In the paper, we will be looking at the differences and similarities between Indian Heritage Centre, Malay Heritage Centre, and Chinese Indian Heritage. Also, how each of this centre presents the role, cultural heritage of the group within the context of Singapore.
Indian Heritage Centre
Indian Heritage Centre, a relatively new centre opened in 2015, blends both traditional Indian and modern architectural elements. It creates a culturally sensitive, content-rich, and inclusive space, reflecting the bespoke architectural style of South India. The moment one step foot into the centre, the pride the Indians have for their vibrant culture is palpable. Permanent galleries are on level 4 and 3, with professionally displayed sculptures and with a number of interactive displays, encapsulates the history and soul of the Indian community, from their humble roots to their role in shaping modern Singapore.
At level 4, the first wall of monotone photos showcased the colourful history of the Indian community in Singapore. The introduction film about the history of the arrival of Indians in the colonial periods and reveals a personal glimpse into pioneering Indians’ lives. The films play in Chinese, English, and Tamils, at various timing daily introduces the galleries and shows visitors how diverse the Indian community is. Through the sculptures, we may see the influence Southeast Asian art had on Indian art such as Head of Buddha, portraying the similarities and differences between Indonesia and India. This could prove that the cultures have met way before the British sent Indians over to Singapore. The interactive panel allows visitors to zoom into India and find the hometown of Singaporean Indians and learn more about it.
At level 3, occupations are represented by mannequins dressed in uniforms and workwear, showing visitors how these pioneers distinguished themselves in their trade and occupations. The section of the social and political awakening of Indians in Singapore contributed to the growing awareness of shared heritage united the Indians, and the Wall of Frame showed how much Indians have contributed to Singapore’s growth. What stands out the most during my visit was the way the sculptures were displayed. They could bring some statutes of deities and artefacts out from behind the traditional glass display, allowing visitors to truly appreciate and look at the objects more closely.
Malay Heritage Centre
Remained the most breath-taking building among the other heritage centre, especially with its clear skyline. The building combined English Palladian architecture with traditional Malay styles. The Malay Heritage Centre houses six permanent galleries to understand and see artefacts pertaining the history of Malaysians in Singapore and the varying roles of Kampong Glam. The clear skyline behind the centre enhances the Malay heritage aesthetic. The MHC kept their traditional practice until today. Before the building was converted to Malay Heritage Centre, it served as the Sultan’s palace back in the days and was evicted in 1999 for the Malay Heritage Centre, they kept the traditional cultural practice even in the museum. The host, in this case, the staff requested all visitors’ shoes be removed outside and directed all visitors to the second story of the house once entered. This is because, in Malay culture, important events and guests are held on the second story.
At level 2, backdrops were placed in front of the windows, allowing visitors to picture how it was like to live around Kampong Glam back in the days. The exhibits include maps showing how 250 islands influenced Singapore in trades and culture, and the historic migration pattern. On top of this, the heritage centre showed prominent figures in the Malay community including Singapore’s first President, Yusof bin Ishak, presenting the letter of appointment from the parliament and ceremonial medallion from Queen Elizabeth. At the first floor, the centre provides further perspectives on the role of printing press, language, and theatre, showing influences from Arabic countries, Indian, China, and Western countries.
The story of Kapak Haji Malaya and the significance of the white clothes during Hajj, a religious journey all Muslims must embark on at least once in their lives, forming the fifth pillar of Islam. The reason of the white clothes left a deep impression on as it focused on the mind and not the material things in life, “All men, women, are equal in the eyes of the lord, regardless of the colour, gender, or status.”
Chinese Heritage Centre
Noticed from afar, the Chinese Heritage Centre is a distinctively Chinese building with a traditionally syntax. The unique heritage architecture historically used to house the administration of the former Nanyang University in the 1950s was preserved and served as a heritage centre. At the ground level, directly in front of the entrance was displayed the traditional Chinese glove puppetry, introducing the history, creation, and primal figure types. As the visitors looked upwards, the octagonal void in the centre shaped like a pagoda, which is often built for religious function in the Chinese context.
There were two permanent exhibitions, “Nantah Pictorial Exhibition” and “The Chinese More or Less: An Exhibition on Overseas Chinese Identity” provided an insight into how the Chinese immigrants came to Singapore, those who played a significant role in starting Nanyang University, and the harsh condition they had to endure. The exhibit featured overseas Chinese from around the world, and a timeline of the history of China from 1842 to present, hoping to raise awareness about their Chinese identity. It is a great exhibition if one wants to know about China’s history, and the history of the Chinese community in general.
There was a temporary art exhibition was featured, “Fantastic Trio Art Exhibition 2018,” showcasing the Chinese calligraphy paintings in a modern day. The beauty of expression with the use of ink and was greatly valued throughout China’s history. Chinese calligraphy and painting have influenced and remained famous all over the world. The continuing practice of calligraphy will keep Chinese culture alive and inspire foreigners to learn Chinese. It was interesting to know famous people who shared Chinese background through the Wall of Fame, such as Tiger Woods who described his ethnic background as Cablinasian.
Similarities and Differences
Comparing and contrast the three heritage centres based on their history and culture, show how different and similar the three are. The heritage centres are rich in history, though they developed on different timelines. The heritage centres harbour many of the most prized treasures. It is common for visitors to look up for brochures and guided tours after registration, and the good thing is all the heritage centres offer these services in various languages. However, mainly in common language English and Chinese. Each centre aesthetically portrayed their cultural heritage of the group they represent. They remained proud and believed that their cultural heritage is more colourful and interesting, presenting the best to visitors.
Yet they offer vastly different experiences to their visitors. Malay Heritage Centre primarily focuses on the context of Singapore. Singapore, a hub for entrepot trade that attracted immigrants from neighbouring countries Malaysia and Indonesia. The exhibits showed how two nations of similar culture, customs, and etiquette came together and contributed to the growth of Malay population in Singapore. Although the display of sculptures and mannequins were limited, the exhibits used graphics (maps and photographs) to showcase historic migration patterns, Malay heritage and culture, the influences on the nation’s name Temasek/Singapura and the national anthem Majulah Singapura.
Although the Indian Heritage Centre and Chinese Heritage Centre attempted to present the role of their cultural group within the context of Singapore, it was insufficient. The Indian Heritage Centre being relatively new under the National Heritage Board, focus on the diverse heritage of the Indian community. The exhibit displayed deities statues and architectures, mainly from South India. They bust Indian nationalist and informed how their sentiments affected Singapore, acknowledging the Indian nationalist, Gandhi’s efforts in liberating Indian. Although the interactive panel allows visitors to learn more about the hometown of Singaporean Indians, it was not sufficient in understanding their contributions other than the fact that Indian merchants and traders began to settle here and helped Singapore flourish.
On the other hand, the Chinese Heritage Centre focused on the history of the old Nanyang University and the identity of ethnic Chinese communities from overseas. Although there were several artefacts they were mainly from the Republic of China, and a timeline of the history of China. Over the years of diaspora, Singaporean Chinese deviate themselves from Mainland Chinese; however, we cannot ignore the fact that Singaporean Chinese are people of Chinese ancestry holding Singaporean nationality.
In conclusion, the potential for heritage centres to take the lead in interpreting the diversity of cultural and ethnic heritages in Singapore is well done. After all, to achieve cultural inclusion, it must be consciously and purposefully achieved by the change in presentation and practices.