Peranakan, Nonya or Baba, these are the words that most people here affectionately describe and relate to the Peranakan community in Singapore (and probably in other parts of the world too), I remember my army days when we would affectionately called our fellow camp mate “Baba Koh”. Oh yes, Peranakan food is really delicious and unique, if I have the opportunity, I would introduce and share on Peranakan cuisine in my future articles.

The Peranakan community played some important and key roles in the early days of Singapore, some of them were business owners and philanthropists that shaped Singapore’s early days through hospitals and schools. Most of us here would most likely be able to relate their philanthropy works, businesses and causes.

I attended a school that was founded by a Peranakan Hokkien Chinese businessman and philanthropist, it’s one of the oldest schools in Singapore. Would you be able to guess the name of the school?

Here’s a clue, a line from my school song

“… He started a free school for boys who were poor, to give them the chance to do something more …”

Studying in a school with such a long rich history and heritage, is probably one of the factors that drives me to write, cover and document history, heritage, conservation, preservation matters/subjects in Singapore.

We have seen great works, efforts and legacies built by the Peranakan community. Do you know that they have other skills and talents that probably not many of us would know? The Peranakan community are very skilful and talented in needlework, embroidery and beadwork.

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I will be the first to raise my hand and tell everybody here that I don’t (never) really know how talented and skilful the Peranakan community were in this field until I visited this very special exhibition, Nonya Needlework: Embroidery and Beadwork in the Peranakan World exhibition at the Peranakan Museum. I can relate to the Peranakan community through famous businessmen, philanthropists, schools, hospitals, leaders of modern Singapore and my fellow Baba friends. Oh yes, of course, Peranakan food too!

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When you visit the Nonya Needlework exhibition at Peranakan Museum, do not rush, take your time, there are close to 200 amazing, gorgeous artworks, embroideries, needlework, beadworks, intricately crafted objects on display there. Each and every artwork is a history and legacy of the Peranakan community. This special exhibition displays the traditional Peranakan art of embroidery and beadwork, many of them are seldom seen in the museums and they are from the Singapore’s National Collection, collected over 30 years of dedicated collecting by Singapore’s museums.

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Besides Singapore’s very own collection over the years, the special exhibition also has Nonya artworks from museum partners and private collectors that are being showcased together in this special exhibition too. The special exhibition is divided into five sections, auspicious emblems and symbols, creative hands: makers and methods, and materials, to the diverse styles of Indonesia, Malacca, Singapore, and Penang.

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Some of the Nonya artworks were very bright and colourful, along with their intricate, delicate and precise skills, those artworks are a real eye opener to a community that has contributed quite a lot to the society of Singapore and how rich their Peranakan heritage and culture possess.

I made two trips to this exhibition, the first was the official opening of this exhibition and the second trip was joining the curator tour. There were big crowds on both days that I was there, showing great support for this exhibition. During the official opening ceremony, I also saw many pretty Peranakan ladies dressed up in their pretty and colourful kebaya, a perfect fit for the occasion and exhibition, for the bright and colourful Nonya works on display.

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Inside this exhibtion, there are close to 200 Nonya artworks on display, each of them very special, unique, precious, priceless and of utmost significance. Writing this statement doesn’t do any justice to the excellent curation, collection and displays inside this special exhibition. I strongly encourage you to visit this exhibition at the Peranakan Museum! You need to be up close and personal with the Nonya artworks and you can start to appreciate them even better!

“Nyonya Needlework showcases the pathways of creativity in this Peranakan art form. Although needlework was very much rooted in a traditional context, embroiderers often borrowed and “translated” techniques and designs from other cultures and other media (including batiks, ceramics, and metalwork), introducing novelty and dynamism into the art. The overlaps in regional styles of beadwork and embroidery convey a shared sense of identity; at the same time, their diversity expresses their local connections. We hope visitors will enjoy the refinement and detail in these works, and discover the innovative spirit and craftsmanship, as well as the stories of the Peranakan Chinese embedded in this cross-cultural art form, and be inspired to create their own”, said Dr Cheah Hwei-Fen, lead curator of the exhibition.

Source: Peranakan Museum press release

There are a number of Nonya artworks that I really like, here are some of them

Table Cover

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Penang, early 20th century

Silk damask embroidered with silk floss (knot stitch) and metal thread, silk knot work fringe and tassels, diameter 120 cm

Ceremonial handkerchief

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Malacca, late 19th century

Silk, metal beads, glass beads, cordonnet, 34.2 x 20 cm

Valance for a wedding bed

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Indonesia, mid-19th century

Cotton, glass beads, paper, metal thread

National Museum of World Cultures, Netherlands

* Description provided by Peranakan Museum press release highlights *

As I mentioned earlier in my article, there are close to 200 artworks on display, I have uploaded selected photographs into my Flickr collection and you can view them!

Here are the key information and details of this special exhibition at the Peranakan Museum

Nyonya Needlework: Embroidery and Beadwork in the Peranakan World

娘惹巧手:土生华人世界的刺绣与珠绣工艺

Dates: 24th June 2016 to 26th March 2017

Venue: Peranakan Museum

            39 Armenian Street, Singapore 179941

Website: www.peranakanmuseum.sg

Enquiries: 6332 7591 / nhb_pm_vs@nhb.gov.sg

Admission charges: Individual $10

                                    Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents $4

Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday 10am – 7pm (to 9pm on Friday)

Getting There:

By MRT – A 10-minute walk from City Hall or Bras Basah MRT stations

By Car – Paid parking is available next to the Peranakan Museum

By Bus – 7, 14, 16, 36, 77, 106, 111, 124, 128, 131, 147, 162,162M, 166, 167, 171, 174, 175, 190, 700, 700A and 857

There are also some upcoming programmes at the Peranakan Museum, in conjunction with the Nonya Needlework special exhibition. Do keep a lookout on their website for more details and updates of upcoming programmes and events!

Straits Family Sunday: All Sewed Up

14 August 2016, Sunday 1pm – 5pm

Free admission

Metallic threads, glass beads, and nimble fingers. Discover colourful Peranakan creations on display in the Nyonya Needlework special exhibition. Get inspired and create your own fashion statement accessory or go on an exploring tour with the whole family.

Peranakan beadwork with Raymond Wong

3, 10, 17, 24 September 2016, Saturdays

2pm – 5pm

Admission charge: $50 per session

Spend your Saturday afternoons at the Peranakan Museum! Create magical beaded accessories under the direction of Rumah Kim Choo’s Raymond Wong, inspired by our special exhibition, Nyonya Needlework: Beadwork and Embroidery in the Peranakan World.

  • Source: Peranakan Museum press release *

When you visit the Nonya Needlework: Embroidery and Beadwork in the Peranakan World Special Exhibition at the Peranakan Museum, do also visit the other sections of the museum too, explore and learn more about the Peranakan community in Singapore!

* I would like to thank Peranakan Museum for the invitation to the official opening of the Nonya Needlework Special Exhibition and the curator tour *


Created with flickr slideshow.