Asian Civilisations Museum
*Full time students and senior citizens aged 60 years and above (non-Singaporeans only, please present ID for verification).
The Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) is the first museum in the region to present a broad yet integrated perspective of pan-Asian cultures and civilisations. It focuses on a diverse range of cultures brought to Singapore by founding immigrants over the last 200 years.
One particular exhibition that stood out to me as a child was the Southeast Asian exhibition as there were numerous interactive spaces that brought the past to life. An example was a component that allowed one to try out making music on the Javanese Gamelan. With its tinkling and mythical sound, I often felt like I was a character in a folklore!
Due to its emphasis on Asian culture, the museum was relatable and I honestly learnt a lot about other cultures from my visits. Asian Civilisations Museum might just have been the start of my love for history.
It might not be interactive or visually exciting compared to the newer museums, but the exhibits are engaging in their own understated way. Chock-full of artefacts, there’s something for everyone - walk into the Singapore River gallery for a glimpse of our past, or wander among religious sculptures in the South Asia gallery. I've spent entire days at featured exhibits just looking at the descriptions of the artefacts - if you don't have the time to spare, I suggest just skimming through the exhibits till you find something that catches your eye.
It definitely takes time to get to know the museum. I doubt anyone could fully appreciate all the galleries in one visit! A personal favourite is the Southeast Asia gallery. The artefacts tell stories of each unique culture in Southeast Asia and learning about others’ way of life is just very exciting!
The constantly changing exhibitions mean that you can visit every couple of months and still learn something. Rather than take you through a chronological history, it focuses on themes. Interactive you want? It is here. Touch and feel? It is here. Information, guides and explanations? Here in abundance.
What a wonderful place.
It was my first visit to ACM so I was not able to tell which was the special exhibition and which was the regular exhibits. I found the whole ambiance there to be very pleasing. The space was quite spacious and the lighting was very soothing. It was not very bright but the exhibits were properly lighted and the accompanying texts would also have sufficient lighting for reading. There were also some touch screens and multimedia displays to make the exhibition more interactive.
At the time i visited, the theme was Africa and they had free entry. Unlike usual days, it was bustling with people and i got to witness african dances, face painting and scupltures and painting that were imported from africa. I had fun and spend around 2 hours in the museum which is longer than the usual time i spent at other art museums.
There are about 4 levels if i remembered correctly and it takes time to explore the museum. There were even kids running about because of the fun activities they held. Museums should host more of these kind of activities to attract different crowds of people.
After revisiting the place years later at its new location at Empress Place, I must say that the museum has indeed come a long way. Besides the colourfully diverse range of Asian cultures in the various museum galleries and the richness of cultural artefacts presented, I was delighted to find several interactive exhibits that brought history to life. A personal favourite of mine was Gallery 4a of the Southeast Asia gallery, which brought us into an almost transcendent world of Southeast Asian rituals and performing arts. The excellent layout of the various galleries also made journeying through them a seamless adventure through time and space, rather than a mere static display.
All in all, I would highly recommend a visit to the Asian Civilisations Museum for a most unique historical and cultural adventure.
The first thing that I noted about the place was how cold the air conditioning was. The second was the post modern, traditional decor of the museum. The museum had a large collection of statues and objects of cultural relevance, and I must admit, it did invoke a sense of nostalgia and pride in my being. The exhibits were also extremely creative and interactive, ranging from touch screen guides to audio exhibits. If you're engaged to a foreigner as I am, you may want to take this chance to educate your fiancé as to why we act the way we do. Because even though some of us may have forgotten our roots, our roots never cease to remember us.
The building has 3 storeys with 11 galleries, housing artefacts from both permanent and special exhibitions. Some high-profile special exhibitions were: Congo River, Terracotta Warriors and Jewelled Arts of India in the Age of the Mughals. The museum's permanent collections are grouped according to regions of Asia, namely, Southeast Asia, West Asia, China and South Asia.
There is also a very small gallery housing arterfacts related to the Singapore River. I've been puzzling over the purpose of the Singapore River gallery for some time. Shouldn't this gallery belong to the National Museum of Singapore? After some time, I came across the answer: The mission of the ACM is to promote awareness and appreciation of the history and culture of Singaporeans' ancestors, and the Singapore River was the reason they migrated here from the various parts of Asia. It may not be a coincidence, I suspect it's a deliberate choice--the ACM building itself overlooks the Singapore River.
Despite the small size of the museum, there is no way you can completely cover all the galleries by going through all the artefacts' descriptions. The following are some artefacts you may find interesting. If you like you can treat it as a game of treasure hunt, but be aware that the museum does rotate its artefacts!
1) Dong Son Drum - Southeast Asia
2) Sukhothai Walking Buddha - Southeast Asia
3) Buddha Protected by Naga Muchalinda - Southeast Asia
4) Buddha's Footprint - Southeast Asia
5) Dayak Skull - Southeast Asia
6) Osa-osa - Southeast Asia
7) Keris collection - Southeast Asia
8) Gamelan musical instruments - Southeast Asia
9) 8th Century Monumental Qu'ran Folio - West Asia
10) Kiswah - West Asia
11) Mosque Interior - West Asia
12) Qu'ran Collection - West Asia
13) Dragon Robe - China
14) Imperial Porcelain Collection - China
15) Ancestor Portraits - China
16) Guqin - China
17) Celadon collection - China
18) Mazu Procession - China
19) Dancing Shiva - South Asia
20) Shiva as a Beggar - South Asia
21) Village Gods - South Asia
22) Sandstone Seated Buddha - South Asia
23) Chettiar Door - South Asia
24) Cosmic Man Painting - South Asia
25) Small Marble Jali Screens - South Asia
26) Sandstone Jali Screens - South Asia
27) The Gateway - South Asia
28) Ghabagrha (Holy of holies in a Hindu temple) - South Asia
On my first day at the museum, I felt it was overwhelming. After spending some weekends there, I became more familiar with the place, and initially felt it was near perfect. But later, I began to feel that if the museum wishes to improve, it can explore 2 areas. The first is having more galleries devoted to China artefacts. After all, China has 5,000 years of history, and having only one gallery for China artefacts is not enough. Secondly, Christianity is the most widely practised religion in Singapore after Buddhism. Yet there are no artefacts on Christianity. It would be interesting to showcase artefacts that can tell some stories of Christianity in Asia.
I love this museum. Although some of my friends tell me that museums are boring because they exhibit 'dead things', I feel that these 'dead things' help to bring history and culture alive to its visitors. I would like to conclude with this: Racial and religious harmony is one very key component of the Singapore identity, and ACM as a museum demonstrates this very well by housing artefacts of the different races and religions in Singapore under one roof.
Even there is no thematic exhibition, I feel a visit there is still worth it. The regular collection is awesome for an Asian to know more about their own roots, definitely a good way to learn Singapore history. The architecture of the Museum is breathtaking and the interior design makes you feel relaxed. The layout of the exhibits are also easy to navigate around.
The location is also a bonus with the Singapore river as a background for pictures and the Padang is great for chill out and watch some ruby or cricket games.
Yet it’s incredibly informative and engaging, due to the quality of the exhibits and the interactive elements in the museum. At the end of the day, you actually walk away tired but fulfilled, because you actually take away something special from the visit to the museum.