Museums / Social Commentary

#MuseumWeek : Theatricality at Asian Civilisation Museum, Singapore

It is #MuseumWeek on Twitter and many are posting things that made impression on people about any museum and objects in the world. My timeline is filled with images of objects and testimonials about Twitterians impressions. While I think it is lovely to see of course, I can’t help but noticing one thought at the back of my mind saying ‘these things worth more than 140 characters’.

The other thing is the recent passing of Lee Kuan Yew, which brought back many personal memories of my years living in Singapore. One of them being the times I spent with Asian Civilisation Museum. I remember going there for the first time as a lone-bohemian-backpack traveler, not having enough money to go inside and see their whole display. So I went and see their free section of the museum, which displays history of Singapore. It was a great section, I can still remember looking at a miniature model of the buldings on the sides of the river, scruffy looking with plenty of labourers spending their free time smoking opium. I can still remember the way a denim fisherman’s trouser ‘celana nelayan’ was displayed and video of the tremendous effort to revive the river.

Sometime later, I had the chance to actually go inside this time. What I immediately notice is how dark the environment seem to be. It doesn’t take a long time for me to adjust to the environment and felt a sense of wonder about the ethnographical objects that were displayed. The exhibition design works for me. I think of nothing else but interest about stories that are being told through their display settings. There is also a sense of solemnity just like going to religious buildings. It also brings you to a situation where you need to focus on something, like going to an opera or classical music performance. If I remember correctly you also need to turn off your mobile phone while being inside the museum. If I am wrong, it is actually not a bad rule to have.

And then somehow my life story carries me to do my thesis research there in 2008. I have a working table at the museum’s library that I could access 7 days a week which, other than allowing me to work conveniently also gave me a chance to observe the museum’s day to day activities. The student large group visits which creates a bit of life and chaos in the museum along with their teacher and group tour guides is a sight on its own. And other times, an exhibition of a Buddha relic generates monk visitors from many places beyond borders is a also lovely sight.


One of the clever ways of displaying artifacts done by Asian Civilisation Museum. Photo taken by Author. 

I think there are plenty of theatrical aspects that should play more role in terms of presenting curation of an object. Afterall, everyone loves a good story.


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