by Jethro Wegener
The Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) has been located by the Singapore River since 2003 and, in all that time, its exhibitions haven’t rotated much. However, in 2014, they decided it was time for a change and hence renovation work began.
In the past, the museum’s displays were all located in separate sections, with one segment for Indian, Malay, Chinese and Peranakan artefacts respectively. Each was isolated from the others, with no real connecting theme between them, and were very tourist-focused as well Most Singaporeans aren’t very drawn to the place itself to begin with, and even though Singapore is a very multi-cultural city, this was a theme that was not explored within the museum at all. Now, with phase 1 of the renovations completed, it is ready to show off exciting new exhibits that aim to address this.
With two new wings opening on the 14th of November, namely the Kwek Hong Png Wing and the Riverfront Wing, the ACM plans to explore the connections between Asian customs and how they interacted with one another through their galleries with themes of “Trade and Exchange of Ideas” and “Faith and Belief: The Religions of Asia”. This echoes how Singapore itself was built, with several different cultures working together to build the nation and how this notion is still continuing to date.
The main attraction of the new galleries is the incredible ‘Tang Shipwreck’, a 9th century Arab ship that was discovered in the Gelasa Strait, a passage between the two small Indonesian islands of Bangka and Belitung, in 1998. What makes this vessel especially interesting, however, is not the build, but the fact that it was carrying a Chinese cargo of more than 60,000 ceramics and some items of gold and silver – mass-produced earthenware for export that are no different from the coffee cups and bowls that you get in the supermarket these days. At a time when carefully crafted pots were more common than mass-produced ones, this is worthy of note.
Bound for Iran at the time the ship sank, it is early proof of links between China and the Middle East; meaning as early as the 9th century there was a cultural exchange between these two economic powerhouses. There is even evidence that both civilizations were using the same techniques to make pottery, having learned from one another.
Thus, from these, this is what ACM’s new exhibits aim to bring across – the fact that the Asian culture was never truly segregated, but has been shared for many years. Much like what has happened with Singapore, different customs have been shared over time, resulting in the societies we have today. With the renovations, the museum plans to bring this across to all its visitors.
Currently, only phase 1 has been completed, with a projected completion date of March 2016 for phase 2, which will bring in even more new exhibits. With these new features and modern additions, the Asian Civilisations Museum has found a way to stay relevant in today’s ever-changing world.
To celebrate the opening of its new spaces, the museum is holding 24HOURS@ACM, offering a unique chance for visitors to spend the night there. From 7pm on the the 14th of November to 7pm on the 15th, there will be fun, games and music in honour of the completion of phase 1. Starting with a pyjama party for families that includes activities like film screenings, leading to a late-night tour of the museum and a performance by DJ Tinc, ACM is aiming to have something for everyone.
During the event, the museum will also be launching its new VR app. This is a neat program that can be downloaded to your phone and will provide guided, virtual reality tours for adults and children alike. The app will ask questions about the various exhibits, encouraging people to discover the answers for themselves and learn about history and culture in the process. A cardboard goggle box will be provided at the ACM for $10 that will allow users to slot their phone into it and use it like a set of glasses.
With these new additions to its collection and the 24 hour party, the ACM has spared no expense to update itself, making it more attractive not only to visitors, but also to Singaporeans. The museum has become a place everyone should check out.
The ACM is open from 10am to 7pm daily, with hours extended until 9pm on Fridays. Admission for Singaporeans, PRs and children under 6 years old is free. For other visitors it is $8 for adults and $4 for student. For more info, visit http://acm.org.sg/.