Past year perfect for history buffs

The dome of the old Supreme Court library is now part of the National Gallery Singapore. The $532 million National Gallery Singapore, comprising the former Supreme Court and City Hall buildings, opened in November.
The dome of the old Supreme Court library is now part of the National Gallery Singapore. The $532 million National Gallery Singapore, comprising the former Supreme Court and City Hall buildings, opened in November. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Mr Lim Chen Sian (standing) led the excavation at Empress Place. Three tonnes of artefacts were found. The dome of the old Supreme Court library is now part of the National Gallery Singapore. The $532 million National Gallery Singapore, comprising th
Mr Lim Chen Sian (standing) led the excavation at Empress Place. Three tonnes of artefacts were found. ST FILE PHOTO

Thrills from gallery openings, archaeological find, brainstorming on Founders' Memorial

MUSEUM MAKEOVERS AND LAUNCHES

Last year was a big year for museums, with the opening of multiple galleries and art spaces.

November saw the much-anticipated opening of the $532 million National Gallery Singapore, comprising the former Supreme Court and City Hall buildings.

The gallery boasts the largest public collection of modern art of Singapore and South-east Asia, signalling the island's ambition to be a major art destination. It welcomed more than 170,000 people during its two-week opening celebrations.

Nearby, the permanent galleries of the National Museum of Singapore reopened in September after a year-long $10 million revamp.

Historians believe the Founders' Memorial should not be a standalone structure but be incorporated into historic precincts such as the Civic District, and that institutions such as the National Museum, National Archives and The Arts House should serve as "memorial nodes".

Its six galleries - starting from the year 1299 - hold more than 1,700 artefacts, including a 1959 flexidisc recording of Majulah Singapura before it became the National Anthem, a full set of the first national service uniform and a sewing machine used during World War II. Visitors also get to enjoy a more immersive experience.

The Asian Civilisations Museum, overlooking the Singapore River, unveiled the first phase of its $25 million makeover which began in the third quarter of 2014.

It opened two wings in early November. The titanium-clad Riverfront wing and the Kwek Hong Png wing add more than 1,300 sq m of space to the museum, making for a total of more than 15,000 sq m.

The new galleries are organised along the themes of trade and the exchange of ideas, faith and belief. The aim of the revamp is to increase exhibition space and make the place more inviting.

In Campbell Lane, in the heart of Little India, the 3,090 sq m, four- storey, $21 million Indian Heritage Centre opened its doors in May. Close to 195,000 people visited the centre from May to December.

The museum focuses on early interactions between South Asia and South-east Asia, as well as features the origins and movements of In-dians from the 19th century to the 21st century. The contributions of early Indian pioneers in Singapore and Malaya are also documented.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL DIG

A major dig that took place at Empress Place between February and April unearthed three tonnes of artefacts - the largest haul in Singapore in 31 years. The most significant finds were imperial-grade jade green ceramic fragments that formed a 34cm-diameter platter. Such ceramics were bestowed by Ming Dynasty Emperor Hongwu only on overseas leaders from countries such as Siam (Thailand) and Champa (Vietnam).

The discovery led the team to believe that ancient Singapore, or Temasek as it was known, could have had an established government with a head ruler or chieftain as early as the late 14th century.

The 10-week-long excavation was led by archaeologist Lim Chen Sian. It was organised by the National Heritage Board in partnership with the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre of the Institute of South- east Asian Studies, now known as Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute.

The task of cleaning, sorting and analysing the finds is expected to take three years.

FOUNDERS' MEMORIAL

About a dozen discussions have been held with the public and experts to piece together the first Founders' Memorial befitting the leaders and pioneers behind the birth of modern Singapore, and the sessions will continue this year.

The discussions have involved more than 400 people - including members of the Tamil community and history fraternity - since October. Most are of the opinion that the people featured should go beyond political leaders to include individuals such as community heads and philanthropists.

Historians believe the memorial should not be a standalone structure but be incorporated into historic precincts such as the Civic District, and that institutions such as the National Museum, National Archives and The Arts House should serve as "memorial nodes".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2016, with the headline 'Past year perfect for history buffs'. Print Edition | Subscribe