The Peranakan Museum opens today after a four-year renovation, with brand new galleries that highlight aspects of the colourful Straits Chinese culture. And as you will learn when you visit, this is a community that loves its celebrations! So if you are in the vicinity from 17 to 19 February 2023, do drop by for a special edition of Armenian Street Party: Peranakan Museum Reopens! This homecoming weekend of outdoor performances, workshops, food, and beverages – including free admission to the museum – promises nothing but fun!
Is the Peranakan Museum Child-friendly?
Can you bring the kids? Yes. However, do keep an eye on them anyway, especially in the museum shop, where everything is fragile and dear. Other than that, most breakables seem relatively safe under glass.
Moreover, there’s a free Activity Trail for Children booklet that you can pick up for your child at the entrance. Together with this, young ones can look out for the pink “anak anak” squares around the galleries and learn a little more about the Peranakan community. Anak anak means “children” in Baba Malay, by the way. There you go, they’ve learnt a new word in a different language!
What’s new at the Peranakan Museum
Nine galleries over three floors and more than 800 artefacts bring the visitor on an exploration of the Peranakan identity through themes of “Origins”, “Home”, and “Style”. Among them are the slippers worn by actress Jeanette Aw in the 2008 blockbuster drama series The Little Nyonya, as well as a batik cheongsam worn by the late Madam Kwa Geok Choo. Theatre-goers may also recognise a sarong kebaya worn by Ivan Heng for a Wild Rice production of Stella Kon’s Emily of Emerald Hill in 2019.
Apart from well-loved artefacts, there are collaborations with contemporary local artists Sam Lo and Lavender Chang. Lo’s art installation of painted lanterns, Coming Home, dominates the museum’s central stairwell and adds a vibrant splash of colour to the space. It encapsulates the tension between tradition and modernity in Peranakan culture, as well as the artist’s own search for their cultural identity.
Sheltered Dreams, Lavender Chang’s dreamy portraits of living rooms in HDB homes, offers a glimpse into the heart of a Peranakan family. The pictures are evocative; just by looking at them, one can almost hear Nyonya chatter, smell ayam buah keluak cooking, and feel the warmth of a home that’s full of life.
Galleries at the Peranakan Museum
ORIGINS (Level 1)
This new gallery introduces the diverse origins and evolution of Peranakan communities. Take your time to examine the portraits of past and present-day Peranakans that showcase the diversity and richness of the community and its heritage. There are also video interviews where young Peranakans share what being Peranakan means to them.
HOME (Level 2)
If your home is your castle, what does the Peranakan home say about its inhabitants? See how Peranakan families lived and loved in Singapore, at the largest gallery in the revamped museum. There are dressing tables, music records and books, and even a 19th century carriage. This could have been used as part of a Chinese Peranakan ceremony known as Tedun, which was held to mark a child’s first year, or when they began to walk.
At the ceramics gallery there are floor to ceiling displays of ‘nyonya ware’, including an unusually-shaped Qing dynasty porcelain vase that features a rare combination of dragon and phoenix motifs. The centrepiece of the gallery is a stunning installation of a tok panjang, a traditional long dining table with a complex outlay of commissioned dining ware.
STYLE (Level 3)
Over 130 objects star in this gallery that’s dedicated to Peranakan fashion and decorative textiles. See interpretations of the iconic sarong kebaya here, including a jacket by Diane von Furstenberg (inventor of the wrap dress). There’s also the “One Hundred Boys” motif kebaya by Lim Swee San who received the UNESCO Award of Excellence for Handicrafts in 2012.
Fans of felines will love the kebaya embroidered with two curious cats. This belonged to Chinese Peranakan Edna Chong Kim Neo, who made and sold kebayas and beaded slippers. No word on whether these were actually based on her own cats though.
A new jewellery gallery presents over 180 pieces of jewellery that accompany a Peranakan’s life and mark special occasions such as birth and death. There are amulets for infants – baby’s first jewellery – to ward off evil, illness, and danger. There are sharp-tipped hair pins of gold and diamond that could probably serve well as weapons.
Among the jewelled heirlooms on display are adornments from one of the oldest Chinese Peranakan families in Sulawesi, Indonesia. One that caught our eye – an elaborate belt with a detachable peacock buckle. This was used to hold up the inner layer of a sarong, and hence invisible to anyone else but the wearer!
Visiting the Peranakan Museum
“The ‘old’ Peranakan Museum was frequently described as a ‘jewel’. We have taken this further, conceptualising the new Peranakan Museum as a ‘jewel box’,” Mr Kennie Ting, Director of Asian Civilisations Museum and Peranakan Museum, shared during the opening preview. Indeed, the refreshed Peranakan Museum is a treasure trove of Straits Chinese gems that will entice and enchant any heritage lover and observer.
Where: 39 Armenian Street
Hours: 10am – 7pm (daily) | 10am – 9pm (Fridays)
Admission: Free for all visitors from 17–19 February 2023. Further ticketing details will be announced soon.
Featured image: Courtesy of the Peranakan Museum