Must We Decolonise the Museum? Sacred and Ritual Art and the Raffles Collection in Singapore

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Virtual Event
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About this event

Unravelling the legacies of colonialism is a pertinent question for Singaporeans today, as public response to the nationwide Bicentennial in 2019 made clear.

The Asian Civilisations Museum, established by a government-appointed task force 30 years after Singapore’s independence from Britain, inherited the “ethnology” collection of the 19th-century Raffles Library and Museum, as well as archaeological material from the Malay World, notably Hindu and Buddhist objects excavated from Bujang Valley, on the Malay Peninsula, by H. G. Quaritch Wales in the 1930s. ACM continues to acquire art and material culture to fulfil its mission to “foster understanding of the diverse heritage cultures of Singapore, their interconnections, and their connections with the world”.

In this talk, two ACM curators consider how decoloniality might take shape at the museum, with a focus on curatorial and exhibition practices, past and present. How were the collections and displays of the Raffles Museum – which incorporated antiquarian interest in Hindu-Buddhist traces, ethnographic collecting in regional communities, contemporary local arts and crafts, natural history, and finds from prehistoric archaeological expeditions – used to construct an image of British Malaya and its people?

And with the transition from colonial institution to national museum housing the multicultural memories of newly created Singapore citizens, how much of the task of questioning the structures of colonial knowledge is now left for us to do?

This event is part of the Decolonising Curating and the Museum in Southeast Asia lecture series.

Event recording

About the speakers

Conan Cheong is Curator for Southeast Asia at ACM, specialising in Buddhist and Hindu art. He received an MA in Art History and Archaeology under the Alphawood Scholarships at SOAS University of London in 2018. At ACM since 2013, he most recently curated Living with Ink: The Collection of Dr Tan Tsze Chor (2019) and Fashionable in Asia (2021).

Muhammad Faisal Husni is Assistant Curator for Island Southeast Asia at ACM. He holds an MA (Research) from the School of Art, Design and Media, Nanyang Technological University. His research interests include multi-religious and multicultural heritage and spaces of worship, as well as religious art and traditions of Southeast Asia, with a focus on keramat graves in Singapore and the Malay World.

Sujatha Arundathi Meegama is Assistant Professor of Art History at Nanyang Technological University (NTU). She trained at Temple University Japan, Stanford University, and the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to joining NTU, she worked at the Art Institute of Chicago. She is the editor of Sri Lanka: Connected Art Histories (Mumbai, 2017) and has published articles in Artibus Asiae and Archives of Asian Art . Currently, she is completing a book manuscript on the transnational Dravida tradition of architecture in the Indian Ocean.


  • Organisers: SOAS Centre of South East Asian Studies and SOAS Southeast Asian Art Academic Programme
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