From Arab dhow boats to Chinese junk ships and Portuguese war vessels, nations have sailed Singaporean waters to trade spices and exchange philosophical ideas. All of this happened before the arrival of Stamford Raffles himself. With its vast history of cultural exchanges and trades, Singapore enjoys a widespread reputation for being a cultural melting pot, and one of the most diverse countries in Southeast Asia. For the curious minded, there is a place where you can learn how it all happened.
The Asian Civilization Museum
Founded in 1997, The Asian Civilisations Museum makes up one of the four Singaporean museums, with the other three being the Peranakan Museum, the National Museum of Singapore, and the Singapore art museum. This museum holds rare artifacts and once-lost art pieces; it captures a time before British colonialism, providing a very clear picture, a time capsule, if you will, of a time when major trade was taking place in both the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.
The museum tells the story of the origins of Singapore and how its descendants can find their historical relations to this special place. The first floor of this museum focuses on trade and how many things were bought and sold and lost. One such discovery was in 1998 where a shipwreck was found off Belitung island in the Java Sea, this shipwreck was a Tang period vessel , which researchers had determined to be from 618 – 907, was headed to Iran and Iraq to ship valuable goods such as silver, gold, and 60,000 pieces of ceramic art.
New works of art were needed to communicate Christian tales, decorate churches, and inspire new converts as Christianity expanded throughout Asia. Asian-Christian art incorporates well-known European iconographies with Asian aesthetic traditions. The themes and images were typically European, while the materials and methods utilized to create these artworks were mainly Asian.
There is also a whole host of Islamic art, found in the museum, indicative of the religious situation found in the region. Religious art produced by Muslims, focusing on Southeast Asia, demonstrates how global ideas of Islamic art were modified throughout the region to create distinct aesthetic forms that reflect local influences. There are also gallery displays which holds items representing Islamic ideals and sensibilities within the museum which includes ritualistic, secular, courtly, and scientific objects which invites visitors to discover and learn more about Islam’s incredibly diverse and beautiful arts.
Visitors can find a gallery that shows the historical migrations of people, and how the exchange of commodities, spread of ideologies, effects of colonialism, and evolving technology have left an enduring legacy in the region’s fashion, and how these techniques, designs, materials, tailoring, and silhouettes were adopted and modified throughout the centuries.
These are only some of the things that visitors can expect to see once they visit. It’s easy to get lost while wandering in the Asian Civilisations Museum in awe and wonder at what the past was like. You can see hints of how the past influences the future and the heritage that reflects not just Singapore’s character as a nation, but also its people.
WORDS: Jovi Harrison. (Check out Jovi’s blog at http://teapotbuddha.medium.com.)
IMAGE CREDIT: Jnzl; Sengkang; Bjoertvedt.