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Singapore’s Indian Heritage Centre: Celebrating Indian Culture at IHC CultureFest 2017

Ever wondered what motifs of elephants or peacocks, commonly used in Indian art and craft, mean? A host of Indian crafting traditions has resulted from the many communities of the Indian Subcontinent, many of whom have made Singapore their home. Their use of motifs, symbols, and scripts as part of these practices can be dated as far back as 5000 years!

Uncover these symbols and their significance at the Indian Heritage Centre’s (IHC) annual special exhibition, Symbols and Scripts – The Language of Craft. This year, the Indian Heritage Centre CultureFest 2017 will also be launched with the exhibition, and explores the theme of Rasa, or aesthetics, in Indian tradition.

Ms Trudy Loh, Director of Heritage Institutions at the National Heritage Board , said, “Through the artefacts featured in the exhibition, some of which date back as far as 5,000 years, and the craftspeople who are living repositories of intangible cultural heritage and whose trades will be featured in our festival, we celebrate the rich and diverse heritage of the Indian community in Singapore, as well as that of the larger global Indian diaspora. We hope such a showcase will interest Singaporeans, especially the young, to get involved, so as to keep these craft traditions alive and flourishing.”

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Grace Fu, trying her hand at leather craftwork traditionally used in Indian shadow puppetry.

Symbols and Scripts – The Language of Craft will run from 7 December 2017 to 30 June 2018 at IHC. The exhibition will lead visitors on a journey to discover diverse Indian scripts and the meanings behind symbols seen in Indian artistic and craft traditions. Helping you to gain understanding of how their influence evolved and spread across time and generations, through the craftspeople who have painstakingly passed down these traditions from generation to generation.

The exhibition showcases a collection of close to 140 rare artifacts, including jewelry, textile sand painting styles that demonstrate the pervasive influence of handcrafting traditions across a wide variety of areas, such as fashion, trade, and writing. One of the highlights is a collection of rare artifacts from the Indus Valley Civilisation, on loan from the National Museum of India and displayed in Singapore for the first time.

Each piece tells a story and will fascinate with its exquisite designs, including elaborate ancient Indus and Brahmi scripts, and familiar motifs in Indian crafts such as the lotus and the mango. Artefact highlights include intricately carved 5,000-year-old seals etched with beautiful and ancient symbols such as a swastika and the mythical unicorn.

An abkhora (water bowl) with intricate motifs and calligraphy, an artifact on display in the exhibition.

To highlight the importance of the transmission and promotion of craft traditions – an important part of the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage – IHC has specially engaged 14 expert craftspeople from India to offer visitors an opportunity to witness ancient craft s being practiced up close, through fortnightly demonstrations.

Some of these ancient craft traditions include bidri – a craft that has its beginnings in the 14th and 15th centuries – where artists etch intricate designs and calligraphy on metal surfaces before filling them in with fine silver wires; as well as the ancient skill of leather puppet making, which are then used in shadow puppetry performances of great Indian epics such as the Ramanyana .

Furthermore, as part of the exhibition, IHC has commissioned Singapore-based artist and ceramicist Ms. Madhvi Subramanian to create Ode to the Unknown – a contemporary art installation comprising a wall of rubber – tapping cups made of clay; a tribute to the Indian and Chinese laborers in Singapore who worked in rubber plantations and combines Chinese and Indian elements to celebrate the multicultural aspect of our Singapore heritage.

A cartographic overview of the Satrunjaya Rajasthan Pilgrimage Centre, another piece on display.

Alongside the Symbols and Scripts exhibition, the Indian Heritage Centre CultureFest 2017 celebrates the vibrant intangible cultural heritage of the Singapore Indian community through a selection of performances and cultural programmes, revolving around the theme of Rasa (aesthetic essence). These include a live performance with interactive segments, based on Panchatantra folk tales unveil hidden stories of Indian folklore, told by actors donning elaborate masks.

The Indian Heritage Centre CultureFest 2017 will also present specially organised workshops, in conjunction with the Symbols and Scripts exhibition, which will allow visitors to try their hand at different Indian crafts, including calligraphy and leather crafting. Check out the full list of programmes here!

Entry to IHC is free for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents. The Indian Heritage Centre CultureFest 2017 is open to all and will be held over two weekends from 7 to 17 December 2017, find out more here and register now! Do note that separate registration and costs apply to their respective workshops.

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The DANAMIC Team

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