Unraveling the legacies of colonialism is a pertinent question for Singaporeans today, as the public response to the nationwide Bicentennial in 2019 made clear. The Asian Civilisations Museum, established by a government-appointed task force 30 years after Singapore’s independence from Britain, inherited the “ethnology” collection of the 19th-century Raffles Library and Museum, as well as archaeological material from the Malay World, notably Hindu and Buddhist objects excavated from Bujang Valley, on the Malay Peninsula, by H. G. Quaritch Wales in the 1930s. ACM continues to acquire art and material culture to fulfill its mission to “foster understanding of the diverse heritage cultures of Singapore, their interconnections, and their connections with the world”.
In this talk, two ACM curators consider how decoloniality might take shape at the museum, with a focus on curatorial and exhibition practices, past and present. How were the collections and displays of the Raffles Museum – which incorporated antiquarian interest in Hindu-Buddhist traces, ethnographic collecting in regional communities, contemporary local arts and crafts, natural history, and finds from prehistoric archaeological expeditions – used to construct an image of British Malaya and its people? And with the transition from colonial institution to a national museum housing the multicultural memories of newly created Singapore citizens, how much of the task of questioning the structures of colonial knowledge is now left for us to do?
Read more here.