via SG Magazine, 07 Feb 2019: A review of the Raffles in Southeast Asia exhibition currently at the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore until 28 April. You can check out my review here.
Curated in collaboration with the British Museum in London, the exhibition consists mostly of Javanese and Sumatran objects Raffles personally collected, employing him as a frame to explore the encounter between the British, Dutch, Javanese, and Malay peoples here in the Malay Archipelago. It grounds notions of the colonial ruler as a collector of natural history and culture from Southeast Asia, before subverting them with new possibilities—that he was exploitative, wrongfully pompous; even a plagiariser.
Last week while I was back in Singapore I took the opportunity to visit the Raffles in Southeast Asia exhibition at the Asian Civilisations Museum. The exhibition coincided with Singapore’s bicentennial celebrations, a “celebration” that has been met with mixed reception because it commemorates the arrival of Raffles to Singapore, and hence the colonial period of Singapore.
The arrival of Raffles has traditionally been the start of beginning of the history of Singapore. This view has softened somewhat, due in no small part to Prof. John Miksic’s work on the archaeology of Singapore. With the discoveries at Fort Canning, school history books now acknowledge the Temasek period. Still, the idea of Raffles as founder of modern Singapore carries an air of preeminence and prestige, and some of the country’s top schools and institutions bear the name of Raffles.
The bicentennary, Raffles, the discourse of (de)colonisation and rejection of the ‘Big Man’ myth of Raffles all come together in this one exhibition. On one level, Singaporeans only learned about the Raffles who came to Singapore in 1819 but never knew the Raffles who was Governor of Java and his role in the rediscovery of Borobudur. Raffles never actually went to the now-Unesco world heritage site, but he commissioned the survey and is now credited for its discovery. This unearned claim to fame would be a recurrent theme in his career.
The exhibition, through the lens of Raffles’ seminal History of Java and the items collected by Raffles and his contemporaries show a bias towards ancient Hindu relics but pay little attention to Muslim culture.
Some of Raffles’ personal flaws also come through, now with 200 years of hindsight and other historical sources to draw upon. This story of the tapir publication is quite telling about Raffles’s conflict with his second, William Farquhar. Farquhar arguably should be credited as the actual founder of the Singapore settlement (having done the actual legwork) but even the named after him was erased in the 1990s, a victim of Singapore’s urban redevelopment. William Farquhar’s legacy was more recently redeemed in Nadia Wright’s book, William Farquhar and Singapore: Stepping out from Raffles’ Shadow
Raffles in Southeast Asia was enjoyable in many layers. For many Singaporeans, it was an eye-opener to the influence of Raffles on the rest of the region and not just the country he ‘founded’. The exhibition can also be seen as a critique to the legacy of colonialism, and how its perspective was selective in many ways.
via The Straits Times, 01 January 2019: Modern Singapore’s founder, Sir Stamford Raffles, is the focus of a new exhibition at the Asian Civilisations Museum starting next month.
To many, Sir Stamford Raffles is held in esteem as the founder of modern Singapore who initiated the setting up of a trading port here for the British East India company, following his arrival in 1819.
But a new exhibition opening next month at the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) will seek to peel back the layers of who the Briton was, down to his callous side.
Mr Kennie Ting, the museum’s director, said the majority of Singaporeans “know” Raffles as a mythical, one-dimensional “founder figure”.
via Bangkok Post, 06 December 2018: An exhibition on Bencharong ceramics in Bangkok.
Bencharong, a distinctive variety of enamelled porcelain made primarily for Siamese royalty of the Chakri Dynasty between the late 18th and early 20th centuries, never fails to amaze people for its brilliant colours, wide selection of motifs and kaleidoscopic compositions.
Not to be missed by Bencharong enthusiasts is the exhibition tilted “Bencharong Journey: From China To Siam”, the first of its kind to be held in Thailand since 1977. The show will take place at RCB Auctions, 4th floor, River City Bangkok.
The Bencharong event, which runs from Saturday, Dec 8, will be curated by ceramics historian Dawn F. Rooney, who is also a scholar and art historian specialising in Southeast Asia, having authored nine books on the art and culture of the region.
via ABS-CBN, 03 December 2018 and other sources: A series of historically-significant Philippine documents were sold at auction over the weekend, despite government attempts to halt the sale.
Source: ABS-CBN 20181203
It must be recalled that in the days leading up to the auction, these historical documents have become cause célèbre, the fodder of social media debates and heated online posts, with the National Historical Commission (NHC) attempting to block the sale, but to little avail.
“A lot of history here,” Brian says as he begins his introductory, warm-up spiel. “You know about them; I’m sure you’ve read about it; you probably learned about it in school.”
Eventually, Lot 117 would hammer at 160,000 from a starting bid of 50K; Lot 118 would hammer at 450,000 from a starting bid of 50K; Lot 119 at 3.8 million from a starting bid of 1 million; Lot 120 at 4.2 million from a starting bid of 1 million; Lot 121 at 900,000 from a starting bid of 50K; and finally, Lot 122 at 3.2 million from a starting bid of 500K.
via Khmer Times, 30 Nov 2018: I’m in Siem Reap this week for the ICC, so hopefully I’ll get to visit the exhibition and post some pictures later this week.
Source: Khmer Times 20181130
The Apsara Authority, responsible for the research, protection and conservation of cultural heritage sites around Angkor have organized an exhibition of the International Coordinating Committee for the Safeguarding and Development of the Historic Site of Angkor (ICC-Angkor) to commemorate its 25 year anniversary.
The ICC-Angkor was established in 1993, one after Angkor was inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage List, and the commemorative expo aims to make the general public more aware of the ICC-Angkor’s existence, activities and achievements.
The exhibition will last 15 days, from Nov. 28 to Dec.12, 2018, in the garden of the Grand Angkor Hotel in Siem Reap; and according to Sum Map, director general of the Apsara Authority, will be visited by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Dec. 4, and by King Sihamoni on Dec. 5.
via The Nation, 02 November 2018: Exhibition at the Queen Sirikit Textile Museum showcases royal textiles from the Javanese court.
The batik collection of King Chulalongkorn from the central Javanese principalities of Yogyakarta and Surakarta allures with distinctive shades of blue and brown and even some “forbidden motifs” reserved for the nobility.
via The Straits Times, 22 October 2018: A new exhibition focusing on Singapore’s pre-colonial history from the 17th century (try to wrap your head around that!) will open next year at the National Museum of Singapore. Unfortunately, the linked article is behind a paywall.
“The National Museum of Singapore will roll out a key exhibition showcasing the country’s rich historical heritage to commemorate the bicentennial next year.
The exhibition – tentatively titled “An Old New World: From the East Indies to the Founding of Singapore, 1600-1819″ – will be staged at the museum’s Stamford Road location in the second half of next year.
Among other things, it aims to shed light on how Singapore was already well connected to the region and world prior to the arrival of the British East India Company.
The National Museum said the exhibition seeks to expand on Singapore’s history by looking at a longer narrative starting from the 1600s, as well as a broader geographical region – the East Indies, of which Singapore was a part.
The East Indies comprises the Malay Peninsula and Indonesian Archipelago, the centre of the spice trade that was highly sought after in Europe. This resulted in the establishment of the East India Company in 1600 and the Dutch Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie in 1602.”
Exhibition of Rare Books at The Siam Society from the collections of Prince Prisdang and Mom Luang Manich Jumsai
27 June – 26 July 2018
The opening of the 3rd exhibition of old and rare books from Prince Prisdang and Mom Luang Manich Jumsai’s collection will take place on 27th June at 5.30 pm. These books are on permanent loan to the Siam Society by Dr. Sumet and his family.
This exhibition will include books on Siam published between 1900 and 1950 (Rama V – IX). Altogether over sixty titles have been selected for this exhibition. The books are in English, French, German and Dutch. Exciting and classic titles like “The Land of the White elephant”, “Mission Pavie Indo-Chine” and “A Half Century Among the Siamese and the Laos”, will be of great interest to book lovers of Asia-Pacific history and travel. We owe much to the adventurous travelers and writers who took a keen interest in the far away land so that we can understand what Siam used to be like at the turn of the last century.
The Rare Books Exhibition will be on view from 28 June – 26 July (except Sunday and Monday) from 10 am – 5 pm.