Ong Sor Fern Senior Culture Correspondent recommends

Arts Picks: Asian civilisations museum's new galleries

There are rare exemplars of the classic "dragon" robes, including a brown version tailored for a woman (above).
There are rare exemplars of the classic "dragon" robes, including a brown version tailored for a woman (above).ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Toshi Reagon (with actress Shayna Small)
Toshi Reagon (with actress Shayna Small)PHOTO: ARTS HOUSE LIMITED
Sharul Channa
Sharul ChannaPHOTO: AWARE
Hand-drawn map of Kampong Gelam neighbourhood.
Hand-drawn map of Kampong Gelam neighbourhood.ST FILE PHOTO


The new galleries at the Asian Civilisations Museum were barely opened before the circuit breaker kicked in.

Now that the museum is open again, time to make a beeline for the new Fashion And Textiles gallery.

The opening exhibition tracks the collision of globalisation, fashion and politics in the form of 40 outfits spanning the Qing dynasty and the Republican era. There are rare exemplars of the classic "dragon" robes, including a brown version tailored for a woman.

Look out, too, for a lavish lavender robe that might have been sported by Empress Cixi, embroidered with her favourite motifs of chrysanthemums and the character "shou" for longevity.

The much-overlooked Republican era marked a revolution in women's fashion and social-economic status that can be seen in something as innocuous as a pair of leather shoes for bound feet. Bound feet were a benighted social practice outlawed in Republican China, but leather was a newfangled fashion choice for women. The changing silhouettes of clothes, rising hemlines and more shapely tops that eventually led to the figure-hugging qipao, tracked the increasing cosmopolitanism of city dwellers, who took cues from Western fashion, but adapted it to suit Chinese tastes.

The Jewellery gallery is also worth a good gander as the displays challenge contemporary notions of value. One might scoff at the idea of beads, feathers and animal teeth as valuable, but context is everything.

As everyone has come to realise with the suspension of global traffic during the pandemic, value increases as objects become more inaccessible. Items such as beads, textile and assorted animal bits once had to travel far, hence their value.

WHERE: Asian Civilisations Museum, 1 Empress Place WHEN: 10am to 7pm daily, till 9pm on Fridays ADMISSION: Free for Singapore citizens and permanent residents INFO:


African-American author Octavia Butler would have turned 73 on Monday. And two women deeply immersed in her work have launched a podcast called Octavia's Parables, which will explore two of Butler's stories - Parable Of The Sower and Parable Of The Talents.

The hosts are the inimitable Toshi Reagon (with actress Shayna Small), the talented singer-songwriter whose opera adaptation of Parable Of The Sower came to the 2017 Singapore International Festival of the Arts; and activist Adrienne Maree Brown, who co-edited Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories From Social Justice Movements. The plan is to cover one chapter a week, summarise key points and relate it to contemporary events as well as posing key questions for listeners.

This is the perfect opportunity to do a deep dive into Butler's works, which explore gender and racial issues in the guise of science-fiction tropes. The bonus is that Reagon's gorgeous music will be threaded through the series.

This is one pathway to understanding #BlackLivesMatter, although the hosts say in the first episode that the first few podcasts were recorded before the pandemic and the civil unrest sparked by the death of African-American George Floyd. From episode seven, Reagan promises, current affairs will provide context for the discussions.



Actress Sharul Channa is reprising her excellent monologue for Aware on Sunday.

The English-language version was first staged at the Drama Box in early March and then reprised on the Zoom platform during the circuit breaker period. This latest incarnation is in Hindi and there was a version in Tamil earlier this week.

Channa plays Savitri, a 68-year-old woman who has spent more than a decade caring for her elderly mother and is now dealing with depleted resources in her golden years.

Channa's socially conscious script tackles heavyweight issues, but delivers them with a light touch. It helps that Channa is an engaging performer who invests Savitri with relatable auntie-next-door charm.

Along the way, she highlights very real issues confronting women, especially singles, who often bear the brunt of caregiving in Asian families.

There will be a panel discussion after the show with an Aware member and a caregiver. If the earlier English version is anything to go by, this will prove a thought-provoking virtual tete-a-tete.

WHERE: Zoom platform WHEN: Sunday, 8pm ADMISSION: Pay as you wish INFO:


This retrospective dedicated to Latiff Mohidin, Malaysian renaissance man, was another victim of the abrupt circuit breaker closure.

The National Gallery Singapore co-curated this show with France's Centre Pompidou in 2018 as the latter venue's first solo show dedicated to a South-east Asian artist.

The gallery has tweaked the exhibition for Singapore, adding a new section which addresses the artist's seminal childhood years spent in Singapore.

There are works which were created here, when Latiff was growing up in the Kampong Gelam area in the 1950s. Look out for a charming hand-drawn map of the area on display, complete with annotations for the artist's favourite nasi rawon shop and where he would watch wayang.

The exhibition also includes the 78-year-old's famous pagoda-themed paintings - from the earliest example to later evolutions.

WHERE: National Gallery Singapore, 1 St Andrew's Road WHEN: Till Sept 27, Mondays to Sundays, 10am to 7pm ADMISSION: Free for Singapore citizens and permanent residents, free admission for foreigners till July 31 INFO:

This article has been edited for clarity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2020, with the headline 'Arts Picks'. Subscribe