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Date [ 2015-02-28, 05:15 ]

Right now there is an exhibition going on depicting cross-culture art from Singapore and the Malacca Straits.

The altar cloth

(Singapore=Koreanpress) Yun  Hyo-Sonn = The Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore is exhibiting at the National Museum in New Delhi on Peranakan culture from February 10 to April 5, 2015.

This exhibition tells the rich story of how Chinese immigrant communities forged a unique Southeast Asian culture. Through intermarriage and centuries of living in the region, new fused art forms took shape. The Peranakans combined Chinese traditions with customs from many different communities in the Straits Settlements and the Dutch East Indies. New forms of dress, language, food, and art arose, in tandem with other communities. The exhibition explores this fusion culture during the late 19th and early 20th centuries through four themes:

Chinese sources; influences from the Malay world and the Indian Ocean; the response to Europe; and the role of Peranakans in shaping modern Southeast Asia.

The exhibition is anchored around a display of a Peranakan ancestral altar and an exploration of how Peranakan dress is rooted in the cultures surrounding the Indian Ocean. The sarong kebaya originated in the mixed communities of Goa and Sri Lanka, and then travelled along the Portuguese and Dutch colonial networks to Malacca, Jakarta and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

The objects are drawn from the collection of the Asian Civilisations Museum and the Peranakan Museum of Singapore, which has the most comprehensive collection of Peranakan material in the world, and will include beadwork, embroidery, textiles, portraits, gold and silver, porcelain, and furniture.

Indian cottons were used as clothing and inspired the development in Southeast Asian of the batik. Furniture design was similarly shared in the Coromandel Coast, Sri Lanka, and Java. The history of Peranakan culture is not simply the story of a local community in Singapore and the Straits Settlements (Penang and Malacca), but also the history of a cultural network reaching throughout Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean.

For Peranakans, jewellery is an important cultural marker, a treasured heirloom, and an indicator of social standing and family wealth. As in other cultures, it is often part of a bride’s dowry. The Peranakans commissioned their jewellery from Malay, Chinese, Indian, and European jewellers, which led to diverse techniques and designs. Chinese and Malay decorative motifs were frequently combined.

The kerosang – a heart-shaped brooch – perhaps the most iconic of Peranakan jewellery, derives from a Portuguese form.  Jewellery for celebratory occasions such as weddings was primarily made of gold and diamonds, or occasionally semi-precious stones. During mourning periods, silver and pearls were used; pearls were thought to represent tears. Many women and children wore amulets (tangkal) for protection.

Ancestor veneration is a key element of traditional Chinese culture. Prayers, petitions, and material goods are offered with the hope that they will positively influence the afterlives of dead relatives, who in turn would look favourably on the living. Embroidered altar cloths from China were commonly used in the Straits Settlements, while batik versions were made and used in Java.

The practice of veneration continues today: offerings are placed on the ancestral altar on death anniversaries and festive occasions such as Cheng Beng (the annual day for sprucing up the graves of ancestors).

To commemorate ancestors, portraits were commissioned by families for the household altar. This pair of ancestral portraits, known as gambar abu, is of Mr. and Mrs. Ang Ann Siang. Usually such portraits were taken shortly after marriage, then stored and were only displayed after the subjects passed away.

Peranakan porcelain, called “nyonya ware”, is characterized by vivid, contrasting colours. Pink is practically mandatory and extensively employed on motifs and as a ground for the nearly ubiquitous peonies and phoenixes.

Different shades of green, yellow, and white are also common, while brown, blue, and orange are more unusual. These wares were probably produced in Jingdezhen, China, mainly in the second half of the 19th and early 20th century. Changing tastes led to falling demand and production of such porcelain had all but ceased in the Second World War.  Buddhist emblems, mythical beasts, and flowers and birds, often within lobed panels, animate the surfaces. Humans and figural scenes are rare.

There are a variety of shapes, and most were used to store and serve food. Peranakan porcelain also includes incense burners and joss stick holders used on altars, powder boxes and washbasins used in the bedroom, as well as spittoons and European-style tea sets, all reflecting the multiple influences characteristic of Peranakan culture.

 The word batik comes from an old Javanese term that means “to dot” – literally to draw designs onto cloth. To make batik, molten wax is applied or drawn onto a cloth to prevent the absorption of dye in the areas covered. By successive applications of wax and dye, highly intricate designs can be created. The wax is draw onto the cloth using an instrument called a canting, or by stamping with copper stamps. The batik technique used in Java was deeply influenced by textiles imported from Gujarat and the Coromandel Coast of India in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Hybrid Chinese, Javanese, and mixed-Dutch producers in cities along the north coast of Java – a region called the pesisir – have long been involved in the production of batik. They introduced the cosmopolitan blend of designs favoured by Peranakan women in the Straits Settlements. 19th-century designs were more traditional and conservatively coloured, but in the 20th century, the introduction of chemical dyes and themes from popular culture led to an explosion of creativity.

The Kerosang

A batik sarong

Large pink kam cheng

Belt buckle

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