Museum Hopping in Singapore
PHOTOS BY: John Heng
Museum Hopping in Singapore 24. August 2020, Photos by John Heng
Small as Singapore may be, size actually works to its advantage when you’re trying to get from one museum to another.

Look beyond Singapore’s spanking new malls and you’ll be rewarded with something a lot more colourful. Wandering through the museums will give you a peek into the diversity that Singapore has to offer. The fact that the main museums are situated within walking distance of one another is a huge plus, especially when the best way to explore a city is on foot.

The Concorde Hotel Singapore happens to be in close proximity to some of the most popular museums, making it a great base for your art and culture walk.

National Museum of Singapore

This grand dame has a history dating all the way back to 1887, yet the National Museum of Singapore is not quite your conventional museum. Instead, innovative displays bring the past to life in the different galleries.

At the Singapore History Gallery, an experiential storytelling approach brings you back in time. You can choose how you’d like to make your journey through 700 years of eventful history by following either of two separate but interlinked paths. The Events Path will take you through milestones as viewed by movers and shakers, while the Personal Path will draw you in with important events as viewed from the eyes of the man on the street.

Fascinating facts can be gleaned from the exhibits. Archaeological finds such as gold ornaments and exquisite ceramics uncovered on Fort Canning suggest that the elite resided on the hill in the early days. In the section on
World War II, a wall of bicycles, and a wailing siren paint a picture of what it was like when the Japanese employed bicycle infantry as a tactic.

Scattered throughout the Singapore History Gallery and Living Galleries are the 12 National Treasures, which have been appointed based on their unique historical significance. The oldest artefact is the Singapore Stone, dated to be from the 10th to 14th centuries. It is a fragment of a large slab that originally stood at the mouth of the Singapore River, and bears an inscription that has yet to be deciphered.

Another popular treasure is the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings. These 477 watercolour paintings were commissioned by William Farquhar (Singapore’s first Resident and Commandant) in the 1800s to document the flora and fauna in the region. Their charm hasn’t faded after all these years and the Goh Seng Choo Gallery is dedicated solely to the display of this collection.

Swinging chandeliers make up an installation piece in the Glass Passage at the National Museum.

A sculpture is showcased at the courtyard of SAM.

Salvaged road signs offer a trip down memory lane.

Hand puppets steal the show at the Film and Wayang Gallery.

Ancient artefacts are showcased in the galleries.

Bicycles are used to recreate a scene from the World War II.

The museum still holds traces of its past as a Catholic boys’ school in its architecture.

PANORAMA examines our world and issues with works from the museum’s collection.

Singapore Art Museum

After a morning with the nation’s heritage, pop over to the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) to get up to speed with the contemporary art of Singapore, Southeast Asia, and Asia. With more than 7000 works of art, the museum boasts the world’s largest acquisition of modern and contemporary Southeast Asian art.

Much of the gallery space is used for the special exhibitions, which typically last a few months and are constantly updated, so be sure to check out what’s on when you visit. Past exhibitions include the Singapore Biennale 2011 as well as A Centennial Celebration by Liu Kang, one of Singapore’s most important artists.

People and Places, an on-going exhibition at the Learning Gallery, features a curated selection from the museum’s permanent collection that looks at the people, places and spaces around us.

Asian Civilisations Museum

To get a broader perspective of the region’s culture, head to the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM). The ACM is dedicated to the heritage of Asia, with the museum’s collection permanently showcased in five of eleven galleries, namely the Singapore River, Southeast Asia, West Asia, China and South Asia Galleries.

In this museum, exhibitions are curated and designed to foster a better appreciation of the rich cultures that make up Singapore’s multi-ethnic society. You’ll learn about ancient kingdoms, discover ethnic tribes and encounter some of the major religions.

In the West Asia Gallery, there’s even a space dedicated to the mosque. It’s constructed in such a way that you’ll be facing Mecca when you enter—this is the direction of prayer for Muslims. Take a moment to imagine what it’s like to be in this place of worship as a series of projections transport you to different mosques around the world.

A bronze sculpture of a coolie by the Singapore River recalls the nation’s past as a busy trading port.

Interactive ExplorAsian zones for children are incorporated in the galleries.

Peranakan Museum

[The Peranakan Museum is currently closed for revamp]

The Peranakan culture is one that is unique to Southeast Asia, and you’ll be glad to know that one of the world’s most comprehensive collection is housed at the Peranakan Museum. In ancient times, from as early as the 14th century, foreign merchants came to Southeast Asia for lucrative trades.

Some of them decided to remain here to marry local women, and the descendants of these interracial marriages are referred to as Peranakans.
The Peranakan culture is a unique hybrid, and the elaborate customs are covered in this museum. In the Wedding Gallery, you’ll find out why the traditional wedding takes place over 12 days, and come to realise the significance of the many rituals practiced. Peranakan women were expected to master textile arts in preparation for marriage, and the Nonya Gallery features much of such intricate beadwork and embroidery.

Yet another visual treat lies in wait at the Food and Feasting Gallery, where you’ll find exquisite porcelain dinnerware that was typically reserved for special occasions and passed down as family heirlooms. These are decorated both on the interior as well as exterior surfaces, and similar vessels are sometimes used to serve mouth-watering cuisine at Peranakan restaurants today.

By now you would probably have worked up an appetite for dinner, and if you’re looking to sample some Peranakan dishes, there’s always the conveniently located True Blue Cuisine just a short distance away. Indulging in the savoury aromas and flavours that still live on today will round up your museum visit with a truly immersive experience.

Traditional dinnerware in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Kebayas on display offer a glimpse into the iconic nonya fashion.

Ornate decorative pieces often feature auspicious motifs and are sometimes encrusted with gems.