8 Aug 2020 - 31 Aug 2020

Whole day

Getting Here

Diversity, multiculturalism, and religious harmony are essential to the Singaporean identity. Celebrate the Nation’s 55th birthday with objects from the National Collection. 


Discover Singapore stories with these objects, and explore the rest of the galleries in the hyperlinks provided.


  • Level 1 – Singapore Archaeology
    Materials excavated from the 1998 excavation at Empress Place 
    Ceramics, coins: China, 11th to 15th century  
    Ceramics, bone, seashells: Southeast Asia and Singapore, 14th or 15th century  

    The Singapore River was a lifeline for centuries. Singapore’s ancient name, “Temasek”, means “seaport” in Old Javanese, and was mentioned in Chinese, Javanese, and Vietnamese records from the 14th and 15th centuries.


    An archaeological excavation in 1998 on the banks of the Singapore River led by Prof. John Miksic led to a discovery of a layer of 14th-century artefacts, indicating that the site was the location of an active settlement. 


    Objects found included many different kinds of Chinese ceramics: celadons from Longquan, white wares from Dehua and Shufu; blue-and-white wares from Jingdezhen. Song dynasty Chinese coins, bronze fishing hooks, bones, shells, and Southeast Asian earthenware were also discovered. 


    These archaeological finds show that a wide range of goods were traded here. The fishing hooks, bones, and shells offer a glimpse of the lives of the 14th-century inhabitants who lived and worked near the river. The abundance of ceramic shards hints at the prosperity and bustling trade activities of the settlement in its heyday. 


    Explore Maritime Trade and Court & Company Galleries here.


  • Level 2 – Ancient Religions
    1996-00755 Ganesha copy 
    Standing Ganesha
    Southern India, 18th century

    Got a sweet tooth? 


    Then you share your love for desserts with the Hindu god, Ganesha. He's a god of prosperity and a “remover of obstacles”!


    As a lover of sweetmeats, Ganesha is shown here as pot-bellied. His belly represents the universe and all its wisdom. This standing four-armed Ganesha carries an axe (to capture evil), a lasso (to remove ignorance) in his upper arms, and a sweetmeat and a broken tusk (which he broke off to write the Mahabharata, a Hindu epic) in his lower arms. 


    This standing Ganesha follows the style of late Chola-period sculptures worshipped in southern Indian temples in the 9th through 12th century. But this one was made much later. Sculptures like this were carried in processions around the village on special festival days. 


    Loyang Tua Pek Kong Temple, a mixed-religion temple reflecting Singapore’s inter-religious makeup, houses a two-metre-tall statue of Ganesha. 


    Explore Ancient Religions here.

  • Level 2 – Islamic Art
     1995-00133 Prayer Chart copy
    Prayer chart
    Singapore, mid-20th century
    Wood, paint, metal, chalk
    Gift of Haji Mohd Amin bin Abdul Wahab, Singapore 

    Science and faith merge in this prayer timetable chart. 


    This chart tells Muslim devotees the times for their five daily prayers: subuh (dawn), zuhur (when the sun is at its zenith), asar (late afternoon), maghrib (sunset), and isyak (after moonrise). The prayer times are affected by solar and lunar cycles, so they change every day. Someone at the temple would set the clock faces each day, and also use chalk to write the times. 


    On this chart, you will notice there are six clock faces. The sixth indicates imsak, which only applies during Ramadan, the Islamic fasting month. Imsak is a time before dawn prayers, and serves as a signal for Muslims to stop eating and drinking in preparation for the day’s fast. 


    This prayer chart was used in the Wak Sumang Mosque, which used to be in a village at the end of Punggol Road. The mosque was demolished in 1995. Kampung Wak Sumang (also known as Kampung Punggol) is thought to have been one of the oldest fishing settlements in Singapore. 

     1996-01738 (002)
    Bird calligram
    Yusuf Chen Jinhui
    China, 1996
    Ink on paper
    Gift of Yusuf Chen Jinhui

    Is it a bird? Is it a phrase?


    Written by the renowned Chinese Muslim calligrapher Yusuf Chen Jinhui, this bird calligram shows hybridity in practices, art, and culture. The artist used Chinese ink brush painting techniques to make a calligram, a widely practised form for Islamic calligraphy.  


    A calligram is an image made up entirely of words or phrases. In this case, it's the Arabic letters of the basmala, the Islamic invocation to God. Every part of the bird is formed from Arabic letters, including its wings and feet. The eye and beak are formed from a single Arabic letter. 


    Zoom in on the red seal, just below the artist’s signature. It looks like a traditional Chinese seal, but this one has a cross-cultural difference. The top line is in Arabic, spelling out the artist's Muslim name (Yusuf), the bottom line is his Chinese name. 


    Create a calligram with your name, and challenge yourself with a word search here – great for the little ones, and the young at heart!


    Or listen to the description of the bird calligram here.

    Explore Islamic Art here.

  • Level 2 – Ancestors & Rituals
     T-0768 Ceremonial Shoulder Cloth copy
    Ceremonial shoulder cloth
    Sumatra, early 20th century 
    Silk, natural dyes, metallic thread

    The textiles in Southeast Asia feature prominently in ritual traditions. They were produced as clothing and also as hangings to mark off sacred spaces. They served as diplomatic gifts and were also presented at funerals or marriages. 


    This cloth – a narrow, rectangular piece worn over the shoulder – was made with the ikat technique. Making ikat is highly complex and very time consuming. This is a single ikat, so only the horizontal threads (weft) were dyed in bundles before weaving. They were then woven into the vertical (warp) threads on the loom, carefully aligning them to create the pattern. With double ikat, both sets of threads are dyed before weaving! The gold bands are metal threads embroidered into the cloth to make it even more special. 


    Explore Ancestors and Rituals here.

  • Level 2 – Scholars
     2002-00766 TTC Poem
    Couplet in combined regular, running, and cursive scripts. 
    Tan Tsze Chor
    Singapore, 1979
    Chinese ink and colour on paper
    From the Xiang Xue Zhuang Collection in memory of Dr. Tan Tsze Chor

    Dr. Tan Tsze Chor was Singaporean calligrapher and art collector. This piece displays his bold and unconventional artistic style. His writing has a strong decorative quality – we see here a combination of regular, running, and cursive scripts, which is unusual within a single calligraphic work. Dr. Tan was inspired by the calligraphy of famous Chinese scholar-officials of the past but in his own work, he tried new things.


    The text he chose for this piece is – "Every citizen bears responsibility for the life and death of the nation."  It evokes patriotism and a strong sense of social responsibility – perfect for National Day, don't you think?


    Explore Scholars here

  • Level 3 – Jewellery
     GL-0022 Kerongsang copy
    Set of blouse fasteners (kerongsang)
    Straits Settlements, late 19th or early 20th century. 
    Gold, diamond
    National Museum of Singapore

    Bling bling!


    This set of shimmery jewellery is known as a kerongsang. They were used to fasten the front of a blouse or tunic. Commonly found in sets of three, kerongsang are worn by women of different cultures in Southeast Asia, both locals and mixed heritage groups, including the Peranakan Chinese. 


    The larger, heart-shaped fastener here is affectionately called kerongsang ibu (“mother”), and smaller ones kerongsang anak (“child”). The largest brooch is worn at the top, and the smaller ones below. 


    Kerongsang ibu were sometimes massive, measuring more than 20cm! But the size and weight made them impractical, especially when thin fabrics became popular for kebayas, and the sturdier fabric used for baju panjangs lost its popularity. Styles and designs of kerongsang and other jewellery were copied, borrowed, and shared across different ethnic groups and cultures.  



    Explore Jewellery here.


We hope you had fun learning about Singapore’s heritage and history through the objects in our galleries. Happy National Day from ACM!


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