ASEAN Songket Exhibition

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Wall hanging. From the private collection of Yayasan Tuanku Nur Zahirah

The on-going exhibition at Muzium Negara, titled “Songket: The Queen of Fabrics – 1Family 1Heritage”, showcases songket pieces from around ASEAN countries. Do try to catch this very interesting exhibition before it ends on 31st December 2016.

Songket is brocade and its designs are usually inspired by nature where the weavers turn into art their impressions of the environment, as well as of the flora and fauna around them. However, the songket pieces on display also include some unique expressions such as the piece below which describes the contents of Noah’s ark.

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Songket Lampung from South Sumatra illustrating Noah’s ark and its contents

Other interesting pieces include a shoulder cloth whose pattern is taken from the Durga stone statue at Singasari and a songket piece which combines Minangkabau and Bugis patterns.

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Short sarong cloth with geometric patterns from Laos

The cotton material weaved by the Rungus community in Kudat, Sabah incorporate designs found on Dongson drums (bronze drums that originated in Northern Vietnam). To date, remains of only one Dongson drum have been unearthed in Sabah and, hence, the designs on the Rungus material provides an important means of elucidating the designs on these drum.

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Babaal, a back strapped loom used by the Rungus community in Sabah to weave cotton yarns
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A ‘kek’ (a type of loom) used by Malay weavers

Apart from songket pieces (sarong, samping, selendang, and tengkolok), there are also a number of looms on display showcasing production techniques.

 

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A loom for cotton threads used by the Cham community in Chao Doc, Vietnam to weave jihdalah (tassels and belts) as well as siaip (scarves)

Exhibition : One Malaysia, One Story

20160810_114635There is an on-going exhibition at Muzium Negara in conjunction with National Day 2016 titled One Malaysia, One Story. It showcases the history of the country from Emergency to Independence and includes the formation of the Malayan Union, formation of the Federation of Malaya, the elections of 1955, the formation of Malaysia, and the confrontation with Indonesia. A large part of the story is told via old photographs and this is the charm of the exhibition. Many of these photos are from the National Archives’ collection. Do head down to Muzium Negara – the exhibition runs until 30 September at Gallery 2, Department of Museums building.

Some photos at the exhibition:

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Campaigning for the 1955 elections
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Casting votes

 

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Ballot boxes being carried to the counting stations

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tunku Abdul Rahman at Dato’ Sir Tan Cheng Lock’s house before leaving for Padang Bandar Hilir, Malacca

 

Evolution of Weapons – An Exhibition

223_modWith close to 10,000 exhibits on display, it would be hard not to find a piece to hold your interest in the on-going exhibition at Muzium Negara. Aptly titled ‘Evolution of Weapons’, the exhibition showcases a wide range of  weapons used by humans from prehistoric times through to modern times.

Primitive stone axes and adzes give way to spears, blowpipes, and throwing weapons. Malay weapons including the keris, golok, tumbuk lada, and sundang mingle with Viking helmets and axes. On display also are small but sharp hair accessories used by Malay women to pin their hair into buns. Accessories, such as the semar, are beautifully carved but the sharp pins double as weapons that could be used for self-defence. These small weapons contrast with European and Japanese swords whose purpose were never covert.

Weapons used for traditional healing, magic ceremonies, cultural performances, and religious ceremonies are either on display or explained through the display boards. The keris, especially, stands out as a versatile weapon used not only as a conventional weapon but also in traditional healing, magic ceremonies and cultural performances such as the silat and wayang kulit. There is a wide selection of keris on display including keris from Majapahit, Sulawesi, Bali, Riau-Lingga and Lombok, Bugis keris, and the Surakata Kraton Kris.

Collection of Keris

163A large collection of beautifully designed shields complement the equally beautiful body armours bringing to mind a bygone era eclipsed by present day weapons that emphasise function and form. Modern day weapons on display include tanks, machine guns, pistols and rifles.

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The bulk of the exhibits are from Muzium Negara’s stores thus affording an opportunity to view a rarely seen collection. Exhibits also come from other museums in the country such as the Army Museum as well as from outside the country including from Korea, the United States and the La Galiga Museum in South Sulawesi. Do get down to Muzium Negara but remember to allocate sufficient time to give the (close to) 10,000 pieces justice.

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Hubback Exhibition

Brig. Gen. Arthur Benison Hubback came to Malaya as the chief draughtsman with the Selangor Public Works department. He eventually became the chief architect and during his stay in Malaya, he designed 25 buildings; with Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad being the first. An exhibition showcasing these 25 buildings is on-going at The Textile Museum and the exhibition will last till 30 June 2014.

The design concept for Malayan buildings of that time was laid down by the state engineer, C.E Spooner who shied away from classical European architecture for Malaya. Instead, Spooner introduced an eclectic style that had originated in British India; a style which combined various architectural traditions including Gothic, Hindu as well as Indian Muslim. Buildings in Malaysia incorporate more of the Mughal elements.

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Ipoh Railway Station (image taken from: http://www.photomalaysia.com)

This eclectic style can also be described as neo-saracenic and the display boards at the exhibition describe the Ipoh Railway station as such. The style has the classical European design which includes domes, arches and gable designs. In addition, it also has non-European features such as Mughal chatri spires.

The Textile Museum was previously the FMS Railways Central Offices and this red-brick building with white plaster bands was built to include both cupolas and chatris. The chatri towers on the old KL Railway Station (previously FMS Survey Office) are said to resemble the chatris on the roof of the Taj Mahal. The Malay College in Kuala Kangsar is a little different as it is more of a Greco-Roman design.

The only thing common between the 25 Hubback buildings is that the buildings include elements from different architectural styles. Other buildings that A.B. Hubback designed include Carcosa Seri Negara, Masjid Jamek, Royal Selangor Club, Hospital Bahagia Ulu Kinta and the Ubudiah Mosque.

Below is the logo for the Hubback exhibition. The organisers have cleverly shaped the alphabets in his name using the structure of the buildings he designed. Try to figure out which alphabet comes from which building.

Hubback

 

 

Dongson Culture Exhibition

Exhibition: 4 March to 4 May 2014

This is an ongoing exhibition at Muzium Negara showcasing treasures from the ancient Dongson culture in Vietnam. The artefacts are on loan from Vietnam. Dongson is the name of a village in the Thanh-hoa Province in northern Vietnam and it was here that bronze artefacts dating to around 2000-2500 years ago were first discovered. The culture associated with this ancient bronze technology became known as the Dongson culture.

034Drums rolled at the opening ceremony of the exhibition held on 11 March in a sterling performance that saw a number of different types of drums being beaten. The energy was palpable not only from the drumming which was brought to crescendo a number of times but also from the performers themselves who were obviously having a lot of fun on-stage.

This opening was, perhaps, appropriate as the most well-known object from the Dongson culture is the bronze drum and the star exhibit did not fail to awe. Known as the Sao Vang drum, this drum stands at 86 cm (2.82 feet) high with a diameter in the drumhead of 116 cm (3.81 feet). It is the biggest Dongson drum in the Vietnamese collection.

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The Sao Vang bronze drum is on display at Muzium Negara in a temporary exhibition until 4 May 2014

It is not only the size that awes but also the exquisite carvings on the surface. All Dongson drums, regardless of location, have very similar designs. A star at the centre of the tympanum is common to all drums and the rays of the star are all even-numbered. Drums found in Malaysia have either 10 or 12 rays. The star bulges out; perhaps to strengthen the place where it is struck the most. The flying heron is a common motif and researchers believe this to be the legendary “lac bird”, a symbol adopted by the ancient Vietnamese to represent diligence. Motifs on the drums provide valuable insight into the daily and the spiritual life of the Dongson society and the motifs include dancing, pounding rice, beating drums as well as sailing. Images of frogs are embedded at the edge of the tympanum and these possibly indicate a ritualistic ceremony to induce rain which is important to an agricultural society.

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Motifs on the Sao Vang drum: star, frog, herons

Dongson related artefacts have been found in locations other than Vietnam including in Southern China, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines leading researchers to argue that these items were valued trade items. Did the Dongson culture also influence the cultures it came in contact with? The display boards at the exhibition show one such influence. The design of houses engraved on some of the drums is similar to the houses of the Toraja community in Sulawesi, Indonesia although it is uncertain to what extent other cultural elements had been absorbed. Carvings on a bronze drum found in the Yunnan Province in China indicate the Tien community had also absorbed this architectural style.

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Left to right: house depicted on a Dongson drum, Toraja houses in Sulawesi, depiction of a Tien house in Yunnan

A forum discussing Dongson culture was held on 13 March with a panellist from Malaysia, one from Cambodia and two from Vietnam. The panellist from Malaysia, Dr. Adnan Jusoh, highlighted that the Dongson culture was not just about drums but that it was a highly developed culture based on agriculture and husbandry. PanellistThis is borne out by the display boards at the exhibition that discuss the skill of the people in making equipment and tools, personal accessories, weapons, houses as well as boats. However, the use of bronze drums is the most enduring element of their culture as testified by the number of communities in Southeast Asia and China that continue to use the drums till today. An example is the Karen community in Myanmar and researchers report that these Heger Type III drums are used by the community to assemble ancestor spirits as well as to take the spirit of the dead into the after-life.

Beads for Beauty

by Maganjeet Kaur

This is an on-going exhibition at Muzium Negara until 31 Mar 2014. The exhibition showcases the usage of beads in Malaysia both for personal adornment and for the decoration of belongings such as baby carriers.

This bead collar, known as Marek Empang, is worn together with the traditional attire of the Iban
This bead collar, known as Marek Empang, is worn together with the traditional attire of the Iban

Beads have been used as jewellery in all cultures and are among the oldest artefacts found at archaeological digs around the world. Early jewellery used to be made of bones, teeth, shells and pebbles and the earliest jewellery found to-date are made of shells from the marine snail Nassarius. Dated to 85,000-100,000 years ago, beads made of Nassarius have been found in caves in Israel, Morocco and Algeria.

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This is an ‘Inang Menora’ dress that originated at Tanah Merah in Kelantan. This dress was worn by the Mak Yong or Menora dancers and was used to still the mind in healing rituals.

The Malay word for beads is manik which is derived from the Sanskrit word manikya meaning precious stones. The earliest beads made of glass and precious stones found in South-east Asia came from India, most likely the South Indian bead making facility at Arikamedu and beads became a major trade commodity in South-east Asia. Regional manufacturing centres later developed at Kwan Luk Pat in Thailand, Mantai in Sri Lanka and Oc-eo in Vietnam. Beads were produced locally from the 7th century and bead manufacturing centres developed at Kuala Selinsing (Perak), Sungai Mas (Kedah) and Santubong (Sarawak). In the 1800s, Venetian and Bohemian glass beads were introduced by European traders. The diversity of patterns and their mesmerizing colours made these favourites for personal adornment.

This headdress is worn by the women of Dayak Kenyah. It is decorated by yellow and white beads in the motif of ancestral spirits. It is also decorated with white horse hair at the top.
This headdress is worn by the women of Dayak Kenyah. It is decorated by yellow and white beads in the motif of ancestral spirits. It is also decorated with white horse hair at the top.

Starting out as jewellery, beads were later adopted as symbols of wealth depicting the social status of the person wearing them. Beads were also treated as currency, for example for the Lun Bawang community, 50 beads of bao tulong buror (straw beads) equals the value of a buffalo. Some beads were believed to have special powers and were used as an intermediary when performing ceremonial rituals.

Heirloom beads were considered special and not traded. Reattaching heirloom beads required a ritual to summon the spirit of the bead and required special skills to do so.

baby carrierThe baby carrier in this picture is decorated with beads, shells and the canine teeth of a tiger. The shells and teeth produced a clinking sound which is believed to ward off evil spirits. The number of canine teeth hung gave the indication of the sex of the baby; even number for a girl and odd for a boy. This baby carrier would have been used to carry a baby girl as there are 4 canine teeth hung.

Woven sun hats from Sarawak known as 'Terendak'
Woven sun hats from Sarawak known as ‘Terendak’

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Baby carriers in Sarawak are made of bark, rattan or wood and decorated with beads.

Traditional costume of the Orang Ulu women
Traditional costume of the Orang Ulu women
Traditional costume of the Rungus women
Traditional costume of the Rungus women

Masks of the World

Exhibition at Muzium Negara                                                                                            20 December 2012 to 20 March 2013                                                                                      9.00 am to 6.00 pm

If there is one thing that all cultures and civilisations share, it is the love for masks.  The materials used, the designs and the purpose for the masks may differ between cultures but the fascination is universal and continues till today.

Come down to Muzium Negara and be prepared to be awed by the hundreds of masks on display.  Learn about the history and heritage of masks not only from Malaysia but from around the world.  The display starts with masks from Sarawak and the variety of masks from here is amazing.  A selection is shown below.

Masks of Sarawak

105There are two galleries of masks.  These two galleries are connected via a dark eerie tunnel lined with masks that glower at you from all directions.

While wood is the main material used in crafting masks, masks made from other materials such as clay, animal hide, paper mache, metal and rubber are also on display.

The display boards give a wealth of information and from one of these boards you learn that the earliest examples of mask usage were found in Altamira (Spain) as well as Lascaux and Dordogne (France) where cave paintings dated to about 30,000 years ago showed examples of mask wearing.

Masks of all sorts are on display.  Enjoy the pictures of the masks below and come down to Muzium Negara to learn more.

Scary to Cute

Grotesque to Pretty

Ganesh to Hulk

Variety of Materials

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My personal favourite is the beaded mask made by the Huichol people of Mexico.

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The star attraction of the 2nd gallery is probably the replica of King Tutankhamun’s coffin and his golden Death Mask (shown in the picture above).  In ancient Egypt, a mask was placed over the deceased’s face to prevent the face from fading.