Hope & Beauty at the Asian Civilizations Museum

We’re all looking for granules of hope in these weary times, and Singapore’s Asian Civilizations Museum has created a whole world of solace in its newest exhibition: “Faith Beauty Love Hope — Our Stories, Your ACM.”

Seated Buddha, Myanmar, 18th Century

For this exhibit, the museum asked all sorts of museum affiliates — from curators and managers to docents and the head of security — to pick a favorite piece from the collection. Then they asked the person making the selection to tell a story about whey they chose the particular object. To start the exhibit, you are invited by one of the museum’s project managers (quoting e.e. cummings) to “…listen, there’s a hell of a good universe next door; let’s go.”

Doors, India, late 18th century

Objects in this exhibit run the gamut, reflecting the very personal ways in which we connect with art. And people chose objects for this exhibit for all sorts of reasons. Their stories speak of glee and beauty …

Sarimanok (mythical bird), Philippines, early 20th century

… of grief and mourning …

Head of a casket, central Borneo, early 20th century

… of beauty and tranquility …

Good Shepherd, India, 17th century

… of strength and softness …

Bamboos and Peach Blossoms by Xu Beihong, China, early or mid-20th century

… of love and understanding …

Gulistan (Rose Garden), Iran, Safavid period (17th century)

… of harmony and resilience …

Dayak shield, Borneo, early 20th century

… and of wonder, mystery, and adventure:

Keyaba, Penang, mid-20th century & Sarong, Java, late 19th century

Some individuals selected pieces purely for their artistry, such as this elegant balance of text and form …

Bird Calligram by Yusuf Chen Jinhui, China, 1996

… this ceramic look-alike (it’s actually a copper bowl from 18th-century China)…

… and this remarkable jade carving:

Some museum affiliates chose everyday objects …

Hotpot, China, Qing Dynasty (18th century)

… while others went for pure extravagance:

Turban ornament, India, around 1850

While most of the objects in this museum were chosen for deeply individual reasons, there is one that is directly related to our current pandemic: this beaded crest, made by the mother of Wu Lien Teh (the father of modern healthcare in China) when he was at medical school in the late 1890s. Wu went on to advocate the use of masks during a pneumonic plague epidemic in Manchuria and to chair an International Plague Conference.

Other objects evoke broader historical connections to ancestors and people across space and time, including this bowl with a makara (a sea monster!) from 830s China, an astrolabe from 18th century Iran, a bronze ritual food vessel from 10th century China …

… and this presentation scene from an Akbarnama:

India, Mughal Empire, around 1595

Finally, for a bit of levity — and relief — there’s a rubber duck! This little guy won the “Million Dollar Duck Race,” a charity race down the Singapore River, in 2002:

The good news is that these are all pieces from the museum’s permanent collection — so if you miss them in this exhibit, you’ll still be able to see them later!

Far more fleeting is the “Perfect Stranger” exhibit by contemporary artist Dawn Ng.

For this piece, Ng worked with Israeli psychologist Zehavit Efrati. Every day for one year, Efrati asked Ng asked a single question, and this is a collection of her responses. It’s fascinating, thought-provoking, and fun in turns.

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