Asian Civilisation Museum, Singapore
I finally did it. I visited the museum all by myself. And it’s not as intimidating as I thought it would be!
I had the week off from work and decided to immerse myself in some culture. That and my Singapore Rediscovery Vouchers are expiring. I have always wanted to visit the Asian Civilisation Museum (ACM) ever since it moved from Armenian Street to its current location at Empress Place. I didn’t have any expectations when I bought my tickets, in fact, I was more curious about the food they are serving at Privé.
So I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that the current exhibition is Life in Edo | Russel Wong in Kyoto, a double-bill exhibition by Kobe Shimbun and Russel Wong centred on Japanese culture and craftsmanship. There are two parts of the exhibition, Life in Edo – a showcase of woodblock prints and paintings (also known as ukiyo-e). There is an entire section featuring pets in paintings (goldfish seems to be the popular choice of pets during the Edo era), as well as other masterpieces from Katsushika Hokusai (who created the iconic The Great Wave off Kanagawa), Kitagawa Utamaro, Utagawa Kuniyoshi and more. You don’t have to know their names, but I’m pretty sure you’ve seen some of their masterpieces before.
After Life in Edo, be prepared to gawk at the work of Russel Wong in Kyoto, a 13-year-long, personal project of celebrity photography Russel Wong to document the geishas of Kyoto. Before Covid, my knowledge of geishas is really limited to the controversial movie, Memoirs of the Geisha (a movie about Japanese geishas with non-Japanese actresses playing the main roles) and photos of geishas running away from tourists in Kyoto. Since Covid started, I’ve become a lot more cultured, mainly from watching Joanne Lumley’s Japan and Japan with Sue Perkins on Netflix. Russel Wong’s photographs really take you behind what you normally see, and shed a light on their less-known traditions.
On the same floor as Life in Edo | Russel Wong is my favourite section in the museum – Faith and Beliefs – a series of galleries featuring masterpieces of sculpture, painting and artefact from various religions, past and present. I’m a freethinker, but some of the sculptures really made me question my beliefs (or lack thereof) and I just wanted to get down on my knees and pray (I didn’t).
One of my favourite pieces is the Burea Shrine. I’ve seen so many altars in Chinese homes and I was a little disarmed when I read that this 1730s shrine is the only known Chinese lacquer bureau made as a Christian shrine.
Something else you must see is the Tang Shipwreck gallery. How can I live to my age (which will remain a secret) without knowing that a major historical shipwreck was discovered in 1998? The shipwreck contained a cargo of more than 60,000 ceramics produced in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and you can see most of them at this gallery. I was really impressed and curious as to how ACM managed to house the entire collection since it was discovered in Indonesia and after some serious sleuthing (ok, Wikipedia), I found out the cargo was purchased for around US$32 million by Sentosa Development Corporation and the Singapore government in 2005. Bama from What an Amazing World! wrote a really great article about the Tang Shipwreck that you should read.
If you love history or Asian antiquities, then I would highly encourage you to pay ACM a visit. It took me about 3 hours to cover all three levels (which includes a long detour at their gift shop). The museum was quiet when I visited on a weekday so you can take your time walking through the galleries and absorbing the rich artistic heritage of Asia.
For more information about ACM including how to get there, admission fees and operating hours, visit here.