The National Museum of Singapore has undergone several upgrades in its 128-year history. We find out what’s new when its permanent galleries reopen this week.
TEXT BY PAMELA HO
Published on 15 September 2015
TEXT BY PAMELA HO
On 12 October 1887, Sir Frederick Weld, Governor of the Straits Settlements, officially opened the Raffles Library and Museum, known today as the National Museum of Singapore (NMS). In the span of 128 years, it has evolved to become an icon in Singapore’s cultural landscape. Even as it initiates many cultural and heritage events on our annual calendar, the NMS remains true to its mission to educate.
“Since we reopened in 2006, the permanent galleries have not changed. As we celebrate Singapore’s Golden Jubilee, it’s timely for a revamp so that our new galleries can present a more comprehensive overview of Singapore’s history and development,” says Angelita Teo, director of NMS. “At the heart of this revamp is a greater focus on creating personal and emotional connections with our visitors.”
The permanent galleries, which have been closed since the last quarter of 2014, will reopen on 19 September as the Singapore History Gallery, the Life in Singapore: The Past 100 Years galleries and the Goh Seng Choo Gallery, which features works from the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings in an exhibition entitled Desire and Danger.
“While we know history can’t be changed, every individual has his or her own unique experiences and perspectives in the course of it. The revamped galleries allow us to explore and present the different voices and stories of our people,” says Teo. “Visitors will also see the return of important objects from our National Collection, as well as artefacts that have never been seen before.”
Piecing together the pre-Colonial era, from 1299 to 1818, was challenging. Iskander Mydin, deputy director of Curations and Collections, who worked on the Singapore History Gallery, discloses, “In addition to archaeological fragments, we had to utilise textual history like the Sejarah Melayu [Malay Annals], and comparative artefacts including maps, coinage, weapons and film footage.”
To bring the artefacts alive, interactive elements have been worked in. “For example, a dining set from the Government House is brought to life using projection mapping and animation to reveal the dining etiquette, menu and housekeeping practices in the 1920s and 1930s,” reveals Chung May Khuen, a senior curator who worked on the Modern Colony Gallery. “We’ve also tried to re-create the feel of each era by using auditory tracks, atmospheric scents and scent stations.”
For curator Goh Ngee Hui, who worked on the Surviving Syonan Gallery, the personal stories contributed by Japanese Occupation survivors touched her deeply. “There was this elderly couple who loaned us their wedding basin, gold rings and wedding certificate. These items were significant representations of how they found each other in war-torn Singapore and their love story.”
“We hope that by making the museum experience more immersive and interactive, more accessible and relevant, visitors will be motivated to discover Singapore’s history and heritage on their own after having visited us,” says Teo.
To celebrate the reopening of the permanent galleries, there will be free admission for all on the opening weekend of 19 and 20 September. Enjoy listening to stories from yesteryear, dressing up in vintage costumes to be photographed, henna painting and other local treats.
NMS’ revamped permanent galleries tell the Singapore Story afresh.
The Singapore History Gallery
Spanning over 700 years, the Singapore Story is chronicled through four distinct periods: Singapura (1299-1818), Crown Colony (1819-1941), Syonan-To (1942-1945) and Singapore (1945 to present), with a broader representation of the nation’s post-independence history.
Life in Singapore: The Past 100 Years
Located on the second level, these four galleries present snapshots of everyday life through different eras in Singapore’s history: Modern Colony (1925-1935), Surviving Syonan (1942-1945), Growing Up (1955-1965) and Voices of Singapore (1975-1985).
Desire and Danger
Housed in the Goh Seng Choo Gallery, this selection of works from the William Farquhar Collection of National History Drawings explores the relationship between man and nature.