Body & Spirit show at Asian Civilisations Museum offers spiritual look at wellness

Body & Spirit gathers pieces from different religions, such as Buddhism, Catholicism and Jainism. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

SINGAPORE – Religion and well-being come together at the new Body & Spirit exhibition at the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM).

The exhibition, which launched on Nov 25 and runs till March 26, 2023, features many pieces from local private collections, local donations or the museum’s existing collections. This decision was borne out of travel restrictions during the pandemic.

ACM’s senior Islamic art and Peranakan curator Noorashikin Zulkifli and South East Asia curator Conan Cheong have curated pieces from a wide variety of religions, including Buddhism, Jainism and Catholicism. These items are grouped by their practical or spiritual similarities within the exhibition.

Ms Noorashikin, 44, says: “What we are trying to do is look at the various aspects of embodied practices. If we are a believer, we go through ritual worship, but do we actually consider how these actions influence and shape our thinking?”

Ms Noorashikin Zulkifli, ACM’s senior curator, Islamic and Peranakan art, wants the exhibition to make visitors think about how people make connections with one another. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

Mr Cheong, 35, says: “It is really holistic. The body is really at the centre of everything we are doing. Even as a visitor going through the exhibition, you get an embodied experience, you are not just a disembodied mind.”

Located at the Special Exhibition Gallery, Body & Spirit has two additional showcases.

Buddha Relics at the foyer on level 2 houses artefacts that were found with the excavated bone fragments and ashes of Buddha, and has a dedicated space for Buddhists to bring flower offerings and carry out their devotional practices.

In the Contemporary Gallery is Vel Vel: The Burden Dance, which highlights the practice of bearing kavadis, an elaborate structure made for and worn during Thaipusam. Accompanying these structures is a video produced by local art collective Sistrum, showing the evolution of the festival celebrated by Hindus of Tamil descent and their community.

The Vel Vel showcase features several handcrafted kavadi worn during Thaipusam. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

Along with the exhibition and showcases, an interactive Mindfulness Lab allows visitors to discover a variety of Asian wellness practices, from meditation to mandala crafting. An activity trail booklet is available for them to refer to while they are checking out the exhibition or to take home.

The ACM also has several related programmes running this and next year – such as curator tours, an Art of Wellness festival, wellness event Wind Down Fridays, and Crossing Cultures, a series of dance and theatre performances.

Details of the curator tours and the Art of Wellness festival are available online, while the rest have yet to be listed. These tie-ins offer discounted tickets and a deeper insight into what it means to care for the body.

Ms Noorashikin says: “At the end of the day, we live and die in our bodies. We experience the world through our bodies. What we are hoping to highlight through this exhibition are all these different dimensions and nuances to our lived experiences.”

Body & Spirit: The Human Body In Thought And Practice

Where: Asian Civilisations Museum, 1 Empress PIace
When: Till March 26, 2023
Admission: $25

5 pieces to check out at Body & Spirit

1. Ceremonial circumcision chair
This Javanese chair is used in a ceremony that transitions a boy to being a man and eligible bachelor.

The ceremony for circumcision was an important moment in a boy’s life, signifying his transition to manhood. PHOTO: ASIAN CIVILISATIONS MUSEUM

2. Model of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
This model replica of the real church in Jerusalem can be taken apart to reveal a fully designed interior.

The doors of this model can be opened to reveal parts of the interior. PHOTO: ASIAN CIVILISATIONS MUSEUM

3. Buddhist Relics & Flower Pit
Located at the foyer on level 2, this showcase gives Buddhist visitors a space to perform their prayers.

These relics were excavated from among the remains of cremated Buddhist monks. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

4. Muslim prayer mat
Many may recognise the design of these mats as they were mass-produced and often found in Muslim homes.

These Muslim prayer mats were mass-made in China and could be found easily in Muslim homes. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

5. Kavadi showcase
These elegantly crafted sculptures are often passed down through generations and worn during Thaipusam.

Kavadi are meticulously handcrafted sculptures worn during Thaipusam. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

Correction note: An earlier version of this story stated that the relics were found with cremated Buddhist monks. This is incorrect. The relics were found with the excavated bone fragments and ashes of Buddha. We are sorry for the error.

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