The Sumatra: Isle of Gold has been exhibiting at the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore since the end of July, but I hadn’t had the chance to take a visit because of some reason or another. But finally, I had the chance to catch the exhibition this morning, and lucky thing too – the exhibition is going to close this Sunday!
Sumatra is the western gateway for the maritime journey to Southeast Asia, and given that we know of Indic influences from the early centuries CE, it’s not surprising that we see many signs of cultural exchange. It’s this theme of cultural exchange and influences from external forces that shapes the exhibition. The exhibition is the first international travelling exhibition on Sumatran culture, and features exhibits from the collections of the ACM, the National Museum of Indonesia and the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden.
The earliest exhibits show influences from the west, north and east in the form of some carnelian beads, a bronze vessel, and bronze earrings reminiscent of ling-ling-o.
The visitor is invited to view each of the cultural influences in turn; from a central hub, the visitor can enter smaller galleries featuring the Indian, Chinese, Islamic, Regional and European influences found in Sumatra.
In the Indian influences gallery, among the featured artefacts are statues and bronzes from the Srivijayan period, and the original Bangka Inscription on loan from the National Museum of Indonesia. I had featured the Bangka inscription on an earlier post.
The exhibition also features some of the royal regalia and bling from the Sultanates of Aceh, Siak and Riau-Lingga.
While the exhibition talks a lot about the outside influences, we mustn’t forget that Sumatra also already holds a tremendous amount of diversity within its native peoples – the home to groups such as the Bataks, the Minangkabau and the Nias islanders.
Sumatra: Isle of Gold is exhibiting at the Asian Civilisations Museum until Nov 7, which is the end of the week. If you’re in Singapore, catch it while you still can! We also remember that Sumatra was last week struck by a tsunami that had claimed hundreds of lives and destroyed as many as 10 villages. At the same time, Indonesia is also dealing with the destruction following the eruption of Mt Merapi in Java. Please consider donating to the Indonesian Red Cross to help with the aid efforts – they accept both local and US dollar donations.
Special thanks to the Asian Civilisations Museum and Binjin for permission to photograph in the gallery.