Exhibition | Port Cities: Multicultural Emporiums of Asia
Port Cities: Multicultural Emporiums of Asia, 1500–1900
The Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore, 4 November 2016 — 19 February 2017
Curated by Peter Lee
The Asian Civilisations Museum presents Port Cities: Multicultural Emporiums of Asia, 1500–1900, an exhibition that explores the unique heritage of Asian port cities and tells the story of how the global flow of people, goods, and ideas contributed to the evolution of multi-cultural societies in Singapore and other port cities in Asia today. The first in the world to explore the topic, Port Cities charts a lesser known era of globalisation, identifying linkages between cities across the Asian continent, from Goa and Bombay in India, to Batavia (Jakarta) and Manila in Southeast Asia, to Canton (Guangzhou) and Nagasaki in East Asia. It tell the stories of how specific people and objects adapted as they traveled across the seas from one port city to another and how communities in many of these port cities were thoroughly modern, blending the latest global trends with their own local traditions of craft and design to create entirely new forms of fashion, decorative arts, and ways of living.
Speaking on the exhibition, Director of the ACM and NHB Group Director, Museums, Kennie Ting said, “Port cities that have come before Singapore illustrate that globalisation and cosmopolitanism are not a modern phenomenon. There have been global trade networks since ancient times and certainly during the period from 1500 to 1900. These networks facilitated the development and evolution of multicultural societies in historic port cities leading up to Singapore. As the latest in a long line of cosmopolitan port cities in Asia, Singapore is in a good position to explore this topic because our history is precisely that of trade and connections across cultures.”
He added, “This special exhibition furthers the museum’s mission of exploring and presenting cross-cultural and hybrid forms of art, people, and cultures that have emerged at crossroads of civilisations in Asia. Focusing on ‘East-meets-West’ and ‘East-meets-East’ is crucial in that it allows us to better understand who we are as Singapore and as Singaporeans today. I hope that through this exhibition, Singaporeans and visitors get a deeper understanding of what makes Singapore tick and what it means to have lived and continue to live in a multicultural society grounded in trade.”
Port Cities: Multicultural Emporiums of Asia, 1500–1900 has been made possible through the strong relationships between ACM and many international partners. Over 180 objects from eight countries—Singapore, Portugal, Netherlands, Switzerland, Japan, Indonesia, Belgium, the Philippines—and 22 acclaimed institutions and private collections around the world are on display to tell this lesser known history behind our pan-Asian networks. Many of these objects are being showcased for the first time in Singapore, including a collection of rare Chinese objects from 17th-century Batavia on loan from Stiftsbibliothek St Gallen in Switzerland, with whom ACM is partnering for the first time.
The exhibition presents three aspects related to the movement of people, goods and ideas in Asia— Divergence (Moving, Selling, Copying), Convergence (Owning, Collecting, Commissioning), and Integration (Contriving, Combining, Creating)—along with how these aspects shaped the development of port cities.
Peter Lee, guest curator at ACM and of the exhibition, shared, “We hope visitors will gain a new perspective of port cities through this fresh curatorial approach as we trace the stories of intensely globalised individuals and communities through lesser known networks. The Chettiar community, for example, were as globalised and multicultural then as they are today. They have been trading beyond their homeland for centuries, even building temples in Saigon more than two hundred years ago, when Pondicherry and Saigon became part of the French colonial empire.”
◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊
Port Cities curator Peter Lee shares on the life of Cornelia van Nijenroode and how her story provides an insight to the dynamics of Asian port cities between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries. Painted in Batavia (Jakarta) by Jacob Jansz. Coeman, Portrait of Peter Cnoll and Cornelia van Nijenrode with Their Daughters and Malay Slaves dates to 1665 and is now part of the collection of the Rijksmuseum. It was also included in the exhibition Asia in Amsterdam (shown at the Rijksmuseum and the Peabody Essex Museum).