arms around her waist. Such images of amorous wrestling couples gave vivid expression to male erotic fantasies.

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The sculpture is one of several known Roman versions of an earlier Greek work of the second or first century BC (now lost). With its complex composition of interacting bodies, designed to be seen in the round, it is typical of Hellenistic (later Greek period) art. The collector Charles Townley acquired the sculpture in 1773 through the English dealer Thomas Jenkins. It appears in the famous painting by Johan Zoffany, Charles Townley’s Library (1781–83), now in the collection of the Townley Hall Art Gallery and Museum, Burnley, England.


The Three Crosses. Rembrandt (Harmensz van Rijn) (Dutch, 1606-1668). AD 1653. Dry point etching.

The Three Crosses. Rembrandt (Harmensz van Rijn) (Dutch, 1606-1668). AD 1653. Dry point etching.

The celebrated Dutch painter Rembrandt made over three hundred etchings, and the present work is one of his masterpieces. This scene of Christ’s crucifixion is extraordinarily dramatic on account of the bold contrast between light and shade, with the frail figure of Jesus spotlighted in the centre. The crowd of figures beneath the cross can just be made out in the gloom, an effect that heightens the sense of confusion and suffering that surrounds Christ’s death.

Rembrandt began training as an artist in Leiden at the age of 15. His skill and imagination led to great success once he moved to Amsterdam in 1631. Printmaking was a central element of his production. It supplemented his income and due to the portability of prints it also won him an international reputation, which was important to him since unlike many Dutch artists, he never travelled to Italy.

The Reformation emphasised the importance of private prayer, and prints such as this were both great works of art and a means of bringing Biblical stories vividly to life.


The heaviest treasure, approximately 1100kg. Grave Relief. Probably from Athens, Greece. 4th century BC; head re-cut in the early 1st century AD. Marble.

The heaviest treasure, approximately 1100kg. Grave Relief. Probably from Athens, Greece. 4th century BC; head re-cut in the early 1st century AD. Marble.

This grave relief depicts the idealised figure of a youth, naked but for a cloak over his left arm and shoulder. He holds a scraper or strigil, identifying him as an athlete. Although the stele and its image are of the 4th century BC, it was reused in the early 1st century AD to commemorate the death of a certain “Tryphon, son of Eutychos”. His name is inscribed on the architrave above the figure in Greek letters of the Roman period. To personalise the stele even further, the head was re-carved in contemporary Roman style. Once again, the “portrait” is idealised and may have borne no resemblance to the actual person it was intended to represent. This recycled artefact has survived in remarkably good condition.


Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles collection. General view of the temple at Borobudur. Around AD 1814. Watercolour on paper.

Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles collection. General view of the temple at Borobudur. Around AD 1814. Watercolour on paper.

The temple complex at Borobudur in Central Java is undoubtedly one of the greatest Buddhist monuments in the world. It was built in the 8th and 9th centuries under the patronage of the kings of the Saliendra dynasty (ruled around AD 775−860) as a Buddhist pilgrimage site. Shaped like a stepped pyramid, the main temple is remarkable for its terraces that are richly decorated with relief carvings and Buddha figures. The site began to decline in the 10th century as royal power shifted away from Central Java to the east, and was eventually abandoned in the 16th century.

Borobudur was brought to the attention of European audiences by Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781−1826) during his time as British Lieutenant-Governor of the island. In 1814, when Raffles was informed about a huge “lost” monument deep in the jungles near Yogyakarta, he dispatched the Dutch engineer H. C. Cornelius to investigate. With a force of 200 workers at his disposal, it took Cornelius two months to clear the site and partially reveal the huge terraced pyramid seen in this drawing. It seems likely that the image was produced for Raffles around this time.


Earliest recorded batik and Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles collection. Batik cloth. Java, Indonesia. Before AD 1816. Cotton.

Earliest recorded batik and Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles collection. Batik cloth. Java, Indonesia. Before AD 1816. Cotton. In the foreground, Dagger and scabbard. Java, Indonesia Before AD 1816. Metal, silver, wood.

Indonesia and the island of Java particularly, is unrivalled for the scope and variety of its batik textile production. Although the technique of patterning cloth through the application of wax is known in other parts of the world, it reached the highest level of refinement and complexity on Java.

This sarong skirt cloth is one of two in the British Museum that are among the earliest known examples of Javanese batik in any collection. It consists of a central panel (kepala) made up of triangular motifs (tumpal) with vertical panels to either side, and a main body (badan) on which the broken knife (parang rusak) design has been drawn. Stylistic traits, particularly the parang rusak pattern that was restricted to royalty, mark it as a piece from the Central Javanese court of Yogyakarta.

As Lieutenant-Governor of Java, Stamford Raffles visited the Yogyakarta court on two occasions, in December 1814 and again in January 1816. It is probable that the British Museum batiks were presented as diplomatic gifts on one of these state visits.

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A kris (or keris) is a type of dagger associated primarily with Indonesia and Malaysia, but also found in other areas of Southeast Asia. It is composed of three parts – the blade, the hilt and the scabbard – each of which may be decorated, with significance coming from the form and patterning. The blade is often, but not always, of a wavy shape. Worn by men, the kris was supposed to correspond with its owner’s physical proportions and temperament. As well as being weapons, kris are also heirlooms, part of ceremonial dress and a marker of social status. They are believed to have numerous magical properties, such as bringing good fortune or enhancing bravery. While a kris might bring back bad luck to one owner and have to be discarded, it could function benevolently with another individual.

This kris was collected by Sir Stamford Raffles during his posting as British Lieutenant-Governor of Java from 1811 to 1816.


Standing figure of the Buddha. Ancient Gandhara, Pakistan. AD 100–200. Grey schist.

Standing figure of the Buddha. Ancient Gandhara, Pakistan. AD 100–200. Grey schist.

Located in the region between modern northwest Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan, ancient Gandhara flourished as a major centre of Buddhism in the early centuries of the first millennium AD. Under the patronage of the ruling Kushan dynasty, numerous monasteries and shrines were constructed and furnished with narratives reliefs and devotional sculptures of the Buddha and bodhisattvas (Buddhas-to-be).

This serene figure, carved in grey schist, is representative of the classic Gandharan image. Draped in an elegant monastic robe, the Buddha assumes abhayamudra, the gesture of reassurance, offering protection to the worshipper with his raised hand (now lost). The halo surrounding the head signals his enlightened status. The sculptural traditions of Gandhara were greatly influenced by Greco-Roman prototypes, as is revealed here in the deeply cut folds of the robe and treatment of the hair.


(L) Painting of the bodhisattva Samantabhadra. Tang dynasty, around AD 750–850. Ink and colours on silk. (R) Painting of Lokapala Virūpākṣa, Guardian of the West. Tang dynasty, around AD 850–900. Ink and colours on silk.

(L) Painting of the bodhisattva Samantabhadra. Tang dynasty, around AD 750–850. Ink and colours on silk. (R) Painting of Lokapala Virūpākṣa, Guardian of the West. Tang dynasty, around AD 850–900. Ink and colours on silk.

The subject of this painting is the bodhisattva Samantabhadra, the special patron of the followers of the Lotus Sutra. He is shown seated on a lotus and riding a six-tusked white elephant, his familiar mount. During the Tang dynasty (AD 618–906) Samantabhadra was closely associated with Mañjuśrī, the bodhisattva of wisdom, and the painting may have been one of a pair of votive banners that were hung together for use in worship. Though the colours are today quite faded, in its original state the painting would have featured sumptuous highlights in blue, yellow, pink and red.

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This painting shows the lokapala Virūpākṣa, one of four heavenly kings who together protect the cardinal points of north, south east and west. He is depicted holding a sword, the jewelled scabbard of which rests directly on a demon’s head, only the sparse red hair of which remains. As with many such banners from Dunhuang, the image originally featured borders down each side and a band of lozenges at the bottom.


One of two brass plaques. Benin, Nigeria. Edo people, 16th century AD. Brass.

One of two brass plaques. Benin, Nigeria. Edo people, 16th century AD. Brass.

The powerful West African kingdom of Benin is famous for its brass castings, and particularly for its relief plaques which are unique in Africa. They were made from around 1550 to 1650 and were probably produced in matching pairs to clad the wooden pillars of the royal palace in Benin City. The palace was the centre of political and religious activities that ensured the well-being of the entire Edo state.

Some of the plaques portray important historical events while others depict scenes from court life and ritual. Both plaques illustrated here are dominated by the imposing figure of the Oba, or king, of Benin. On the left (a), the Oba is shown in the act of sacrificing a cow, assisted by five male priests who hold the animal’s legs and head still for him. He wears several items of royal regalia, including an elaborate headdress and necklace that signify his elevated social status and power. On the right hand plaque (b), the Oba is depicted with a spear in one hand and shield in the other. On his belt is a brass ornament in the form of a leopard’s head; the leopard being one of several creatures closely connected with royal power and authority. In the upper corners a pair of Portuguese traders are shown, each carrying a gift for the king. Depicted below are two attendants wearing pangolin (scaly anteater) skin helmets of the type associated with the leopard hunter’s guild.


Book of the Dead papyrus. Egypt. 21st Dynasty, 1069–945 BC. Ink on papyrus.

Book of the Dead papyrus. Egypt. 21st Dynasty, 1069–945 BC. Ink on papyrus.

This sheet of papyrus comes from one of the longest illustrated manuscripts of the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead to have survived. Originally over 37 metres long, it is now cut into 96 separate sheets. The Book of the Dead was a collection of spells, typically written on papyrus and placed in the tomb. These spells ensured that the deceased had access to the knowledge required to be successfully reborn into an eternal life. This sheet records part of spell 17, a long and complex discussion of the nature of the creatorgod. The illustration depicts the falcon headed sun-god Ra-Horakhty wearing a headdress composed of the solar disc.

The manuscript was made for a woman named Nestanebisheru, the daughter of the High Priest of Amun Pinedjem II. In this particular illustration, she is seen kneeling in front of Ra-Horakhty, raising her hands in adoration. She is accompanied by her spirit (ba) in the form of a bird with a human head.


(L) A divine attendant Nimrud, northern Iraq. Neo-Assyrian, 810–800 BC. Limestone. (R) Relief showing a protective spirit. North-West Palace, Nimrud, northern Iraq. Neo-Assyrian, around 875–860 BC. Gypsum.

(L) Second heaviest treasure. A divine attendant Nimrud, northern Iraq. Neo-Assyrian, 810–800 BC. Limestone. (R) Relief showing a protective spirit. North-West Palace, Nimrud, northern Iraq. Neo-Assyrian, around 875–860 BC. Gypsum.

This is one of a pair of guardian deity figures that stand in an attitude of attendance. The figures originally flanked a doorway in the temple of Nabu, an important god of writing, in the Assyrian capital of Kalhu (modern Nimrud). The cuneiform inscription carved around the guardian’s body states that they were dedicated to Nabu by the local governor, on his own behalf and on behalf of king Adadnirari (ruled 811–783 BC) and the queen mother Sammuramat. The inscription ends with the request that the reader should trust Nabu above all others.

The statues were discovered at Nimrud in 1854 by Hormuzd Rassam, who was excavating the site on behalf of the British Museum. According to his account, there was another pair of statues without inscriptions carrying basins, but these were subsequently lost or destroyed.

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This relief from a royal palace shows an Assyrian protective spirit. The winged eagle-headed spirit, originally one of a pair that reached out and touched the “sacred tree”, carries a tree cone or “purifier” that was probably covered in liquid from the bucket. The sacred tree, partly preserved on the left, possibly represents the fertility of the land.

The decoration of Assyrian palaces with extensive stone bas-reliefs was an innovation from the West first found in the palace of king Ashurnasirpal II (ruled 883−859 BC) at Nimrud. While some of the decoration in this palace, particularly in the throne room, was narrative and depicted events, the majority of reliefs depict protective spirits that were designed to ensure the well-being and prosperity of the palace’s inhabitants and Ashurnasirpal’s kingdom.


Ivory figure of St. Joseph. Hispano Philippine. 17th Century AD. Ivory, gilded.

Ivory figure of St. Joseph. Hispano Philippine. 17th Century AD. Ivory, gilded.

This carved ivory figure of St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, was produced in a workshop in Manila. Many fine ivory figures of Christian saints like this were produced in the 17th and 18th centuries, when the Philippines was under Spanish control. They were intended for churches, monasteries and wealthy homes in the Americas and Spain.


Ru dish with emperor's inscription. Qingliangsi, Henan province, China. AD 1086-1125. Stoneware with celadon glaze.

Ru dish with emperor’s inscription. Qingliangsi, Henan province, China. AD 1086-1125. Stoneware with celadon glaze.

Ru is the rarest of all the major Chinese ceramic wares. It is greatly admired for its elegant forms and duck egg blue glaze. The pink blushes on the glaze of this dish may have been caused by the great fire at the Chinese imperial palace in Beijing in 1923. On the base is an inscription by the Qianhong emperor (ruled AD 1736-1795), which comments on the quality of the vessel.


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The opening of the revamped permanent galleries at the National Museum

21 09 2015

The official opening of the revamped permanent galleries of the National Museum of Singapore (see a previous post: The new permanent: a sneak peek at the museum’s revamped galleries) by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on Saturday 19 September 2015 in photographs:

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong revisits the plaque he unveiled a quarter of a century ago as the first Deputy Prime Minister.

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong revisits the plaque he unveiled a quarter of a century ago to commemorate the reopening of the restored National Museum building during independent Singapore’s Silver Jubilee as the First Deputy Prime Minister.

Doing the honours 25 years later to opened the revamped Permanent Galleries in independent Singapore's Golden Jubilee year.

Doing the honours 25 years later to opened the revamped Permanent Galleries in independent Singapore’s Golden Jubilee year.

ESM Goh and Minister Lawrence Wong coming face to face with a replica of a Japanese Type 95 Ha-Go light tank in the revamped Singapore History Gallery.

ESM Goh and Minister Lawrence Wong coming face to face with a replica of a Japanese Type 95 Ha-Go light tank in the revamped Singapore History Gallery.

At the Surrender Table, on loan from the Australian War Memorial.

At the Surrender Table, on loan from the Australian War Memorial.

Mr Low Kam Hoong with the ministers. Mr Low donated a flexidisc with a recording of the original version of the Majulah Singapura.

Mr Low Kam Hoong with the ministers. Mr Low donated a flexidisc with a recording of the original version of the Majulah Singapura.

Coming face to face with Mr David Marshall, Singapore's first Chief Minister.

Coming face to face with Mr David Marshall, Singapore’s first Chief Minister.

Visiting a HDB flat even after the GE.

Visiting a HDB flat even after the GE (a display at the Singapore History Gallery).

Prof. Tommy Koh showing his Chapteh skills at the Opening Weekend Carnival.

Prof. Tommy Koh showing his Chapteh skills at the Opening Weekend Carnival.

At the opening.

At the opening.

Opening the revamped permanent galleries.

Opening the revamped permanent galleries.

 

 





The new permanent: a sneak peek at the museum’s revamped galleries

18 09 2015

Much has improved at the National Museum of Singapore since my days as a schoolboy. Then, I thought of it as cold, dark and maybe a little forbidding, a place where, if not for the spiral staircase, the sight of which would induce a spike in the heart rate,  one would be utterly bored to death. The museum these days isn’t just much less forbidding. It has gone far beyond telling history through the display of dimly lit and poorly labelled specimens and artefacts to a place where the history is an experience; and, it promises to get even better when the doors to its permanent galleries, closed for the better part of a year for a revamp, re-opens  this Saturday (19 September 2015).

The National Museum, now a much more welcoming place.

The National Museum, now a much more welcoming place.

The mysterious spiral staircase.

The mysterious spiral staircase.

The revamp, which sees in particular a huge improvement to the layout of the Singapore History Gallery, is summed up by Ms. Angelita Teo, Director of National Museum of Singapore:

With a refreshed layout and updated narrative, visitors can look forward to a more engaging and immersive experience; a bit like stepping back in time to the different periods of our history. Innovative displays, interactive elements and compelling personal stories make history and the artefacts come to life, and through them, we hope that visitors will form a greater emotional connection to the museum and to Singapore’s history.

The Separation Story seen at the new Singapore History Gallery.

The Separation Story seen at the new Singapore History Gallery.

Visitors will be able to contribute their own stories on an interactive map in the Singapore History Gallery’s Global City section. The map contains memories of places in Singapore from the Singapore Memory Project and lesser known facts about Singapore’s global footprints.

Visitors will be able to contribute their own stories on an interactive map in the Singapore History Gallery’s Global City section. The map contains memories of places in Singapore from the Singapore Memory Project and lesser known facts about Singapore’s global footprints.

A large number of artefacts, more than 1,700, include will be on display in the permanent galleries. Many, from the National Collection, would previously have been seen. One that will catch the attention of the visitor is the so-called Singapore Stone, a surviving portion of a sandstone boulder that had been located at the mouth of the Singapore River. The boulder, which was blasted out by the British, bears inscriptions that have not fully been deciphered and is thought to have originated in the days of Temasek or early Singapura. It has been associated with the legend of Badang, a strong man. A tale told in the Malay Annals or Sejarah Melayu has Badang winning a challenge by hurling the boulder to the mouth of the river.

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The Singapore Stone (or at least the surviving part of it).

An archaeological find that provides evidence of links in the 14th century.

An archaeological find that provides evidence of links in the 14th century.

Several artefacts from recent times, some never seen before, also make their appearance. These include personal objects of national significance that were either donated or are on loan such as a 1959 flexidisc recording of “Majulah Singapura” and a complete Temasek Green National Service uniform set, the very first to be used by our NS enlistees. The flexidisc features the only known recording of Zubir Said’s original 1958 version of the song that was later to be modified for use as Singapore’s National Anthem. The version was one composed for the Singapore City Council and the flexidisc, a souvenir produced to commemorate the attainment of full self-government in May 1959. The flexidisc was donated to the museum by Mr. Low Kam Hoong, a friend and former colleague (see also a post related to the flexidisc on the Facebook Group “On a Little Street in Singapore“).

Singapore's first National Service Uniform.

Singapore’s first National Service Uniform.

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Stories of war through the telephone.

Stories of war told through the telephone.

In the new galleries, the artefacts are given greater meaning through the use of contextual displays, ambient sounds, multimedia platforms as well as interactive platforms, giving a much more immersive experience to visitors. Another dimension is given to the experience in some cases, where scents, a powerful trigger for memories, supplement the displays. Produced and sponsored by Givaudan, one of the scents recreates that hard to forget stench of the once polluted Singapore River!

Contextual set-up of a HDB Flat.

Contextual set-up of a HDB Flat in the Singapore History Gallery.

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Many of the historical artefacts will be found in the remodelled Singapore History Gallery. With its entrance now located on Level 1, it has been made a lot more accessible. Its now more linear layout also allows a literal walk-through of 700 years of our history as Singapura / Singapore, which begins with a monsoon storm. The winds, responsible for bringing traders and visitors from far and wide to the region, will in the new Singapore History Gallery blow visitors on a journey through the days of Singapura (1299 to 1818), the years of the Crown Colony (1819–1941), the dark days of Syonan-to (1942–1945), and post-war Singapore (1945 to present).

The entrance to the new Singapore History Gallery on Level 1.

The entrance to the new Singapore History Gallery on Level 1.

Abraham Ortelius' 1570 map of the East Indies and a storm greets visitors to the new Singapore History Gallery.

Abraham Ortelius’ 1570 map of the East Indies and a storm greets visitors to the new Singapore History Gallery.

The passing of the storm, a light and sound show over a 1570 map of the East Indies, brings visitors to Singapura at its beginnings, an period of time described in the Sejarah Melayu. The accounts of a Chinese trader Wang Dayuan, also tell us of the links the island may have had to the Middle Kingdom. This is supported by evidence from archaeological excavations in Singapore that visitors will see on display, which also tell us of the links early Singapura may have had to kingdoms in Siam and in India.

Visitors are taken on a voyage of discovery that spans over 700 years.

Visitors are taken on a voyage of discovery that spans over 700 years.

Pages from the Malay Annals.

Pages from the Malay Annals.

14th Century Chinese porcelain unearthed during an archaeological dig.

14th Century Chinese porcelain unearthed during an archaeological dig.

In a year in which we also commemorate 70 years of the end of World War II, the exhibits relating to Syonan-to may be of particular interest. One very significant artefact from the period in the Singapore History Gallery, which is on display during a one-year loan period, is the Surrender Table. The six legged teak table was the one on which the surrender of Singapore to Japan was signed in the boardroom of the Ford Factory at Bukit Timah on 15 February 1942. Donated by the Ford Motor Company of Malaysia to the Australian War Memorial in November 1964, the table is on loan to the National Museum.

The Surrender Table, on loan from the Australian War Memorial.

The Surrender Table, on loan from the Australian War Memorial.

The war years in the Singapore History Gallery.

The war years in the Singapore History Gallery.

Several other exhibits may also be of interest in the Syonan-to section. One recalls Mrs. Elizabeth Choy, a war heroine who was held and tortured by the Kempeitai. The display includes the set of clothes that Mrs. Choy wore during her imprisonment, and also a gold necklace. The necklace was donated by Mrs. Choy’s daughter Bridget and was one given to Mrs. Choy by Lady Daisy Thomas, the wife of Governor Shenton Thomas. A family heirloom, the gift was made by Lady Thomas in gratitude for the help Mrs. Choy had provided Lady Thomas with during the latter’s internment during the occupation.

The clothes worn by war heroine Elizabeth Choy when she was held by the Kempeitai.

The clothes worn by war heroine Mrs. Elizabeth Choy when she was held by the Kempeitai.

A gold necklace, in the shape of a snake. A family heirloom given to Lady Daisy Thomas, the wife of Governor Shenton Thomas, the necklace was given to Elizabeth Choy, as a token of gratitude. Mrs Choy later gave the necklace to her eldest daughter, Bridget, as a present for her 21st birthday.

A gold necklace, in the shape of a snake. A family heirloom given to Lady Daisy Thomas, the wife of Governor Shenton Thomas, the necklace was given to Elizabeth Choy, as a token of gratitude for her help during Lady Thomas’ internment. Mrs Choy later gave this to her eldest daughter, Bridget, as a present for her 21st birthday.

An exhibit that will certainly catch the eye in the Syonan-to section is a replica of a Type 95 Ha Go Japanese tank. The light, fast and highly manoeuvrable tanks were widely deployed during the Second World War and used in the Battle for Singapore. The replica is one of four constructed for Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg’s television mini-series, The Pacific (2010).

A replica of a Type 95 Ha Go Japanese tank, one of 4 constructed for Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg’s television mini-series, The Pacific (2010).

A replica of a Type 95 Ha Go Japanese tank, one of 4 constructed for Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg’s television mini-series, The Pacific (2010).

A view through a Changi Prsion door.

A view through a Changi Prsion door.

Anchor from the RMS Empress of Asia troopship, which was bombed and sunk.

Anchor from the RMS Empress of Asia troopship, which was bombed and sunk.

We are also reminded of the scourge of opium addiction.

We are also reminded of the scourge of opium addiction.

A revolver seized during the tumultuous 1950s.

A revolver seized during the tumultuous 1950s.

The period of self-government.

The period of self-government.

The road to nationhood.

The road to nationhood.

The period of industrialisation seen in the Singapore History Gallery.

The period of industrialisation seen in the Singapore History Gallery.

The war years also feature in one of the four Life in Singapore: The Past 100 Years galleries (previously the Living Galleries) located on Level 2, in a gallery dedicated to Surviving Syonan. The four galleries will allow visitors to immerse themselves in four more important periods of Singapore’s recent history, in part, through the experiences of those who lived through them.

Surviving Syonan.

Surviving Syonan.

Small business licenses issued during the Syonan years,

Small business licenses issued during the Syonan years,

A bicycle license.

A bicycle license.

The occupation years are ones in which visitors can see how hope and love could overcome despair and uncertainty. A glimpse is also provided in the three other galleries into life in the 1920s–1930s in the Modern Colony, the turbulent 1950s and 1960s in Growing Up, as well as into the years that shaped the new Singapore and Singapore identity in the 1970s and the 1980s in Voices of Singapore.

A father's tribute to a son who passed on during the Syonan years.

A father’s tribute to a son who passed on during the Syonan years.

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The Modern Colony Gallery.

The Modern Colony Gallery.

A baby carrier used by amahs.

A baby carrier used by amahs.

A display of women's shoes in Modern Colony - a reflection of the evolving identities of women in early 20th century Singapore.

A display of women’s shoes in Modern Colony – a reflection of the evolving identities of women in early 20th century Singapore.

Toy swords - commonly sold at the pasar malams that accompanied wayangs.

Toy swords – commonly sold at the pasar malams that accompanied wayangs.

The zoetrope in the Growing Up gallery, inspired by stories of female Olympians in the 1950s.

The zoetrope in the Growing Up gallery, inspired by stories of female Olympians in the 1950s.

Games of a forgotten age in Growing Up.

Games of a forgotten age in Growing Up.

A rather interesting display in Voices of Singapore, one many in my generation will identify with is an installation that attempts a recreation of Singapore’s first and only ever drive-in cinema, Remembering the Jurong Drive-in cinema. The installation features a video montage by Singaporean filmmaker Eva Tang, who is inspired by the different film genres and themes popular with Singaporean audiences in the 1970s and 1980s.

Jurong Drive-in.

Jurong Drive-in.

Familiar landmarks in the Pursuit of Leisure TV Wall Projection in the Voices of Singapore gallery.

Familiar landmarks in the Pursuit of Leisure TV Wall Projection in the Voices of Singapore gallery.

Cameras and film.

Cameras and film.

The last of the permanent galleries will be found at the Goh Choo Seng Gallery on Level 2. Here, we find Desire and Danger, which aims to show how fine a line sometimes exists between the two in the natural environment. The gallery features a selection of drawings from the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings, which is combined with scents and specimens that tell us of the complex and often uneasy relationship between man and nature.

Desire and Danger.

Desire and Danger?

A puffer fish specimen.

A puffer fish specimen.

Scents and in-sensibilities.

Scents and in-sensibilities.

If the immersion into history starts to get too heavy this re-opening weekend, there will be distractions on offer at the Opening Weekend Carnival that the museum is also holding. The carnival, from 10 am to 6 pm on 19 and 20 September, will provide some excitement to both the young and the old, including a chance to relive the good old days through once familiar childhood favourites such as kacang puteh, ting ting candy, sng bao and tikam-tikam. Also to look out for are special guided tours of the Singapore History Gallery this weekend. Information on this, the re-opening and more on the carnival can be found at the National Museum of Singapore’s Opening Weekend Page.

The Level 2 galleries.

The Level 2 galleries.


Opening and Admission Information:

The permanent galleries will be opened from 10am to 7pm (last admission 6.30pm) daily.

Admission is free for Citizens, Permanent Residents (unless otherwise stated) and visitors aged 6 years and below.

Otherwise, these admission fees apply: Adults $10, Students & Seniors aged 60 above with valid ID $5.

Tickets includes admission to all permanent galleries and exhibitions and are available from the National Museum Visitor Services counter and SISTIC.

Beyond opening weekend, guided tours will commence from 3 October 2015 for which visitors can enquire at the Visitor Services counter for guided tours.






Inuits will paint the town red this weekend

20 08 2015

The highly anticipated Singapore Night Festival is back!

One of the highlights of this year’s festival has to be the appearance of the world’s smallest and perhaps the most lovable Inuits, Anooki (Anook and Nooki). The Inuits, the creation of David Passegand and Moetu Batlle, have come all the way from France to run riot and paint the town, of rather the façade of the National Museum of Singapore. red, green, purple and blue and put a smile on the faces of the the crowds that will descend on the museum’s front lawn on the weekends of 21/22 and 28/29 August.

Annoki Celebrate Singapore on the façade of the National Museum of Singapore.

The Anooki wreaking havoc on the façade of the National Museum of Singapore.

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David Passegand and Moetu Batlle.

David Passegand and Moetu Batlle.

The Inuits, which are said to have taken the animation world by storm, will feature in one of several performances specially commissioned for the jubilee year edition of the Singapore Night Festival. The fun and energetic projection, Anooki Celebrate Singapore, will anchor the festival’s Night Lights – a popular segment that promises to be bigger and better this year. Night Lights also sees several other light installations colour the night in and around the museum. One, Cédric Le Borgne’s le Desir et la Menace brings the huge banyan tree in front of the museum to life with giant illuminated bird wire sculptures. Another, Drawn in Light by Ralf Westerhof, recreates sights typical of Amsterdam using rotating illuminated wire frames suspended above the ground.

Le Desir et la Menace.

Le Desir et la Menace.

Drawn in Light.

Drawn in Light.

Inside the museum, Night Light offerings include And So They Say and A Little Nonya’s Dreams. The former is a documentary project that features interviews with 25 senior citizens that will also be seen at SOTA, DECK (at Prinsep Street) and the National Design Centre. The latter, sees three animators come together to individually interpret a little’s girls’ dreams.

And So They Say.

And So They Say.

From A Little Nonya's Dreams.

From A Little Nonya’s Dreams.

Playing with fire … and light over at the Singapore Art Museum, will be the Starlight Alchemy, an audience favourite and regular feature at the Singapore Night Festival. This year, sees the locally based group perform a specially commissioned Alchemy that tells of the reconciliation between Apollo from the world of Ethereal Light and Nuri from the world of Ethereal Flame, in another must-catch performance.

Fire ....

Fire ….

... and light meet at the SAM.

… and light meet at the SAM.

Other performances to catch include Goldies, who will take us back into Singapore’s musical world from the 50s to the 80s in a ticketed performance; Fields in Bloom, which sees flowers glowing in a spectrum of colours on the steps of SOTA and the Lorong Boys – 5 award winning Singaporean musicians who perform in both the concert hall and on the streets. Another interesting performance to catch is Lost Vegas, which features the giant puppets of Frank Malachi – an award winning puppeteer based in Singapore.

Meet Christine, who will be seen in Lost Vegas.

Meet Christine, who will be seen in Lost Vegas.

3 of the 5 Lorong Boys.

3 of the 5 Lorong Boys.

Flieds in Bloom.

Fields in Bloom.

Goldies.

Goldies.

The Singapore Night Festival 2015 runs over two weekends (Friday and Saturday nights), on 21 and 22 August and on 28 and 29 August, from 7 pm until 2 am. The festival will be held across 5 zones, the National Museum of Singapore, Armenian Street (which will again be closed for the festival), the House of Glamour (at the field across from the Cathay), the Festival Village at SMU and the Singapore Art Museum and Queen Street (including the National Design Centre, DECK at 120A Prinsep Street), Waterloo Street and SOTA). Besides light and music performances, festival goers can also look forward to lots of food offerings. More information on the festival can be found at the Singapore Night Festival Website at which a Festival Guide can also be downloaded.

Singapore Night Festival creative director Christie Chua.

Singapore Night Festival creative director Christie Chua.

 

 





Divine faces in the dark

22 08 2014

Take a walk on the dark and somewhat mysterious side of the Bras Basah.Bugis precinct this weekend (and the next), and you might stumble upon a few surprises, all of which, if you are lucky enough, have nothing to do with the time of the year from the perspective of the Chinese calendar.  The precinct plays host to the annual Singapore Night Festival that brings life and colour to the streets and greens of the area along with a wonderful show of light in Night Lights.

Hauntings at the dark and mysterious yard of Singapore's Armenian Church.

Hauntings at the dark and mysterious yard of Singapore’s Armenian Church.

Night Lights is back for the Singapore Night Festival (** Ryf's Insert Caption Please is seen in the foreground).

Night Lights is back for the Singapore Night Festival (Ryf’s **Insert Caption Please is seen in the foreground).

Night Lights this year has installations that range from one inspired by a giant jellyfish inspired to the divine. The enchanting line-up of lights, include some of which I got to have a glimpse at last night. Standing out, not just among the installations, but also among the trees is Clement Briend’s Divine Trees found just east of the National Museum of Singapore. While seeing Briend’s projections, which leave ghostly like faces of divine figures imprinted on the leaves of several of the trees by the National Museum, can be initially a little disconcerting; it would certainly leave the view in awe as to how alive the seemingly three-dimensional projections seem. The installation is an attempt by the artist to “blur the divide between reality and imagination” and “a study of the divine and the spiritual in the world made visible by projection onto objects of nature”.

Divine faces in the dark.

Divine faces in the dark.

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Over at Singapore’s oldest church building, the Armenian Church, we see more ghostly figures, this time set among the gravestones of the exhumed graves of the church’s yard.  The figures, glowing in a ever changing change of colours, are dresses woven from 40 kilometres of fibre optic cable. Dresses of Memory is all the work of Taegon Kim,  the glow-in-the-dark figures are intended to convey the celebration of “being in love” and having “a lover’s silhouette imprinted on the webs of one’s memory”.

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The Armenian Church is also where a rather enjoyable installation, Scenocosme’s Alsos*, can be found. The installation, at first glance seemingly nothing more than a illuminated tangle of twigs, is one that invites the visitor to interact with it. By shinning a light on its flowers, and altering the light’s intensity, the visitor creates his or her own set of sounds with each flower filling the air with a different sound.

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A surprise very different and with a far less mysterious flavour awaited me along a narrow alleyway. That was where a bunch of some rather tough looking characters, ones you wouldn’t really want to mess with, seemed to be spoiling for a fight. The fight the tough dudes were looking for were fortunately not with us, but among themselves – they would be meeting in a wrestling ring that would be set up right on on Armenian Street next weekend (29 and 30 August) in the Singapore Pro Wrestling event as part of the exciting line-up of events for the Singapore Night Festival.

Singapore Pro Wrestling comes to the alleyways ...

Singapore Pro Wrestling comes to as alleyway …

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For more information on how to catch the wrestlers in action, the light installations, and the rest of the excitement at the Singapore Night Festival do visit the festival’s website at www.sgnightfest.sg. The festival’s happenings can also be followed on twitter at @BrasBasahBugis and on Facebook. There is also a festival guide available on instagram @SNFGUIDE. Hashtags for use during the festival are #SGNightFest and #SNFer. Do also refer to a previous post Bold and Beautiful – let’s Harp on it for more photographs and an introduction to this year’s festival.


A second look at WeComeInPeace’s Spirits of Nature at SAM for #SGNightFest

Through once familiar archways ...

Through once familiar archways …

... another look at WeComeInPeace's Spirits of Nature.

… another look at WeComeInPeace’s Spirits of Nature.

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