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 http://www.nationalmuseum.sg.

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.

 





The William Farquhar collection comes alive

7 12 2016

Two years in the making, Story of the Forest – an interactive digital installation that brings 69 drawings of the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings alive, makes it public debut on Saturday 10 December 2016. The work was commissioned as part of the revamp of the permanent galleries of the National Museum of Singapore for the Glass Rotunda. The scale and curvature of the venue presented huge challenges to the Japanese digital art collective behind it, teamLab and required team of 30 to be assembled. Much of the task, including pre-production, was carried out at teamLab’s base in Japan and this included the construction of a full scale mockup. A large enough warehouse – there apparently was the only one in Tokyo that the mock-up could fit into – was used for the mockup.

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Story of the Forest, by teamLab.

Cascading flowers of Story of the Forest's first segment.

Cascading flowers of Story of the Forest’s first segment.

The interactive second segment that takes visitors down a 170m walkway to the lower rotunda.

The interactive second segment that takes visitors down a 170m walkway to the lower rotunda.

More of the second segment.

More of the second segment.

Deeply inspired by the set of drawings on which the installation draws on for its images, teamLab’s has come up with one of the most amazing of installations that takes visitors on a journey of rediscovery through the rich assembly of flora and fauna that the Farquhar collection so beautifully captures. The Glass Rotunda, an architectural response of the Neo-Palladian rotunda of the museum’s main building, is a huge space to fill. It has a 15 metre high ceiling and a spiral walkway that requires the installation to be stretched across some 170 metres. teamLab response to this is a three segment installation. Cascading flora greets the visitors at the entrance, before the journey begins down the walkway with animals serving as a guide. A mobile app is available to enhance this experience. The app allows the “capture” of animals through the phone’s camera. The climax of the installation is a very dynamic one that takes place at the lower rotunda. Running animals, blooming trees, shooting stars and falling fruits make the experience especially immersive.

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The lower rotunda is also where a second installation can be viewed – that of Robert Zhao’s Singapore, Very Old Tree. 17 photographs of the 30 photographs in the collection are one display. The photographs explore the nation’s identity and uncovers the personal relationships between people and trees.

Singapore, A Very Old Tree.

Singapore, A Very Old Tree.

Admission to the Glass Rotunda (and Permanent Galleries) will be free to all visitors during the opening weekend on 10 and 11 December 2016 (it is also free on a permanent basis for Singaporeans and PRs). A host of activities for the family is also being lined up, more information on which can be found at www.nationalmuseum.sg.

A Patek Phillippe 'Farquhar Collection' Dome table clock donated by Hour Glass. Proceeds from an auction have gone to the revamp of the Glass Rotunda.

A Patek Phillippe ‘Farquhar Collection’ Dome table clock donated by Hour Glass. Proceeds from an auction have gone to the revamp of the Glass Rotunda.

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Second Nature, an interactive and immersive “secret garden” exhibit that features elements from the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings and reacts to your movements! Visitors are encouraged to participate and engage with the exhibit, as well as contribute to the installation by folding origami flowers and attaching them to a flowering board

Wings

Wings of a Rich Manoeuvre. A permanent installation by Suzann Victor for Swarovski, which was unveiled on 30 Nov 2016.

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The Singapore Biennale 2016

2 11 2016

The 5th edition of the Singapore Biennale,”An Atlas of Mirrors”,  opened last week. Running until 26 February 2017, this year’s edition features works by 63 artists and art collectives from 19 countries and territories across Southeast Asia, East and South Asia that have a strong element of history in them. Curated around nine sub-themes the works are being displayed across eight locations with the Singapore Art Museum and SAM at 8Q as anchor venues. More information on the programmes, venues, artwork and ticketing can be found at the Singapore Biennale 2016’s website.

The Great East Indiaman by David Chan on the National Museum of Singapore's front lawn.

The Great East Indiaman by David Chan on the National Museum of Singapore’s front lawn.

Giving art a finger - Lim Soo Ngee's Inscription of the Island.

Giving art a finger – Lim Soo Ngee’s Inscription of the Island.


A selection of installations

Titarubi - History Repeats Itself at SAM. Featuring robes of gold coated nutmegs, it recalls the legacy of colonial conquest. to facilitate the control of the valuable trade in a spice said to have been worth its weight in gold.

Titarubi – History Repeats Itself at SAM. Featuring robes of gold coated nutmegs, it recalls the legacy of colonial conquest. to facilitate the control of the valuable trade in a spice said to have been worth its weight in gold.

The dreams of a Shaman's wife. Tcheu Siong, a Hmong shaman's wife has her dreams reinterpreted as 'story' clothes in which one finds the spirits she sees in her dreams, represented by the lanky figures alongside representations of mountains, humans and animals.

At SAM, the dreams of a Shaman’s wife. Tcheu Siong, a Hmong shaman’s wife has her dreams reinterpreted as ‘story’ clothes in which one finds the spirits she sees in her dreams, represented by the lanky figures alongside representations of mountains, humans and animals.

Also presented alongside are the works of Tcheu Siong's husband, Phasao Lao.

Also presented alongside are History, the works of Tcheu Siong’s husband, Phasao Lao.

Paracosmos by Harumi Yukutake at the SAM.

Paracosmos by Harumi Yukutake at the SAM.

Rubbish by Kentaro Hiroki, which features recreated items of rubbish picked by the artist.. On display at both SAM and 8Q.

Rubbish by Kentaro Hiroki, which features recreated items of rubbish picked by the artist.. On display at both SAM and 8Q.

Rubbish attrracting a crowd at SAM.

Rubbish attrracting a crowd at SAM.

Another view of Inscription of the Island, by Lim Soo Ngee.

Another view of Inscription of the Island, by Lim Soo Ngee.

Freakily leeky - Chia Chuyia's Knitting the Future at 8Q. The artist knits leeks to create a body length garment over a five week period. Leeks, as a food item, hold significance to the Teochew community to which the artist belongs.

Freakily leeky – Chia Chuyia’s Knitting the Future at 8Q. The artist knits leeks to create a body length garment over a five week period. Leeks, as a food item, hold significance to the Teochew community to which the artist belongs.

Knitting the Future.

Knitting the Future.

Rathin Barman's Home, and a Home, inspired by the experiences of the migrant Bangladeshi community in Singapore.

Rathin Barman’s Home, and a Home, inspired by the experiences of the migrant Bangladeshi community in Singapore.

Melissa Tan and her If you can dream a better world you can make a better world or perhaps travel between them.

Melissa Tan and her If you can dream a better world you can make a better world or perhaps travel between them.

Music boxes - which feature impressions made by physical features are part of teh installation.

Music boxes – which feature impressions made by physical features are part of the installation.

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The Great East Indiaman features a recreation of the whale skeleton that once hung inside the National Museum of Singapore in wood.

The Great East Indiaman features a recreation of the whale skeleton that once hung inside the National Museum of Singapore in wood.





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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Bold and Beautiful – let’s Harp on it

21 08 2014

Bold and Beautiful – in line with its theme for this year, the ever so magical Singapore Night Festival, is back! This year’s festival, on for two Fridays and Saturdays on 22 and 23 August and 29 and 30 August 2014 across the arts and cultural Bras Basah. Bugis Precinct, sees it being organised around five key zones, that will include for the first time, a Festival Village at Cathay Green – which will not be short of delectable offerings, entertainment and shopping opportunities. Two venues will also feature for the first time at the Night Festival, with the historic Armenian Church seeing two Night Lights installations and the National Design Centre (the former St. Anthony’s Convent), which will see a mini interactive exhibition with a ceiling of white illuminated helium filled balloons as well as two light installations.

The Singapore Night Festival is back - bolder and more beautiful.

The Singapore Night Festival is back – bolder and more beautiful – and sure to pull-in the crowds.

The highlight of this year's Singapore Night Festival has to be The Earth Harp at the National Museum's front lawn.

The highlight of this year’s Singapore Night Festival has to be The Earth Harp at the National Museum’s front lawn.

The highlight of the festival has to be the William Close performing on his Earth Harp at the National Museum’s front lawn – one of several spectacular performances being lined up for the Pretty Arty festival zone based at the museum. The Earth Harp Close creates for the Night Festival, sees the huge harp strung across to the National Museum’s façade – the use of architecture as part of his harp, is inspired by a quote “architecture is frozen music” from Frank Lloyd Wright. Close, who was a second runner-up in the seventh season of America’s Got Talent, will collaborate with several local and international  artists such as Singapore’s drum group ZingO and songstresses in the form of Sound of Sirens as well as the fire and lights of Austrian collective Phoenix over both festival weekends.

Willaim Close and his Earth Harp.

Willaim Close and his Earth Harp.

Close close-up.

Close close-up.

ZingO - a local drum group, who are collaborating with William Close.

ZingO – a local drum group, who are collaborating with William Close.

Pretty Arty also sees half human / half birds of Follies for É Birds by the Arts Fission Company in the former Fashion Gallery.

Pretty Arty also sees half human / half birds of Follies for É Birds by the Arts Fission Company in the former Fashion Gallery.

The festival sees the return of Singapore’s very own Starlight Alchemy, playing not so much with fire this time, but with light and acrobatics beside the Singapore Management University (SMU) School of Information Systems in a zone intended to reach out to Young Hearts around SMU Green. The acts will include AcroYogis – an acrobatic partner yoga presentation in which the audience can participate in, as well as Illuminated Playtime in which participants will be invited to play with LED lights.

AcroYogis by Starlight Alchemy.

AcroYogis by Starlight Alchemy.

Another look at AcroYogis by Starlight Alchemy.

Another look at AcroYogis by Starlight Alchemy.

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Watch 10 local DJs spin together on Stage at the SMU Green in the Young Hearts Zone.

Watch 10 local DJs spin together on Stage at the SMU Green in the Young Hearts Zone.

The 10 DJs on stage.

The 10 DJs on stage.

Always a crowd-pleaser, Night Lights, will also return – this time doubling in scale – with installations spread across the festival’s zones. Night Lights never spares the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), a building I always enjoy seeing bathed in light – like outstretched arms its wings are always welcoming as it had been when I went to school there all those years ago. This year the façade of the SAM will be see a nature inspired multi-media presentation, Spirits of Nature, by WeComeInPeace from France.

Spirits of Nature by WeComeInPeace.

Spirits of Nature by WeComeInPeace.

The two Frenchmen coming in Peace.

The two Frenchmen coming in Peace.

One of the students behind Singapore University of Technology and Design's Night Lights installation at SMU, Stop and Smell the Flowers ...

One of the students behind Singapore University of Technology and Design’s Night Lights installation at SMU, Stop and Smell the Flowers …

... the installation requires one to pause - only by pausing to take a long exposure photograph, can the artwork be appreciated.

… the installation requires one to pause – only by pausing to take a long exposure photograph, can the artwork be appreciated.

Greenhouse Effect - another Night Lights installation by Maro Avrabou and Dimitiri Xenakis from France.

Greenhouse Effect – another Night Lights installation by Maro Avrabou and Dimitiri Xenakis from France.

Other eye-catching Night Lights installations I got to see a preview of include Cyanea, inspired by the Cyanea capillata – one of the largest jellyfish in the world, spread across Cathay Green. The installation, illuminated by a set of colour-changing lights, with smoke and sounds for effect, is being put up by Cumulus Collectif also from France.

Night Lights: Cyanea by Cumulus Collectif.

Night Lights: Cyanea by Cumulus Collectif.

Back to the SAM, where the Roundabout Midnight zone is based around, there are several installations to look out for. These include, The Cloud of Unknowing  by Ho Tzu Nyen in the Chapel on 29 and 30 August, 2014 – a cinematic exploration of the cloud as image, metaphor and carrier for divine illumination; a NOISE Weekend @ SAM on 22 and 23 August at 8Q Plaza, SAM at 8Q that will feature emerging bands and musicians from NOISE Singapore’s Music Programme; Darker Than Wax DJs at SAM on 29 August; and The Local People x SAM Night Market on 30 August, 2014 – where visitors can eat, listen and shop at the art market along Queen Street.

Cyanea from its inside.

Cyanea from its inside.

A view of the Orchard Road Presbyterian Church, through Cyanea.

A view of the Orchard Road Presbyterian Church, through Cyanea.

The last zone, Block Party @ Armenian Street, will see a wild and happening Armenian Street where parties to late will be taking place. The parties will include one that will see much excitement with a ring put up on the second weekend right in the middle of Armenian Street (which will be closed to traffic from 8 pm to 2 am on festival nights). The ring will see wrestling bouts that will pit stars of Singapore Pro Wrestling – another first at the Night Festival.

And Tango makes the Singapore Night Festival.

And Tango makes the Singapore Night Festival.

A performance that might be worth catching at Block Party is How Drama ‘s Fat Kids are Harder to Kidnap, in Something Borrowed, Something New at The Substation Theatre, which will probably have you in stitches – not just because of the speed performance of 31 plays in an hour by the Singapore based improvisational performers, but also for their rather amusing take on current happenings. The performance, which will see the audience determine the sequence, has the audience laughing at the funny side of issues such as the much talked about Singapore Tourism Board’s “Honey, Look!” video advertisement as well as the National Library’s tango with the removal of children’s books from the shelves.

Honey, Look!

Honey, Look!

Admission to the Singapore Night Festival (including to the participating museums) is free. More information, including the festival guide, details of the performances, installations and also the artists, can be found 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.

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The ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu 2014

12 08 2014

The prestigious photography award that recognises the Singapore best of the best in photography, the ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu, returns for a fifth year. As with the award of the previous years, an exhibition of works of the award nominees will be held, this time around in conjunction with the Singapore Night Festival at the Stamford Gallery of the National Museum of Singapore from 20 August to 5 September.

Lavender Chang: Eldest Daughter (2011)

An additional highlight of the exhibition will be an interactive room on which Martell and ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu 2013 winner Sarah Choo have collaborated on. The presentation will attempt to draw parallels between both photography and cognac making and is intended to convey the message of how discernment in the details is important to both.

Wilfred Lim: Superhero (From the series ‘Self Portraits’, 2013)

Jeannie Ho: Brunch Is The Order Of The Day (From the series ‘All In Between’, 2012)

Also to look forward to during the period of the exhibition is the visit of Martell Heritage Ambassador Christophe Pienkowksi, formerly a chef at the Chateau de Chanteloup (where Martell entertains its guests). Pienkowski’s gastronomic expertise and knowledge of Martell cognacs lends to the expert pairing of different cuisines with the various marques of Martell cognacs for which he will share and make recommendations. 

Eugene Soh: Venus & Grace Edition 30 (2012)

During the period of the exhibition, visitors will also be able to complete the Martell experience at a pop-up bar that will serve Martell cognacs and cocktails.

Ang Song Nian: Detour No. 3 (From the series ‘Many Detours : Washed-­‐out & Interrupted’, 2011)

The nominees for the award this year are:
  • Ang Song Nian
  • Eugene Soh
  • Jeannie Ho
  • Ken Cheong
  • Lavender Chang
  • Neo Xiaobin
  • Wilfred Lim
More information on last year’s awards and winners can be found at this link.




All at sea

24 07 2014

The launch on Saturday of Singapore HeritageFest 2014, bring us to focus on one of the key reasons for Singapore’s being, the sea. This year’s festival much of which revolves around a maritime based theme, “Our Islands, Our Home” has us looking at our maritime past as well as our present as a maritime nation.

HeritageFest 2014 opens a window to Singapore's island heritage.

HeritageFest 2014 opens a window to Singapore’s island heritage.

It is to raise the profile of this heritage, one that goes back to times well before the arrival of Raffles, that is in fact what the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) and the National Heritage Board (NHB) hopes to achieve with the establishment of the S$500,000 Maritime Heritage Fund, which the two agencies will administer – for which a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by the two agencies at Saturday’s launch.

One of the highlights of this year's HeritageFest is a lighthouse trail that includes a stop on Pulau Satumu, Singapore's southernmost island, on top of which Raffles' Lighthouse is perched.

One of the highlights of this year’s HeritageFest is a lighthouse trail that includes a stop on Pulau Satumu, Singapore’s southernmost island, on top of which Raffles’ Lighthouse is perched.

Once a common scene in the waters off the Southern Islands. Boats such as the kolek on the right, are very much part of our maritime heritage (a similar kolek is on display at the Balik Pulau Exhibition at the National Museum).

Once a common scene in the waters off the Southern Islands. Boats such as the kolek on the right, are very much part of our maritime heritage (a similar kolek is on display at the Balik Pulau Exhibition at the National Museum).

The focus of the fund, which complements the NHB’s S$5 million Heritage Grant Scheme launched last year, will be on developing community-initiated projects related to Singapore’s maritime heritage that will promote a greater understanding and appreciation of Singapore’s maritime connections, as was touched on by Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for Community, Culture and Youth, in his speech at the festival’s launch.

Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Mr Ong Yew Huat, Chairman of NHB launching Singapore HeritageFest 2014.

Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Mr Ong Yew Huat, Chairman of NHB launching Singapore HeritageFest 2014.

Mr Wong also spoke of the transformation that will soon take place at the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM), where the launch event was held. Besides a revamp of the museum with expanded galleries that will include a space allocated for the Tang Cargo and see new shops and dining outlets, the museum will be given a new entrance that will open it up to the river and give it a direct connection into the historic heart of Singapore.

Another lighthouse - the very pretty Sultan Shoal Lighthouse at the western extremities of Singapore's waters seen during the lighthouse trail as part of Singapore HeritageFest 2014.

Another lighthouse – the very pretty Sultan Shoal Lighthouse at the western extremities of Singapore’s waters seen during the lighthouse trail as part of Singapore HeritageFest 2014.

The revamp is part of the ongoing effort to develop a civic and cultural belt around Singapore’s colonial civic district (see: The Old Vic’s ticking again) that involves also the newly refurbished Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, and the conversion of the Old Supreme Court and City Hall into National Gallery – due for completion in 2015.

The Old Vic's definitely back!

The newly refurbished Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall.

A cultural performance at the launch of Singapore HeritageFest2014.

A cultural performance at the launch of Singapore HeritageFest2014.

The launch also coincided with the first evening of a two-night series of programmes taking place around the ACM and the river, River Nights. The event, brought much life and colour to the river, and celebrated its changing identity over the years – in the same way the well received series of activities  for Singapore HeritageFest 2014 celebrates the islands.

A dragon dance performance at the start of River Nights at the ACM's front lawn.

A dragon dance performance at the start of River Nights at the ACM’s front lawn.

More information on the Maritime Heritage Fund, Singapore HeritageFest 2014, River Nights and on Balik Pulau: Stories from Singapore’s Islands (an exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore held in conjunction with HeritageFest 2014) can be found in the following links:





A return to our islands in the sun

27 06 2014

Balik Pulau: Stories from Singapore’s Islands, as the name of the exhibition currently on at the National Museum of Singapore does suggest, takes us back to the islands of Singapore. Many of more than 70 island had once been inhabited – with communities that numbered from the hundreds to the thousands who were moved to the main island as part of redevelopment efforts. These communities were not just a well forgotten part of Singapore’s history, but also of the culture and history of a wider society that existed well before the coming of the British that was spread across the Riau Archipelago.

Lazarus and St. John's Islands (Pulau Sekijang Pelepah and Pulau Sekijang Bendara), two islands, now joined by a causeway that were once inhabited.

Lazarus and St. John’s Islands (Pulau Sekijang Pelepah and Pulau Sekijang Bendara), two islands, now joined by a causeway that were once inhabited.

An old postcard showing Kusu Island before reclamation.

An old postcard showing Kusu Island before reclamation.

The exhibition, curated by Marcus Ng and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow, revisits life as it was and now hard to imagine on several of the inhabited islands through a mix of artefacts of island life, archival images, and most interestingly, the experience of island life told through video interviews with some of the islands’ former inhabitants. One interview that I did find particularly interesting was that of a former resident of Pulau Seking (or Sakeng) – the last of the southern islands to be inhabited with its residents having been resettled as recently as 1994, the very emotional Mr Teo Yan Teck. The interview see Mr Teo, who have lived on the island for close to four decades, talk about how he came to settle on the island, the emotions he felt when told he had to leave and also of the burning of boats by the islanders before they were to leave the island and a way of life they were used to, for good.

A highlight of Balik Pulau is the video interviews with some of the islands' former residents.

A highlight of Balik Pulau is the video interviews with some of the islands’ former residents.

A kolek sauh from Pulau Seraya at the exhibition - boats were an integral part of island life and featured in races the islands played host to.

A kolek sauh from Pulau Seraya at the exhibition – boats were an integral part of island life and featured in races the islands played host to.

Mr Teo, when asked about how he felt about leaving the island.

Mr Teo, when asked about how he felt about leaving the island.

The fascinating exhibition, which runs until 10 August 2014, will also play an important part as a hub one of the focal points for the upcoming Singapore Heritage Festival (SHS). Now in its 11th edition, the SHS, the theme of which this year will be Our Islands, Our Home, will run from 18 to 27 July 2014 and sees over 60 programmes available for the participation of the public, put up with the help of 40 community groups, individuals and partners with the aim of drawing Singaporeans to connect with their shared history and heritage.

The festival offers an opportunity to explore some of the southern islands through excursions.

The festival this year offers an opportunity to explore some of the southern islands through excursions.

A sandy beach at Pulau Seringat - an enlarged island which incorporates the former reef island of Pulau Renggit.

A sandy beach at Pulau Seringat – an enlarged island which incorporates the former reef island of Pulau Renggit.

The sisters.

The sisters.

St. John's Island.

St. John’s Island.

Pulau Tekukor or Dove Island - hear stories of its past when it was known as Pulau Penyabong and its association with the origins of the former name of Sentosa, Pulau Blakang Mati.

Pulau Tekukor or Dove Island – hear stories of its past when it was known as Pulau Penyabong and its association with the origins of the former name of Sentosa, Pulau Blakang Mati.

Kusu Island today.

An enlarged Kusu Island today.

The highlight of this year’s SHS has to be without a doubt the opportunity it provides to reconnect with the islands, not just through the exhibition and through a series of talks that are being lined up, but also through an immersive experience that guided excursions to the islands will certainly provide. The excursions will include visits to St. John’s, Lazarus and Seringat Islands; a rare opportunity to visit one of Singapore’s lighthouses (Raffles Lighthouse) and have a look from the boat at another (Sultan Shoal); and a night of Nanyin at Kusu Island.  Space for the excursions will be limited and sign-ups will be possible from 1 July 2014 at www.heritagefest.sg. More information on the SHS is also available at www.heritagefest.sg and information on the exhibition at http://www.nationalmuseum.sg/.

The Tua Pek Kong temple on Kusu Island, the site of an annual pilgrimage.

The Tua Pek Kong temple on Kusu Island, the site of an annual pilgrimage.

The temple also sees Nanyin performances by the Siong Leng Musical Association during the ninth lunar month and will by special arrangement host a night of nanyin that sees young musicians performing an traditional music form.

The temple also sees Nanyin performances by the Siong Leng Musical Association during the ninth lunar month and will by special arrangement host a night of nanyin that sees young musicians performing an traditional music form.

Another look at the Tua Pek Kong Temple.

Another look at the Tua Pek Kong Temple.

Besides the temple, the Keramats, graves of Malay saints that are venerated, are also visited by devotees.

Besides the temple, the Keramats, graves of Malay saints that are venerated, are also visited by devotees.

Another look at two of the keramats.

Another look at two of the keramats.

 





What’s cooking on the museum’s front lawn

29 05 2014

The front lawn of the National Museum of Singapore seems to be a staging ground for some rather unusual and un-museum like happenings of late.  It was just last year that Malaysian artist Sharon Chin had a group of people taking a bath  taking a bath in full view of the public on the lawn. That followed the drama that involved the “sexiest woman in magic”, Singapore’s very own Magic Babe Ning, who pulled off a couple of dramatic Houdiniesque escape stunts.

It's masak-masak time on the museum's front lawn.

It’s masak-masak time on the museum’s front lawn.

The latest happening sees a curious effort perhaps to recreate the playgrounds that have somehow become a symbol of a new-found Singaporean desire to cling on to the worn and tired emblems of less complicated times. And, in the inflatable imitations that now appear, we perhaps see an attempt to reintroduce to a connected yet disconnected generation with the simple ways fun would have been packaged in the past.

Worshiping  a temporary hero on the front lawn.

Worshiping a temporary hero on the front lawn.

While it may be sad that the imitations do seem to attract more love and interest than the real McCoys – the orange mosaic faced beast that is the somewhat iconic dragon of Toa Payoh and a lesser known elephant that is now only seen in Pasir Ris; the gimmicky adaptations, on the evidence of the droves of of bouncing children that turned up despite the unforgiving heat and humidity of the weekend, does seem to have worked to generate a buzz amongst the young at the museum that does go beyond the excitement I got as a child of hearing about the eerie happenings at the museum’s notorious spiral staircase.

The smaller imitation.

The smaller imitation.

The happenings on the front lawn, are all part of the Children’s Season at the national Museum that is titled Masak-Masak, launched to coincide with the June school holidays. Besides the air-filled version of the once ubiquitous playgrounds, Masak-Masak sees several interactive installations, a good number of which seem to revolve around the simplicity of play in less complicated times. One the kids would definitely have great fun participating in is Come and Play by Justin Lee at the Salon on Level 1. The activity allows children to use carton boxes to create a “dream-home”.

Come and Play at the Salon on Level 1.

Come and Play at the Salon on Level 1.

Besides what’s on the lawn and at Level 1 (there is also Larger-than-Life Games – literally larger-than-life versions of popular games of the past such as five-stones at the Concourse), there are also a host of interactive and immersive activites on Levels 2 and 3. Masa-Masak: My Childhood runs from 24 May to 3 Aug 2014 with the Playgrounds on the Lawn available only during the weekends (every Sat & Sun from 24 May to 3 Aug at 11am to 1pm & 3pm to 5pm). More information can be found on a downloadable exhibition brochure at the National Museum of Singapore’s website (click here).

Rouleaux by Anastassia Elias (France) on Level 2 features an eclectic collection of miniature dioramas.

Rouleaux by Anastassia Elias (France) on Level 2 features an eclectic collection of miniature dioramas.

An elated participant even as the bouncy versions of the playgrounds lie deflated.

An elated participant dancing on the lawn even as the bouncy versions of the playgrounds lie deflated.

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A public bath on the museum’s front lawn

28 10 2013

In what is probably a first in Singapore, some 100 people were seen to be taking a very public bath together at the National Museum of Singapore’s (NMS) front lawn on Saturday evening. The public display of cleansing was actually carried out as part of the Singapore Biennale 2013 on its opening weekend – a public performance put up by Malaysian artist Sharon Chin named Mandi Bunga, which literally means Flower Bath.

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Taking a flower bath, although not necessarily a public one in a crowd, is actually a ritual practiced across much of east Asia – as a means to cleanse body and soul of evil and ill luck, or as I was told in my younger days, to “buang suay” or throw out bad luck. The idea for the performance did in fact come from a call to cleanse, one which the Bersih movement in Sharon’s country of origin calls for, with the artist dreaming it up in 2012 after her experience of two Bersih street rallies – hence the yellow that is prominent throughout the display that is seen in the basins used as well as in the sarongs which the participants wore.

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While what most of us got to see was the public display, the 100 or so participants did actually attend workshops which were carried out on several weekends preceding during which participants got to design their sarongs for the event. The performance also involved the participants gathering at another Singapore Biennale venue, the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) – assembling at the courtyard where school assemblies (when the buildings were used by the original occupants, St. Joseph’s Institution) had once been held. The participants then walked in their sarongs over to the NMS.

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While the performance – at which all involved seemed to have tremendous fun at, is a one evening event, the project’s process and outcomes have been documented and will be installed at SAM for the Singapore Biennale which runs until 16 February 2014. More information on the Singapore Biennale 2013 can be found at the event’s website.

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A huge escape!

2 09 2013

The World’s First tandem upside-down double strait jacket escape …

A world’s first was accomplished some 75 feet over the National Museum of Singapore on Saturday. The last night of the Singapore Night Festival saw “Asia’s Most Famous Illusionists”, the pairing of J C Sum and Magic Babe Ning, complete a nerve-wrecking, death-defying, tandem escape stunt that had the two dangling upside down from a burning rope, with each strapped into a double strait-jacket.

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Dangling 75 feet over the air in double strait-jackest suspended from a burning rope

The stunt was part of the performances and the highlight of the two-weekend festival.  The spectacular act was performed to a huge crowd (there must have been more than several thousands) which started to gather in anticipation some two hours before when the National Museum of Singapore, which served as a backdrop for the act, entertained making faces. Many had been present for another of Ning’s mega stunts on the previous evening, when they witnessed “the sexiest woman in magic” stage an amazing escape from a locked steel vault which was filled to the brim with water. For that stunt, Ning was completely submerged, chained and shackled with only a pair of paper clips to help her get out, having only the time that it would have taken her to run out of breath to get out – a feat which on its own was remarkable as it was the first time such an escape has been publicly witnessed in Singapore (see my prevous post)!

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The second stunt, was of course a lot more spectacular – and terrifying, especially so when all was done in full view of the audience. Both Ning and J C Sum were each tied-up into two strait-jackets, with two members of the audience picked to do the job. Both were then attached to a rig by their ankles one over the other. The rig was in turn was attached to a length of rope set alight as they were being attached which was attached to the hook of a huge telescopic crane. As the rope burned, the two were hoisted up – J C Sum made an announcement before the stunt that they would be hoisted not to 50 feet (15 metres – about five storeys) as was originally intended, but 75 feet (23 metres or 7 1/2 storeys) up in the air.

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As a stunt, it must surely count as the most daring ever seen in Singapore. Based on a upside-down escape stunt from a strait-jacket whilst suspended made famous by none other than Harry Houdini himself, the very first tandem inverted strait-jacket escape is much more risky, as it is dependent not just on the actions of one person, but two. There is of course the wind, as well as humidity – which does make the strait-jacket stick to the skin, to contend with. And to top it all, it was done without safety nets!

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Working against a clock set by the time it would have taken to burn through the rope, with the time taken to raise and lower the pair, J C Sum seemed to be initially ahead of Ning in getting out of the strait-jackets – his got his hand free as Ning seemed to struggle. But Ning was first to get out of her two strait-jackets, and the close to three-minutes that it took J C Sum to fling off his inner strait-jacket what must have seemed like an eternity to both. There was some drama as the audience could see that Ning seemed to be having some difficulty in attempting to remove J C Sum’s jacket which had got caught at her feet but all could heave that huge collective sigh of relief as she seemed to recover and it wasn’t long before both could be lowered down. The total time taken for the duo to be raise, to escape and be lowered would have been close to five minutes which probably was as much time as they could have used – the rope after the fire was extinguished did look as if it was about to be burned through.

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It was a visibly relieved look that Ning wore as she first waved to the crowd on completing the stunt. With fireworks illuminating the stage, the pair was greeted by thunderous applause. The two were then presented with a certificate for their world record feat by the Singapore Book of Records as well an Outstanding Achievement & Contribution to Magic award by the International Brotherhood of Magicians Ring 115 – all which certainly was well deserved!

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Pink-haired woman escapes from chains and shackles

31 08 2013

A pink-haired woman escaped from chains and shackles last evening in front of the huge crowd that had gathered in front of the National Museum of Singapore last night. It wasn’t any ordinary pink-hair woman, not that you would ordinarily find a woman with pink hair, of course. The woman, who has been dubbed the “sexiest woman in magic”, was none other than Singapore’s very own female magician, illusionist and escape artist extraordinaire, Magic Babe Ning, who was attempting the first of two mega escape stunts as part of the Singapore Night Festival.

Ning with the shackles.

Ning with the shackles.

And the locks.

And the locks.

A member of the audience invited to check for metal objects on her.

A member of the audience invited to check for metal objects on her.

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Holding their breaths with her, the audience waited in suspense as “the sexiest woman in magic” took a little longer than the “under two minutes” that was expected in emerging from a locked and chained steel vault she was submerged in whilst shackled and chained around her wrists, neck and waist – with only the aid of two paper clips to pick the locks. The impressive escape was certainly quite a feat – not just that many of us can even pick a lock in under the two minutes Ning had to hold her breath for, but also because it would have been the very first time such a that a Houdini-like escape of this kind was performed in Singapore.

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With the seconds ticking away, there was a lot of relief all around as first a hand emerged, and it wasn’t long before Ning’s pink mop popped through as she came out taking in a huge breath of air. Her stunt partner, J C Sum, with whom she would be performing the second death-defying escape stunt with, later revealed that she did take longer than expected, with Ning explaining that she had some difficulty as she had conspired to drop the paper clips whilst submerged in the water.

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What definitely will top this stunt would be the second mega stunt that Magic Babe Ning would be attempting at 10 pm tonight with J C Sum at the same location. This stunt, set to be a world’s first – officials from the International Brotherhood of Magicians and the Singapore Book of Records will be on hand to witness it, will see the two attempt a world’s first tandem upside down strait jacket escape! Both Ning and Sum will try to escape from regulation strait-jackets, suspended only by ankle boots attached to a bar tied to a single burning rope, high over the museum’s dome – surely a must see. More information on the stunt and some of the other Singapore Night Festival installations this weekend can be found at my previous post.

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A magical final weekend at the Singapore Night Festival

30 08 2013

To look out for on this, the second weekend of this year’s edition of the Singapore Night Festival, has to be two death-defying mega stunts that will be attempted by “the sexiest woman in magic” – Singapore magician, Magic Babe Ning. The stunts which will take place in front of the National Museum of Singapore will see Ning attempt two Houdini-like escapes – one submerged in water and the second, one that involves escaping from a strait-jacket whilst suspended in mid-air by a burning rope together with the other half of a pairing The Straits Times had referred to as “Asia’s most famous illusionists” J C Sum.

In the spotlight during the second weekend will be "the sexiest woman in magic" Magic Babe Ning, seen here contemplating her acts at the National Museum of Singapore.

In the spotlight during the second weekend will be “the sexiest woman in magic” Magic Babe Ning, seen here contemplating her acts at the National Museum of Singapore.

The first stunt The Water Vault, which will take place on Friday (today), 30 August 2013, at 10 pm in front of the National Museum of Singapore. For this, shackled at the neck, wrists and wasit, Ning will be submerged in a locked and chained steel vault which will be filled to the brim with water – and all she has is two minutes with which she can hold her breath, to escape from all that!

J C Sum and Magic Babe Ning with the locked and chained steel vault filled with water which she will attempted to escape from whilst shackled at the neck, wrists and waist.

J C Sum and Magic Babe Ning with the locked and chained steel vault filled with water which she will attempted to escape from whilst shackled at the neck, wrists and waist.

The second stunt, is definitely one that is going to be a lot more spectacular – and visible! Also taking place in front of the National Museum of Singapore, this time at 10 pm on Saturday 31 August 2013, the stunt, Ultimate Inversion, will be a huge first and one for the record books – if successful, it will the first time a tandem upside down strait jacket escape will be done! The stunt will see both, trying to escape from regulation strait-jackets, suspended by ankle boots from a bar attached to a single burning rope over the museum’s dome … a stunt which does carry huge risks – there are many factors which can impede the escape – including the hot and humid conditions which does make the strait-jacket stick to skins a lot more! Plus, there will not be any safety nets! The stunt will also be witnessed by the International Brotherhood of Magicians and the Singapore Book of Records. Speaking to Magic Babe Ning  last evening – I realised that how risky the manoeuvre would be – seeing that the only preparations the pair were able to do is to practice escaping from a strait-jacket upside down!

5 Streams.

5 Streams.

Besides the magic of the two stunts – there were two other magical installations that I got a sneak peek of last evening. One is 5 Streams – which will see three different dance sequences by Ibrahim Quraishi of BamBam Projects – all to a haunting and as the festival guide describes, hypnotic mix of video streaming, live percussion and base guitars.

The people behind 5 Streams.

The people behind 5 Streams.

The other installation I did get to see is what should be a delightful animated projection onto the façade of the National Museum of Singapore by local company OICsingapore – accompanied by original music. The projection, MoonGrazing is described as a surrealistic abstract animation that playfully explores the moon and its stories through the eyes of the illustrators from OICsingapore.

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The Water Vault (Magic Babe Ning)

Friday 30 Aug 2013

10 pm

National Museum of Singapore façade

Asia’s female Houdini and “the sexiest woman in magic” (Magicseen Magazine), ‘Magic Babe’ Ning will attempt a spectacular underwater escape from The Water Vault. Shackled with chains and locks around her wrists, waist and neck, Ning will be completely submerged in a steel vault filled to the brim with water that is, in turn, locked and chained tightly on the outside. Ning will have less than two minutes to free herself from The Water Vault before she runs out of breath.

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Ultimate Inversion (J C Sum and Magic Babe Ning)

Saturday 31 Aug 2013

10 pm

National Museum of Singapore façade

Witness history being made as “Asia’s most famous illusionists” (The Straits Times), J C Sum & ‘Magic Babe’ Ning, attempt the world’s first ever tandem upside down strait jacket escape! They will both be strapped up in two regulation strait jackets each and suspended upside down by their ankles, one person below the other, high up in the air from a single burning rope. If the rope burns through or if they make one small mistake, they will plummet to the ground 50ft below.

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5 Streams (Ibrahim Quraishi / BamBam Projects)

Friday 30 and Saturday 31 Aug 2013

8.45 pm, 9.45 pm & 10.45pm

MAIN Ground

Explosive sounds, vocals, intense dance sequences, video streaming, live percussion and base guitars are combined to create a hypnotic performance where dancers appear as installation: space transforms into living architectural symbols, video projection immersed in nature and the abstraction of geometry. Sound trembles through the body before it’s heard and the audience is invited to wander and meditate in an interactive installation of a synthetic forest with each its own interactive sonic mix: this cross media performance / installation includes an extraordinary international team of artists (Ibrahim Quraishi, Norsq, Marc Perroud aka Tzed, Gabriel Smeets, Katrin Blantar, Walid Breidi, Jule Flierl, Martin B. Hansen, Olivier Hüe, Nicolas Lelièvre, Ligia Manuela Lewis, Naseem Abbas Malik, Ewan A.S and Aziz Bekkaoui. Nico Van Der Vegte and Kieu Voung)

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Moongrazing (OICSingapore)

Friday 30 Aug 2013 and Saturday 31 Aug 2013

7 pm to 2 am (OIC live music & drawing: 7.30 pm, 8 pm, 11 pm & 11.30 pm)

National Museum of Singapore façade

Set to an original piece of music- MoonGrazing is a surrealistic abstract animation that playfully explores the moon and its stories through the eyes of the illustrators from OICsingapore. Throughout the two nights, the façade of the National Museum of Singapore will be transformed into a canvas for local artists to showcase their playful creativity. To add to the spontaneity of the moment, for twice each night, illustrators and indie musicians will jam together live. Each performance is unique as lines of music and drawing meet and improvisations happen on the most random note.

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The Singapore Night Festival final weekend is on 30 and 31 August 2013. More information can be obtained at the following links:






Highlights of the Singapore Night Festival

23 08 2013

To be held over two weekends, the Singapore Night Festival opens this evening with what promises to be some wonderful acts to literally illuminate the evening in the Bras Basah precinct – some of which I did get to have a sneak peek of. More on the festival and on one act which will certainly be a hit, Redux by Starlight Alchemy, can be found on my previous post on this years festival, Playing with Fire. Some of the other highlights for the first weekend which we did also get to see follow (descriptions provided by the festival guide):


Fly me from the moon

(Oomoonbeings by Singapierrot)

Friday 23 and Saturday 24 Aug 2013

7.30pm, 8.45 pm & 10pm

Armenian Street

Two ethereal jesters descend from a crescent moon and explore the land.  Dressed in plastics, these contemporary incarnations of Pierrot play in a series of teasing vignettes combining movement and installation. With a whimsical oldtime mood, this little reverie features gypsy-swing jazz duo So Ma Fan as live accompaniment.

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Shadow Play

(Vertical Extraction by Compagnie Retouramont)

Friday 23 and Saturday 24 Aug 2013

8.15 pm, 9.30 pm & 10.45 pm

Façade of the National Museum of Singapore

Dancers embark on a vertical journey up the façade of the National Museum and break into a rhythmic dance on bungee cords in this site-specific performance that explores the museum’s architecture and surrounding space. Light projections which amplify the dancers’ bodies, and a special video by acclaimed local artist and filmmaker Victric Thng, complement Vertical Extraction to offer new perspectives on movement and our environment.

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In Suspension

(Pyramid of Void by Compagnie Retouramont)

Friday 23 and Saturday 24 Aug 2013

8.30 pm, 9.45 pm & 11 pm

Façade of the National Museum of Singapore

In this aerial dance performance, a pyramid structure made of ropes is suspended in mid-air, outlining the contours of a void, an abstract space invisible to the eye. With the ropes as their only form of support, dancers demonstrate their acrobatic creativity and agility as they negotiate the minimalist set. Their movements form a dialogue with the pyramid, breathing life into the structure and giving shape to the spaces in-between.

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Playing with Water

(Water Light Graffiti by Antonin Fourneau)

Friday 23, Saturday 24, Friday 30, Saturday 31 Aug 2013

7.30 pm to 2 am

Outside Raffles City

Based on an idea as simple as illumination, Water Light Graffiti enables one to draw or write ephemeral messages which appear as light against the wall of LEDs. To use water, which has no shape and no colour, to draw light, is a magical experience for all. By mixing a natural element and technology, Water Light Graffiti’s users can even play with the weather or the evaporation speed for example. Water Light Graffiti also has a surprising role during rainy days and turn them into fireworks of damp LEDs.

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Music Made in  Singapore

(Homemade)

Friday 23 and Saturday 24 Aug 2013

7.30 pm to 12 am

Singapore Management University (SMU) Green

HOMEMADE 2013 is a celebration of originality, collaboration and Singapore-made music. This year, the music festival is presented over 2 weekends, 23 & 24 Aug and the intimate HOMEMADE 2013 (UNPLUGGED) sessions on 30 & 31 Aug. Some of the acts to look forward to are Pleasantry, The Obedient Wives Club, Inch Chua and The Bushmen. An exciting feature of the music festival has always been the never-before-seen (or heard) presentations and also, collaborations between musicians and genres. In the true spirit of bigger, better and louder, Homemade 2013 will debut a 20-piece band – The Electric Symphony Project.

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Caught in a Net

(Everlast by Sookoon Ang)

Friday 23, Saturday 24, Friday 30, Saturday 31 Aug 2013

7 pm to 2 am

National Museum of Singapore (Rotunda)

EVERLAST is an installation created with foil balloons. The work is a visual poem which the arrangement of text and the selected material for the visualization are important in conveying the intended effect of the work. The work takes poetry beyond the printed and causing it to manifest in both metaphysically as well as physically, blurring the distinction between art and text. This poem addresses life & death, light & lightness. It speaks about the exhilarating energy and dynamics of between 2 persons.

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Bottled Beauties

(Absolut Canvas)

Friday 23, Saturday 24, Friday 30, Saturday 31 Aug 2013

7 pm to 2 am

Sunday 25 to Monday 2 Sep 2013

10 am to 6 pm

National Museum of Singapore (Stamford Gallery)

With its iconic silhouette and its collaborations with some of the most recognisable artists and designers, ABSOLUT has cemented itself as the perfect canvas for creative ideas to flourish. ABSOLUT CANVAS showcases the ways in which artists and designers have used the ABSOLUT bottle as a channel for their creativity. The exhibition features beautifully designed bottles as well as an interactive area where visitors will get to unleash their own creativity. It also includes a pop-up bar serving ABSOLUT cocktails
that have been created specially for ABSOLUT CANVAS.

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And the best part about Absolut Canvas is that throughout the four nights of the festival, there would be a pop-up bar just outside the Stamford Gallery. The bar will serve Absolut Vodka and Absolut Elyx – with three different cocktails also served which were created specially for Absolut Canvas all of which is absolutely fabulous!

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The Singapore Night Festival runs on 23 and 24 August 2013 and on 30 and 31 August 2013. More information can be obtained at the following links: