Colouring Edo and a monochromatic take on a colourful side of Kyoto

8 05 2021

Japan and the rather unique experiences it has to offer, has captured the imagination of many image makers over the history of image-making. How this has evolved over time is wonderfully presented in an exhibition Life in Edo | Russel Wong in Kyoto, which opened at the Asian Civilisations Museum on 16 April 2021. Running until 19 September 2021, the exhibition provides a wonderful walk-through of the various aspects of Japanese art of woodblock print making — a popular medium of expression during the Edo period. The art form is also placed in contrast with the modern art of photography, seen through the skilfully and very patiently captured work of renowned Singaporean photographer Russel Wong in the forbidden world of Kyoto’s Gokagai (five kagai).

The exhibition starts with a study of the Japanese art of ukiyo-e or woodblock printing. Ukiyo-e, which translates into “pictures of the transient world”, or as the Britannica has it, “pictures of the floating world”, came to the fore during a period of cultural and social renaissance in 18th and 19th century Edo, with the term “transient world” or “floating world” being a euphemism for Edo’s popular entertainment quarters. Produced for the mass market, ukiyo-e, with its depictions of popular theatre artistes, courtesans, and maybe the seedier aspects of life in the pleasure quarters, could be thought of as a platform for the social influencers of the day — much like what social media and the likes of Instagram is, in the world of today.

Different class of travel in the age of the ukiyo-e.

Comparing ukiyo-e to Instagram may devalue the craft and effort that goes into the production of ukiyo-e. The value of its craft is thankfully not lost in the journey that the exhibition takes visitors through with 157 expertly made prints on show that provide a glimpse of life during the Tokugawa shogunate, themed according to the subjects of travel, beauty, food, entertainment and even the keeping of pets. The production of ukiyo-e would have involved a publisher; artists to draw the design, carve the woodblocks, and to ink, align and press the various blocks individually to add each of the various colours to the prints. The display of a complete set of mid-20th century woodblocks made by the Kyoto Hanga Institute to reprint Hokusai’s “South Wind, Clear Sky” — popularly known as “Red Fuji”, provides visitors with a better understanding of the skill and labour involved in the craft. Overtaken by machine printing and photography, interest in the tedious method of printing would decline in the late 1800s. It is only through the efforts of artisans and institutes such as the Hanga, that the craft has been preserved.

It is probably apt the the transition from the traditional to the modern in the exhibition takes place through the crossing of a bridge and a journey from Edo to Kyoto. The starting point in this journey is the display of Utagawa’s Hiroshige’s ukiyo-e print of Nihonbashi – at the beginning of the coastal Tokaido Road from Edo to Kyoto and the first of 53 halting or rest stations (which included the start and end points) Hiroshige depicted in his print series “The 53 Stations of the Tokaido”. This will be replaced (as will the other woodblock prints on display due to their sensitivity to light) in the second half of the exhibition period with a print of the last station, the Sanjo Bridge in Kyoto, which is also depicted at the point where the journey into Russel Wong’s Kyoto begins. Hiroshige’s series provided the inspiration for some of Wong’s work in Japan and Wong’s photograph of the Sanjo Bridge that is on display, was taken with very much the same craft and care that went into Hiroshige’s efforts.

Wong’s captures of the secluded world of the tea houses of the Gokagai, is for the photographer in me, the draw of the exhibition. The story that is seen in his masterfully taken photographs of the Geiko (how Geishas in Kyoto are referred to) and the apprentice Maiko, is as much about the unseen aspects of life in the tea houses, as it is about Wong’s craft and patience. An effort some 13 years in the making, it involved establishing the right connections and a wait of five years before he was even able to step into a tea house. This incredible journey, is supplemented by his efforts to capture the colours of the Kyoto that most of us will only get to see, but in a way few would have the patience for. Seen in his work in colour of Kyoto through the four seasons in the public space where the journey into Edo and Kyoto begins, it is also seen in the monochromatic display of the crowd-free Kinkaku-ji in winter taken through falling snow just as the alarm levels on Covid-19 were being raised and just before travel restrictions were put in place in early 2020.

The Kinkaku-ji in winter as captured by Russel Wong

Life in Edo | Russel Wong in Kyoto runs until 19 September 2021 at the Asian Civilisations Museum. Tickets are priced at $12 for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents and $20 for Foreign Residents and Tourists. For more information, visit

A ukiyo-e depiction of a brothel room with hidden messages.
Beauty techniques – offered by the “influencers” of the day on ukiyo-e.
Interactions with pets was a popular ukiyo-e subject.
Utagawa’s Hiroshige’s ukiyo-e print of Nihonbashi – the first of “The 53 stations of the Tokaido”
Russel Wong on using black and white and more …


The dark days of 1942 revisted

22 09 2017

This year marks the 75th Anniversary of the fall of Singapore, which the National Museum of Singapore is commemorating with an international exhibition Witness to War: Remembering 1942. The exhibition, which opens tomorrow, revisits the unfortunate period in Singapore’s history through artefacts that have not been seen on our shores since the war, as well as new takes on the darkest of days through previously untold stories of survivors. To add to that, artefacts from our own National Collection, including a recently acquired 25-Pounder Field Gun used by British and Commonwealth armies in World War Two, as well as never displayed before Japanese Army bugle, an Enfield No. 2 Mk. 1 revolver and personal artefacts of the war survivors, make their appearance. The exhibition is centred on the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942 and its immediate aftermath with a section that also explores the lead up to the fall.

The recently acquired 25-Pounder Field Gun.

What is possibly one of the highlights will be a ceremonial sword that belonged to General Tomoyuki Yamashita. This, on display in its sheath, is on public display outside the United States for the first time since the war ended in 1945. The sword, the blade of which was made by a famed swordsmith, Fujiwara Kanenaga, sometime between 1640 and 1680, was surrendered to the Americans on 2 September 1945 in Luzon, Philippines and was given to the United States Military Academy at West Point. This will be the first time that the sword is being displayed outside the United States since it got there in 1945.

Yamashita’s ceremonial samurai sword.

What makes the exhibition worth the visit isn’t just the numerous artefacts but also the never heard before accounts, the collection of which rather interestingly involved school children, from war survivors and veterans. Speaking of the kids, there is a special family activity space, entitled “A Child’s Perspective”, that will appeal to the young ones – the interactive activity space includes a mock-up of a bomb-shelter which will allow the young ones a feel of what it may have been like.

School children were involved in the process of collecting previously untold stories of survivors.

Witness to War: Remembering 1942 is open to public from 23 September 2017 to 25 March 2018, and is chronicled on social media via the hashtag #remembering1942. More information on the exhibition and events related to it can be found at

Poster of Hong Kong entrepreneur Ho Kom-Tong (Bruce Lee’s maternal grandfather) performing at a Hong Kong St. John Ambulance charity show Drunk Overlord in the Pavilion of a Hundred Flowers, 18 January 1941 (on loan from Hong Kong Museum of History, Leisure and Cultural Services Department).

The portrait of Sir Shenton Whitelegge Thomas painted by artist Xu Beihong, which was previously displayed in the Singapore History Gallery, makes its return in Witness to War after a period of conservation.

Artefacts from the pre-war Japanese community, who were centred on Chuo-Dori or Middle Road.

A family from the pre-war Japanese community, who were centred on Chuo-Dori or Middle Road.

Personal belongings of victims of war.

A Japanese bugle from the National Collection.

A Union Jack captured by Japanese troops marked with the date of the fall.

Changi Prison key.

Inside the mock-up of the bomb shelter.

The mock-up.

A mock-up of a kitchen.

Contributors of some of the stories.


Beauty isn’t only skin deep

28 10 2015

There is nothing like the sheer elegance of a well crafted article of leather, especially one that comes from a house that has a long tradition of fine craftsmanship in skins. The house, Hermès, which had its beginnings as a master harness-maker and later as saddlemakers, has just that. Founded in Paris in 1837 by Thierry Hermès, the house has come a long way in the business of creating and crafting fine objects of desire from some of the most beautiful skins in the world.

Inside Hermès' wonderful Little Room of Wanders at Empress Place.

Inside Hermès’ wonderful Little Room of Wanders at Empress Place – a rare show of objects from Emile Hermès’ collection which is now a source of inspiration for the house’s designers.

As a treat specially crafted for this jubilee year, the house gives us in Singapore an opportunity to step into the world of fine leather craftsmanship in a exhibition Leather Forever that runs from 25 October to 13 December at the ArtScience Museum. The exhibition, which also includes a prelude to it at the Little Room of Wanders at Empress Place, takes visitors through some of the inspirations behind its creations, to the art and craft of leather working and to the house’s intriguing range of products that include some rather quirky looking items from its Special Orders  Workshop.

A side facing saddle for a woman in the Little Room of Wanders.

A side facing saddle designed to seat a woman in the Little Room of Wanders.

Equestrian objects such as spurs feature in the collection.

Equestrian objects such as spurs feature in the collection.

A intricately decorate trunk from Spain.

A intricately decorated trunk from Spain.

The Little Room of Wanders offers a rare peek into Emile Hermès' collection.

The Little Room of Wanders offers a rare peek into Emile Hermès’ collection.

Especially fascinating is Hermès’ Little Room of Wanders which contains a rare public display of a selection of objects from the incredible collection of Emile Hermès, the grandson of the founder. Emile Hermès, who took over the business in the early 1900s, had spent a lifetime assembling some a 15,000 item collection. Now housed in the private by-appointment-only Emile Hermès Museum, the collection of  objects of art, equestrian objects, ingenious mechanisms, books and the most unusual of knick-knacks has since become a source of inspiration for Hermès’ designers.

A camera shaped flask in the collection.

A camera shaped flask in the collection.

A close-up of a saddle from China.

A close-up of a saddle from China.

A travel case in the collection.

A travel case in the collection.

The exhibition proper, Leather Forever, at the ArtScience Musuem is also well worth a look at. This starts with visitors having a look at some of the background work in Hermès’ creations in its leather reserve seen in the Savoire Faire section. Here an introduction is give to the classification, cutting and assembly of skins. What must certainly be a treat will be a chance to see artisans, flown specially in from the house’s Parisian workshops, at work in recreating some of the house’s iconic leather bags.

An artisan from Hermès' Paris workshop at work at the ArtScience Museum.

An artisan from Hermès’ Paris workshop at work at the ArtScience Museum.

Part of Hermès' Leather Reserve.

Part of Hermès’ Leather Reserve.

A demo of how the leather is prepared for cutting.

A demo of how the leather is prepared for cutting.

Finished objects of desire.

Finished objects of desire.

Speaking of icons, a selection of the house’s range of its legendary Kellys and Birkins, are also conspicuously on show along with variations as well as other leather crafted objects that the house’s icons have inspired. Among the variations of the Kelly, which was re-christened after Princess Grace (Kelly) of Monaco used it famously to conceal her pregnancy from the paparazzi, or as the house puts it, as a bodyguard for the future Princess Caroline, are five Kellydoll bags on display designed to each represent each decade of Singapore’s independence.

Variations on the legendary Kelly.

Variations on the legendary Kelly.

Horsing around with a rocking Kelly.

Horsing around with a rocking Kelly.

One of the five Kellydoll bags designed to each represent a decade of Singapore's independence.

One of the five Kellydoll bags designed to each represent a decade of Singapore’s independence.

The exhibitions are opened from 10am to 7pm from Saturday to Thursday and from 10am to 9pm on Friday and admission is free. More information on them can be found at

The first ever bag with a zipper, aka the

The first ever bag with a zipper, aka the “Hermès Fastener,” fitted to it. Emile Hermès held a patent for the zipper which was fitted to a bag designed to be quickly secured for the age of the automobile.

A saddle leather bustier designed Jean Paul Gaultier for Hermès (notice the Kelly inspired straps).

A saddle leather bustier designed Jean Paul Gaultier for Hermès (notice the Kelly inspired straps).

A baseball glove out of the Special Orders Workshop.

A baseball glove out of the Special Orders Workshop.

An apple carrier (complete with knife and holder) on loan from its owner who commissioned it to allow him to carry his apple a day.

An apple carrier (complete with knife and holder) on loan from its owner who commissioned it to allow him to carry his apple a day.

A gift commissioned by the Duke of Windsor for Wallis Simpson, a leather wheelbarrow, inspired by his observation that the duchess already had

A gift commissioned in 1947 by the Duke of Windsor for Wallis Simpson, a leather wheelbarrow, inspired by the Duke’s observation that the duchess already had “wheelbarrows” of fragrances and gloves.

A winged saddle made at Hermès Sellerie workshop.

A winged saddle made at Hermès Sellerie workshop.

Zouzou, a ostrich skin rhino created by Leïla Menchari for the windows of the 24 Faubourg Saint Honoré store in 1978 at the entrance to the exhibition.

Zouzou, a ostrich skin rhino created by Leïla Menchari for the windows of the 24 Faubourg Saint Honoré store in 1978 at the entrance to the exhibition.

The exhibition gives visitors a chance to horse around.

The exhibition gives visitors a chance to horse around.

A case of miniatures.

A case of miniatures.

A door bolt inspired fastener.

A door bolt inspired fastener.

A flight of fancy on a motorcycle.

A flight of fancy on a motorcycle.

Travel cases from the days when the romance of travel was at its height.

Travel cases from the days when the romance of travel was at its height.

A travel wardrobe.

A travel wardrobe.

A dance inspired leather bag.

A dance inspired leather bag.

The art and science of bringing an ogre to life

15 06 2015

Animation has allowed many a tale to be spun in which the unlikeliest of heroes take centre-stage. This is especially so in the last two decades with the availability of the computing power required to allow CGI animation to give scenes and characters a much greater degree of realism. We now have a chance in Singapore to see what how DreamWorks Animation, one of the studios at the forefront of animation, in bringing endearing characters such as a love struck ogre and a round kung-fu kicking panda to life, at Dreamworks Animation: The Exhibition. The exhibition, which opened at the ArtScience Museum over the weekend, will be a treat not just for animation fans, but also anyone and everyone who has watched any of DreamWorks’ wonderful creations.

Mr Chris Harris of ACMI, the ArtScience Museum's Ms Honor Harger and Mr Doug Cooper of DreamWorks Animation.

Mr Chris Harris of ACMI, the ArtScience Museum’s Ms Honor Harger and Mr Doug Cooper of DreamWorks Animation.

Curated by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), the exhibition, which is divided into three main galleries, also offers the visitor lots of opportunities to have a feel for some of the processes involved in animation for themselves, through its interactive components. One that will certainly be a hit would be the Face Poser interactive station. Here, visitors can play around at manipulating facial features such as furrowing a brow or raising an eyebrow of a character to give different facial expressions and show different emotions.

The Face Poser.

The Face Poser.


There also is an opportunity to have a feel of the software used by DreamWorks’ animators at another interactive station in the Drawing Room. This will allow visitors to create a short 2D animation sequence with the aid of a tutorial.

Mr Doug Cooper at the Drawing Room.

Mr Doug Cooper at the Drawing Room.

The exhibition proper, which is on its first stop of an intended five-year international tour, takes visitors through the process of how characters are developed and how they evolve from 2D sketches to what we see on the screen in the Character gallery, how the story is developed and sold in the Story gallery, and finally how the magical worlds – the wonderful scenes that give a flavour to the films are woven around the characters and the story, in the World gallery.


A recreation of a DreamWorks Animation studio real-life workspace.

A recreation of a DreamWorks Animation studio real-life workspace.

In the Character, we are also introduced to how the development of characters have evolved with the advances in computing, with the display of sketches, the marquettes that were used to develop 3D images prior to this being done completely on the computer screen, as well as in-depth interviews that are screened.

The Character Section with its display of marquettes and sketches that depict the evolution of some of the popular characters.

The Character gallery with its display of marquettes and sketches that depict the evolution of some of the popular characters.


A recreation of another DreamWorks Animation studio real-life workspace.

A recreation of another DreamWorks Animation studio real-life workspace.

The Story gallery is where one finds what I thought was one of the more interesting exhibits – a digital storyboard at which visitors can catch a very animated Conrad Vernon, doing a pitch for the “Interrogating Gingy” scene in Shrek. The filmmaker was apparently so convincing that DreamWorks had him lend voice the gingerbread man his voice.

Catch Conrad Vernon doing his pitch for Interrogating Gingy.

Catch Conrad Vernon doing his pitch for Interrogating Gingy.


The World gallery, the largest section, is where the work of directors, designers and concept artists converge and where we have a look at some of the thoughts that go into the scenes. It is also where another of the exhibition’s must-dos, Dragon Flight: A Dragon’s-Eye view of Berk, a panoramic ride on the back of Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon over Berk across a 40-foot 180 degree projection, specially made for the exhibition, can be viewed.

Dragon Flight (photo: Marina Bay Sands / Mark Ashkanasy).

Dragon Flight (photo: Marina Bay Sands / Mark Ashkanasy).


There will be lots of other programmes and activities during the exhibition period, including screenings of some of our favourite DreamWorks’ films. More information on the exhibition, including a full list of programmes and on ticketing can be found at the exhibition page on the ArtScience Museum’s website.

For the kids - an activity that introduces the basics of animation.

For the kids – an activity that introduces the basics of animation.

Finding a ghost in an old church

31 10 2013

Just in time for Halloween, so it may seem, a ghost awaits discovery in the old Middle Road Church.

Looking for a ghost, one might perhaps find love too at the old church.Looking for a ghost, one might perhaps find love too at the old church.

Despite the timing of the ghost’s appearance, it has actually got little to do with the silliness of Halloween in a part of the world where the celebration should really have little or no significance.

Opening Night.

Opening Night.

The ghost that we find at the de-consecrated church building, now perhaps in its third life as the Chapel Gallery of an arts centre we know as Sculpture Square, is an exhibition of art in its various forms, in which the body, as described on the exhibition’s website as “unruly, visceral, and ephemeral”, is used as a medium and “a site of resistance” returning to haunt us, unearthing “a different shape and understanding of Singapore”.

Eric Khoo's Mee Pok Man.

Eric Khoo’s Mee Pok Man.

The exhibition, Ghost: The Body at the Turn of the Century timed to coincide with the Singapore Biennale, sees installations by well known names which range from Amanda Heng to Eric Khoo and John Clang. One exhibit which is perhaps rather intriguing is Ray Langenbach’s Archive by Loo Zihan. Occupying a large part of the Chapel Gallery it resurrects the ghost of the infamous Artists’ General Assembly of 1993 and its fallout, featuring a collection from Ray Langenbach’s extensive archives – all connected by a web of thread woven by Loo Zihan.

The web woven by artist Loo Zihan.

The web of intrigue woven by artist Loo Zihan.

A ghost from the archives.

A ghost from the archives.

The ghost in the old church haunts Sculpture Square until 31 December 2013. More information can be found at the centre’s website.

JeromeLim 277A3422

Perspectives of Art Stage Singapore

19 01 2012

I dropped by the Marina Bay Sands Convention and Expo Centre on the last afternoon of the recently concluded 4 day Art Stage Singapore 2012, coming away wishing I had done so earlier, which would have allowed me a lot more time to take in what was on display at the massive art fair. The fair, touted as Asia-Pacific region’s premier art fair, did live up to the hype with some 133 galleries from 18 countries exhibiting with the works of 600 artists on display, including some notable large-scale installations. Providing a platform for networking amongst members of the Asian and International art communities, the fair saw the coming together of some high profile galleries, collectors, curators and artists and attracted a total of 31,000 visitors. Based on information received from the organisers of the fair, there were some notable sales made despite the current economic climate, making the fair a very successful one.

A visit to Art Stage Singapore 2012 offered me an interesting perspective of the Asia-Pacific's premier art fair.

Illusion and Delusion

Attraction and Distraction


Light and Shadow


Notable sales made during Art Stage Singapore 2012

  • Michael Schultz Gallery sold an “Abstraktes Bild (Abstract Painting)” by Gerhard Richter for US$1.52 million (S$2 million)
  • Haunch of Venison sold a number of Gonkar Gyatso works including the “Dissected Buddha”, 2011, for US$200,000 (S$260,000), as well as an undisclosed piece for US$400,000 (S$518,000)
  • Gajah Gallery sold two paintings by I Nyoman Masriadi for US$350,000 (S$453,000)
  • Linda Gallery sold a work by Indonesian artist Srihardi Soedarsono for US$232,000 (S$300,000)
  • De Sarthe Gallery sold a few sculptures by Bernar Venet for US$100,000 (S$130,000)
  • Galerie Perrotin sold MR’s “Desktop of My Mind”, 2011, for US$240,000 (S$311,000)
  • Galerie EIGEN + ART sold the “Nervositat” piece by Martin Eder for US$86,000 (S$112,000)
  • ESLITE Gallery sold a Wong Hoy Cheong work for US$88,500 (S$115,000)
  • Lehmann Maupin sold a neon lighted sculpture by Tracey Emin for US$70,000 (S$109,000) among others
  • Volte Gallery sold out most of its Ranbir Kaleka and Sheba Chhachhi pieces
  • OV Gallery sold three pieces from their Project Stage booth by Wang Taocheng
  • Xin Dong Cheng Space for Contemporary Art sold three pieces by Shi Jianmin (China)

Step on board the Titanic in Singapore

2 11 2011

For those, like me, who’ve wondered what it would have been like to be on board the RMS Titanic as she set sail on her ill-fated maiden voyage across the Atlantic, there is now a chance in Singapore to step right on board – at the TITANIC: THE ARTIFACT EXHIBITION which is currently on at the ArtScience Museum. I did just that over the weekend, having received an invitation from the kind folks of the museum for a guided tour, one which despite just arriving back jet-lagged from a trip to Europe, I couldn’t pass up on.

Visitors to the TITANIC: THE ARTIFACT EXHIBITION at the ArtScience Musuem get to step on board and have a feel of what it was like on the ill-fated RMS Titanic (photographs taken with the kind permission of the ArtScience Museum).

Stepping through the entrance to the exhibition at the B2 level of the museum, visitors are each provided with a boarding pass, each with the name of an actual passenger, personal information, as well as the class in which the passenger was travelling on. It is through the entrance that the visitor is greeted by the glorious bow of the ship which provides the backdrop for a photograph opportunity with ‘Captain Smith’. It is through the next part of the exhibition that I took not just a step into the world that might have existed on board what was, a century ago, the world’s largest passenger liner, but also on board for a voyage of discovery which included a step into the drawing office, shopfloors and slipway of the Harland and Wolff Shipyard in Belfast at which the mammoth liner was conceived, designed and built.

Visitors are also given a 'boarding pass' on which with the name and personal information of a passenger and can find out at the end of the exhibition about the fate of the particular passenger.

Visitors to the exhibition also have a chance to be greeted by 'Capt. Smith' and have a photograph taken with him.

One of the wonderful touches that the exhibition provides is an insight into the people behind the building of the Titanic, as well as some of the principal characters on board the vessel during the voyage. At the Construction Gallery, we learn of the conditions that existed that motivated the design of such a huge passenger liner – designed so as to compete against rival Cunard Line’s superliners Lusitania and Mauretania. The Titanic was the second of three in its class, which included the Olympic and Britannic (the Britannic was converted into a Hospital Ship by the Royal Navy and never saw service in its intended role). We are introduced to Lord Pirrie, Chairman of Harland and Wolff and Bruce Ismay, the Chairman of White Star Line, as well as to the Head Designer and General Manager, Alexander Carlisle, who led the design team, whom we were to learn had his heart broken by the tragedy – something that I could identify with having spent most of my own career in the drawing office of a shipyard.

The Drawing Office of Harland and Wolff at the time of the design of the Titanic.

On the building berth, the difficult working environment and conditions that the shipyard workers endured are brought to light – we learn of the four-men teams responsible for driving the 3 million rivets – the glue that holds the steel plates together in days that preceded the advent of welding as a means to connect steel, who worked from the break of day to late in the evening with only half an hour’s break for lunch.

We learn of the hardship endured by the four men riveting teams who put long hours in to drive the 3 million rivets that held the Titanic together.

The Titanic after her launch.

The next section of the exhibition is where one steps on board, through doors and a passageway that the first class passenger would have passed through – all recreated to allow a feel of life onboard from the luxury and opulence that the well-heeled enjoyed to the conditions faced by the thrid class passengers made up mainly of immigrants seeking a passage to the New World, as well as that in the bolier room. The highlight of the recreated spaces would be the Verandah Café and perhaps the Promenade where one could lean over the bulwark and stare into the night sky, as well as the Grand Staircase.

A lighted panel that resembles a door panel that may have been fitted in the first class public areas of the Titanic.

A first class cabin recreated for the exhibition.

A recreated passageway through the first class area.

A replica of the Grand Staircase in the first class area which is 27 feet high.

The boiler room is also recreated.

A spanner in the works - an artifact from the wreck.

Another artifact brought up from the wreck - a wash basin.

A photograph of the Titanic's boilers lying in the workshop prior to installation.

Next, in the Iceberg Gallery, visitors can interact with an Iceberg Wall which allows visitors to experience the freezing temperatures on that passengers would have encountered on the frigid night in the North Atlantic when the Titanic sank, by putting their palms on the frozen wall.

Visitors can put their hands on an 'iceberg' to have a feel of how it felt on the night of the tragedy.

A palm print left on the 'iceberg'

The main draw of the exhibition, which has been visited by more than 25 million people over 15 years worldwide, is of course the artifacts recovered from the wreck site. A total of 275 are on display, including 14 that have not previously been exhibited, from the 5,550 objects that have so far been recovered from the wreck. What perhaps catches the attention and provokes a deep sense of tragedy are personal objects that have been recovered which are the only living memories of lives that may have been lost on the fateful night. These include the marbles of a child and a pair of spectacles.

Child's marbles.

A pair of spectacles.

The deadlight of a porthole.

A baggage tag - not wanted tags were for pieces of baggage not required by the passenger during the voyage.

At the end of the exhibition, a Memorial Wall confronts the visitor. Lists of names or survivors and those who sadly perished – passengers categorised by the class they travelled in, as well as that of the crew are displayed and it is here where one can match the names on the boarding passes given at the entrance to the names on the wall to discover the fate of their passenger. Sadly the name of the passenger that was on the pass that I was holding was on the list of those who died. There is also uniquely at this edition of the exhibition, a Singapore 1912 gallery which showcases how news of the tragedy reached Singapore and with photographs of what Singapore would have been like at the time of the sinking.

The writing on the wall - name lists on the Memorial Wall provide information on the fate of the passengers and crew. Visitors are able to establish if the passenger who's name appears on the boarding passes they are given at the entrance to the exhibition survived.

Visitors checking the list of names on the Memorial Wall.

There was also a treat that awaited the participants of the guided visit in the form of a meet-up with ‘Captain Smith’, who shared not just his experiences playing the role for RMS Titanic Inc for the exhibition, but also of the opportunity he had going on a dive in the confines of a submersible, two and a half miles underwater to wreck site. One of the things that he shared that caught my eye was the effect the pressure at that depth had on a styrofoam cup – out of ‘Captain Smith’s’ pocket came a tiny cup with the silhouette of the Titanic drawn on it which had as he put it, ‘had its air sucked out of it’ – reduced to a small fraction of its original size, that was carried on the pressure side of the submersible. Amazing – as was the overall experience of the exhibition which is well worth visiting. The exhibition will be held at the ArtScience Musuem until the 29th of April and will mark the 100th Anniversry of the tragedy in April 2012.

Comparison of a styrofoam cup carried on the pressure side of the submersible which had 'its air sucked out of it' compared to one in its original condition.

Information on the TITANIC: THE ARTIFACT EXHIBITION including ticket prices and opening hours can be found at

A tweetup to explore the mind of the genius that is Salvador Dalí

30 05 2011

If you have ever wondered how a mind of a artistic genius works, you would be able to take a walk through the mind of one, in the form of the Dalí: Mind of a Genius – The Exhibition, now running at the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands. The exhibition which opened on 14 May, will run up until 30 October 2011, and transports the visitor into the world of Salvador Dalí, the world as he saw it that is manifested in the somewhat bizarre surrealist expressions of his inner workings that he has made his mark on the world with.

Step right into the inner workings of the great surrealist artist Salvador Dalí's mind at the ArtScience Musuem in Marina Bay Sands.

I have long had my own fascination with the artist, drawn to his work after stumbling on a striking and haunting expression of a religious zeal he had at the point of the painting rediscovered when wandering around Glasgow’s west end almost a quarter of a century ago. That painting, Christ of St. John of the Cross, still captivates me to this day. It is however, the depictions of melting time, a reoccurring theme on many of his artworks that has been the greater source of fascination. Having had an opportunity to visit the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, in the following summer, I was able to understand a little more of the background and interpretation of Dalí’s own fascination with the depiction of time in a fluid and non-linear state, not the hard deterministic version of time that most of us would have.

Dalí is known for his bizarre interpretation of the world around him which is expressed by depictions of everyday objects in a ways that seem beyond human comprehension.

I had the opportunity at a tweetup organised by the good people of the ArtScience Museum on Saturday to reacquaint myself with the works of Dalí, and to explore the inner workings of his mind. It is in the latter, that the curators of the exhibition have done an excellent job in bringing out the influences, inspirations and the perspective that Dalí had in giving us his wonderful works. In walking through the themed areas of the exhibition Femininity and Sensuality; Religion and Mythology; and Dreams and Fantasy, we are transported into what some would see as an insane mind that sees the world in the way he did. It is in this that we understand the artist’s mind further and see the genius of it. Dalí as with Oscar Levant who is attributed with the well used quote “there’s a fine line between genius and insanity”, is one who seems to have erased the line where genius starts and insanity ends.

The exhibition explores several themes in Dalí's work including Dreams and Fantasy.

Throughout the guided exploration of Dalí’s mind, we are constantly reminded of the background to the influences on his thoughts – a repressed sexuality stemming from an upbringing largely influenced by his strict widower father an atheist, who in stark contrast to Dalí’s staunchly Catholic mother – suppressed all form of expression in Dalí. It was through Gala, Dalí’s would be wife that freed him from the repressed sexuality and besides depicting her, his ideal of womanhood, in many works, he sought to express his view of femininity and sexuality in many ways. Amongst the influences Dalí had were some of the thinkers of the time, Einstein for one, the Theory of Relativity being a source of inspiration for the stretching of time and Sigmund Freud, who provided a basis for the understanding of symbols in dreams as symbols of a repressed sexuality that Dalí seemed to be obsessed with.

Dalí's exploration of sensuality and femininity includes Woman Aflame which includes plenty of the symbolism that is found in his work which includes drawers signifying secrets, revealed by them being opened, and the use of clutches to represent death and resurrection.

Space Venus - also contains much symbolism: a melted clock which tells us that beauty is finite, the body split at the midriff representing death and the egg, the symbol of life representing renewal in death.

Anthropomorphic Cabinet with drawers again ... this time on a female form that perhaps deceives us into seeing a masculine one who appears almost as if she is writhing in pain.

Dalí who returned to Catholicism later in life, becoming a staunch follower of the faith, also shows religious influences in his works and this can be explored in the Religion and Mythology themed area. Both mythical figures and religious symbols can be found in sculptures such as Adam and Eve, St. George and the Dragon, Unicorn and Vision of the Angel. The last of the three themed areas, Dreams and Fantasy, which features works such as furniture in the form of Mae West Lips Sofa, Glasswork, and Sculptures such as Alice in Wonderland, was perhaps my favourite. It is in some of the works here that the quirkiness of Dalí comes to the fore. This is perhaps summed up by at quote we see at the exit of the exhibition “I do not understand why, when I ask for a grilled lobster, I am never served a cooked telephone”.

St. George and the Dragon again explores sexuality in a depiction of the legendary slaying of the dragon by St. George. The stallion - a symbol of power and masculinity mounts a dragon whose wings as seen through the fore legs of the stallion resemble flames - the flames of passion.

Unicorn has some sexual connotations. Possibly influenced by Sigmund Freud's interpretation of images in dreams and their hidden sexual meanings.

Lady Godiva with Butterflies - butterflies symbolise the soul.

Vision of the Angel explores the role that religion plays in society.

Mae West Lips.

Alice in Wonderland.

I was enthralled enough to return once more to the ten galleries which feature in total over 250 of Dalí works which come from a collection of the Stratton Foundation, the most striking of which are the sculptures which, full of symbolism which the exhibition does attempt to explain in detail, providing a perspective on Dalí and the thoughts behind his lifetime of work that would be otherwise be hard to fully appreciate. It is for this that the exhibition is well worth a visit, giving us not just an opportunity to look at an amazing collection of Dalí works, but also a rare opportunity to appreciate the mind of one that was certainly a creative genius.

A nice touch added by the curators - a reflection of clocks distorted by their reflection on convex and concave mirrors at the exit from the exhibition.

From one river to another: Faces of the Congo

8 04 2011

I took the opportunity to visit the Congo River, Arts of Central Africa exhibition during one of the free admission weekends to the Asian Civilisations Museum, to look at something that has fascinated me since my younger days, masks … Masks of course feature quite a fair bit even in the cultures that surround us, being used widely in the retelling of the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, in its various forms across South East Asia. It was not so much in the stories of the Ramayana, in which my experiences related mainly to the retelling of it in the form of shadow puppetry, but in the many occasions during which I accompanied my grandmother to the street operas in Singapore that first fed that fascination I have had with masks – the toy vendor who sold masks and mock paper swords being a popular stop for me. What helped to further feed that fascination could of course be those plastic masks that made us children think we could be those characters on the television that we were so taken with – Ultraman being one of the more popular ones in my time. My father himself had been one that often made masks to keep my sister and me entertained, crafting simple ones out of pieces of cardboard boxes and sometimes having a hand at the more elaborate ones with paper-mâché.

Fascinating masks from the Congo River ... on display at the ACM up till 10 April 2011.

The collection includes an array of masks from the different areas through which the Congo River passes through.

Enough about rambling on on the origins of my fascination. What is really interesting about the masks from the Congo River area is that they are all carved or sculptured out of naturally occurring materials available to the many communities along the river who through the connection with the river, share similar traditions and beliefs – many for the purpose of rituals, and besides having an visual quality, also takes on a spiritual quality. The collection on display also includes funerary and reliquary figures and all have a similarly haunting look about them … there is a little section that is also devoted to the inspiration that African sculpture provided to European artists with a focus on the works of Pablo Picasso who, if I may quote from the exhibition brochure, “was strongly influenced very much by African art as he developed his Modernist style”. The exhibition is certainly one not to be missed … and as it ends this weekend … be sure to catch it!

... as well as Reliquary figures ....