Alert! Make sure you have a box of tissues next to you as you read this, because you’re in for an emotional ride at Asian Civilisations Museum that will have you revisit some dark memories of 2020.
I’m sure 2020 is a year to remember for us all. It wasn’t easy for any of us. But the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) has taken it upon themselves to bring us what we all need most right now – Faith, Beauty, Love, Hope.
Faith, that everything we are going through now will be over soon, and that no thunderstorm lasts forever. Beauty, that we should find in everything around us, to nourish the soul. Love, that heals our heart and puts together the broken pieces. Hope, that lights our path of darkness, while waiting for a rainbow after that thunderstorm.
Kennie Ting, Director of the Asian Civilisations Museum and Peranakan Museum, shared his personal struggles in 2020 and the meaning these four values hold in his life. He also shared that ACM was preparing for a much bigger project, which had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They were extremely disheartened by it, but when the going gets tough, the tough get going, don’t they? Hence, with the limited time and resources they had, they came up with three separate exhibitions instead – Faith Beauty Love Hope – Our Stories, Your ACM, thINK: Chinese Calligraphy, Connoisseurship, and Collecting, and Perfect Stranger.
Together, the three exhibitions shine a light on the people behind ACM – the staff, partners, artists, collectors, volunteers, and even you. They unravel a lesser-known human side of the museum through their stories, hoping they will resonate with you too, and spark something in you.
The first exhibition is Faith Beauty Love Hope – Our Stories, Your ACM. This will be open to the public from 23 December 2020 to 28 February 2021. The prices are as follows:
- Singaporean/PR adults: $12
- Foreign Visitors, adults: $20
- Singaporean/PR Concession pass holders (Children ages 6 and below, Students and Seniors): Free
- Foreign Visitors Concession pass holders (Children ages 6 and below, Students and Seniors): $15
- Special package deal for Foreign visitors in Families of 5: $60
This exhibition’s concept was for staff and volunteers working with and at ACM to find a historical object that spoke to them and shared an intimate story. They hope that their stories resonate with you too, and make us realise that we’ve all seen darkness this year, but we can take comfort in the fact that we’re in this together as a community, as one people.
Quite a few of these historical objects at the exhibition touched my heart.
Firstly, is this magnificent, luxurious Hotpot.
This dates all the way back to the Qing Dynasty in China, during the Qianlong period, (1736 to 1795). The Qianlong Emperor was a hotpot fan, and he was known for enjoying it in different variations in different seasons and for hosting hotpot banquets.
This object was picked by Lok Lik Peng, Chairman of the ACM Advisory Board. He was especially drawn to the detailed craft on this fine hotpot. Nowadays, utensils are just plain and minimalistic. They are designed for practicality, not beauty. But they used to be so much more exquisite and detailed in the past, where hosts would take pride in showing their fine cooking ware to their guests. Mr Lok Lik Peng noted how it seemed a little strange to devote such expenses to decorate a hotpot, even if you are an emperor. But it comes to show how the experience of dining with your loved ones and guests was valued, and how much effort was put in for it.
As Singaporeans, hotpots are incredibly close to our hearts. Hence, seeing this did jog my memory to the times we could all eat at hotpot restaurants, or anywhere for that matter, without worrying about the ‘5 persons’ rule. The experience of eating hotpot together is always so memorable and enjoyable, and it would be so interesting if such exquisite dishes were used today. Wouldn’t it be lovely?
Another object displayed was the Table Screen: Gathering of Scholars, from China, dating back to the mid-18th century. This double-sided screen is an example of carved lacquer. One side depicts a gathering of scholars at the Orchid Pavilion near Shaoxing in Zhejiang province. They are composing poems by the river. Wine cups are floating down the river, and the scholars who needed a creativity boost, would simply pick up a glass and get their creative juices flowing. It also shows a sense of isolation, which we are very familiar with, as the COVID-19 pandemic has rendered us bound to our own homes.
The curator of this exhibition, Kan Shuyi, picked this display to exhibit this object’s timelessness. She believed that this object that transcended every historical boundary demonstrates that our difficult times will pass.
Many more of such beautiful artefacts are displayed throughout the exhibition. At the end, there is an interactive Social Wall, where you can share your favourite object that resonated the most with you, and share your story. All you would have to do is scan a QR code, pick the object from the image gallery, and type away!
The second exhibition is the thINK: Chinese Calligraphy, Connoisseurship, and Collecting exhibition. This is open to the public from 23 December 2020 to 25 April 2021. The prices are as below:
All Singaporeans/PRs: Free
Foreign Visitors, adults: $8
Foreign Visitors Concession pass holders (Children ages 6 and below, Students and Seniors): $4
Special package deal for Foreign visitors in Families of 5: $24
This exhibition is a contemporary historical collection that is meant to communicate a sense of timelessness and tranquillity. But what can be contemporary about history? These objects are actually related to the art of the brush, and tell stories from the different dynasties that once ruled China, since calligraphy is the apex of Chinese art.
Each of the calligraphies on display tells a story about what things were like at the time; how did communication occur? What were the things people talked and shared about? What kind of memories do these art pieces hold?
They aim to invoke an epiphany about how we do the same things today. How do we communicate? What conversations do we have with our friends and loved ones? What kind of memories do we want to hold on to? Are they tangible?
The items in this exhibition were retrieved from Hong Kong before the pandemic hit. There is a section that displays pieces by important people throughout history. You might know some of them through your Chinese dramas!
One is a poem written to a friend about politics and current affairs. At the same time, another piece was a personal letter about antiquities about the art trade, which is still very relevant today. Another, was a letter written by someone who had been persecuted and was inviting his brother. Each of these pieces has a personal history embedded within every stroke of the brush.
What is your history, and where have you safeguarded it? What has changed along with the times, compared to the past where calligraphy was prevalent? You can share your responses at the end of the exhibition, and read other visitors’ reflections too.
The final exhibition is called the ‘Perfect Stranger’. It is open to the public from 23 December 2020 to 28 February 2021, and admission is free, so do be sure to check this one out.
Personally, this exhibition touched me like no other. This 60-block, contemporary garden was put together by Dawn Ng, a visual artist. Her art involves topics like time and memory, and ‘Perfect Stranger’ perfectly encompasses these ideas.
So why ‘stranger’? Dawn had met someone in 2014 at the Singapore Art Museum, and in 2016, when she was pregnant, she contacted this stranger to help her out on this project. Every day for 365 days, this stranger asked Dawn one question that she would have to answer via emails and meetings. These questions were meant to capture the world we live in perfectly, and Dawn as a person. ‘Perfect Stranger’ is the end-result of an exchange of questions, words, ideas, and jokes.
But why? This is a gift she wishes to give to her daughter, her very own time capsule when she turns 33, which is the age at which Dawn gave birth to her. At this full circle, she hopes her daughter will be able to appreciate the world as it was in 2016, and embrace the changes that have accompanied the time. Dawn had said something about her daughter that broke my heart then, and breaks it even more now – “I will see to her beginning, but she will see to my end.”. It indeed is a bitter truth. Following this epiphany, a sense of finiteness had dawned upon her, and she knew she had to do this for her daughter.
These blocks convey real-world issues and topics. Dawn shared examples of some blocks, with questions such as “What does it mean to be a woman?”, and Dawn listed all the ‘don’t’s she had ever heard in her life, as a woman.
Many of her blocks are extremely eye-opening, and being at your feet, they deliver a sense of vulnerability. To learn more about what the blocks say, and the issues they touch upon, be sure to check out this exhibition. Since it’s free, do drop by even if you’re in the area. You won’t regret it.
Finally, there’s a family-interactive space as well. At the level 2 foyer of the Asian Civilisations Museum, you can use the Artivive app, available on Google Play and the App Store, and make the displayed murals come to life!
There are also some special programmes for you to engage in with your family! There are many thrilling programmes to look out for, and they are as follows:
- Drop-in Craft Activities on 26 December and 27 February, at 1-5pm: Participate in craft activities and take home a piece of Faith Beauty Love Hope.
- Super Saturdays on 2 January and 6 February, at 1-5pm: Make your own mask, brew your own tea, make art and express yourself!
- Social (Distance) Fridays on 15 January and 19 February, at 6.30-8.30pm: After-dark, night activities at Asian Civilisations Museum, engaging with the themes of Faith Beauty Love Hope, or you can tune in from the comfort of your own home.
Don’t you think these exhibitions are the perfect way to wrap 2020, and say hello to 2021? There really is something for everyone, here at ACM.
For me, the end of the year is always an emotional time, as I recall what the year has been like for me – being thankful for new beginnings, remembering every ending, and reminiscing. Visiting the Asian Civilisations Museum before the year ends had me thinking about all that I’ve overcome, and has me hoping that even in 2021, we don’t lose our magic, our imagination, and continue to find new ways to smile and spread joy.
As 2021 inches closer, let’s be proud and thankful for what we’ve braved and experienced in 2020.
Merry Christmas, everyone. I hope I gave you the perfect gift!
Photos by Darren Chiong of the DANAMIC team.