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 Straits Times, 31 January 2019: 5.4 million visitors to national museums and heritage institutions in Singapore in 2018!
Museums and heritage institutions in Singapore are gaining popularity, with visitor numbers hitting a record high in 2017, according to data from the 2018 Singapore Cultural Statistics released yesterday.
Visitor numbers to national museums and heritage institutions reached 5.4 million in 2017, up from 5.1 million the year before.
This was in tandem with the record-high attendance of 11.3 million at free arts and cultural events, a figure released earlier, on Jan 22, by the Ministry for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY).
Culture and Fine Arts Minister Phoeung Sakona is appealing to young Cambodians to visit museums in the Kingdom to understand its culture and history after discovering that the majority of museum-goers last year were foreigners.
Ms Sakona held an annual meeting yesterday and said that according to a ministry report on museum-goers last year, 67 percent of visitors to national and cultural museums across the Kingdom were foreigners, noting similar figures for Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek at 88 percent and 79 percent, respectively.
She said museums display records of what ancestors over the past few generations left behind, adding that this generation must protect, understand and learn their nation’s history.
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 Straits Times, 27 November 2018: New galleries in the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore.
The Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) will open three new permanent galleries for Christian Art, Islamic Art, and Ancestors and Rituals on Saturday (Dec 1).
These galleries, found on the second level of the museum, will show how systems of faith and belief spread across Asia, and how traditions of religious art adapted as a result.
Among the highlights are a 17th century sculpture of the Virgin Mary with possible Chinese, Filipino and Mexican influences; an ornate 19th century Quran made in Terengganu; and a hornbill carving by Sarawak’s Iban community.
New web resource – the new Freer|Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian has a section devoted to Southeast Asian art.
Encompassing thousands of islands and mainland topographies between India, Australia, and China, Southeast Asia has been at the center of long-distance trade networks for centuries. Accordingly, Southeast Asian artworks feature innovative forms that blend local and imported traditions. The region’s art is also deeply connected with the tropical environment. Nature informs everything from the materials used to the imagery portrayed.
Thousands of sacred sites can be found across the region. Their structures range from caves and simple shrines to vast temple complexes. Like the artworks they hold, the sites are positioned in relation to natural features, such as rivers and volcanos.
Comprising close to nine hundred objects, the Freer|Sackler’s Southeast Asia collections range from Buddhist and Hindu sculpture in stone and bronze to gold jewelry and ceramics from Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar (Burma). Below, you can browse our objects, explore Southeast Asia’s sacred sites, and delve into the region’s vibrant material cultures.
Thailand has stepped up its efforts to reclaim bronze and stone sculptures that have been in US museum collections for decades. The Kingdom of Thailand’s culture minister announced last week that the country is seeking the return of 23 antiquities, some of which have been housed in the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art since the late 1960s.
Unnamed Institutions in the UK and Australia are also in the Thai government’s sights as it intensifies its efforts to recover sculptures and other artifacts it claims were illegally removed from temples and archaeological sites. Culture Minister Vira Rojpojchanarat is leading a task force to recover more than 700 artifacts in collections abroad that Thailand claims were stolen, the Bangkok Post reports.