Free art exhibition takes you on a voyage of love
Through the lens of nature and literature, experience the complex emotions of a seafarer at the National Museum of Singapore’s A Voyage of Love and Longing. The exhibition draws inspiration from the practice of belayar (voyage) in the Malay Archipelago during the 19th century, and it pairs works from the prized William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings with Malay literature for the first time. The unique presentation of drawings of flora and fauna, alongside Malay literary works such as classical texts and pantuns (rhyme quatrains), offers visitors a fresh, lyrical perspective on the natural history depicted in the Collection.
The exhibition also includes interactive elements such as an innovative choose-your-own-adventure online game, based on the exhibition’s narrative of preparing for voyages.
The game can be accessed via the museum’s Dome Bot chatbot, and visitors can also take home a memento of their favourite drawings and poems by scanning a QR code that creates a digital postcard at the exhibition.
Here are five highlights from the exhibition:
Burung Serindit Biasa
This vibrant drawing depicts a male and female pair of burung serindit biasa, or blue-crowned hanging parrots. Not only is this feathered creature part of the biodiversity in the Malay archipelago, it also stars in a Malay poem adapted from the Javanese tragic romance tale Syair Ken Tambuhan. In it, the bird brokers the first meeting between prince Raden Manteri and a princess from a fallen kingdom, Ken Tambuhan, and the two later fall in love.
Burung Punai Pergam, Burung Punai Jambu, Burung Punai Siul
The birds in the drawings – green imperial pigeon, fruit dove and common bronzewing (above, left to right) are commonly classified as burung punai in Malay ornithology. The burung punai is featured in a traditional pantun that was later turned into the love ballad Mengapa Dirindu (Why Do You Miss Them). The ballad was popularised in the 1950s by famed Singapore-born singer Salmah Ismail, who was better known by her stage name Saloma. The song inspired the music that plays as part of the exhibition’s soundscape.
The Terab fruit is characterised by its creamy yellow to brownish skin and strong rancid smell. It is closely tied to the puja pantai ritual of the Mah Meri tribe of Selangor, which is carried out to appease spirits of the sea and honour spirits that have protected the tribe throughout the years.
Bangau Botak Leher Putih
Also known as the woolly-necked stork, the bird’s sinuous neck influenced the design of the spar of boats of a particular model – perahu bangau, in the East Coast of Malaysia. A model of the perahu bangau, which dates back to the 1930s,is on display near the drawing in the exhibition.
Burung Merak Pongsu
This lifelike illustration depicts a pair of Malayan peacock-pheasants, which are also mentioned inwriter Abdullah Abdul Kadir Munsyi’s literary work Voyages to Pahang and Kelantan (1838). This drawing is shown for the first time at the Goh Seng Choo Gallery, which showcases this exhibition.
Plan your visit to A Voyage of Love and Longing here.
(Photos: National Museum of Singapore)