Last Words.

I generally do not like art history. I generally do not like academia. I prefer to focus on the now.

But I’ve truly and genuinely enjoyed this class. I’ve learnt so much about how the east meets the west in art.

I remember Ms Sujatha’s parting words… to remember about Paris, and other tragedies that happened on Friday the 13th.

And I completely agree with what she said about how we have become so Westernised, and how colonialism still applies even today. Paris was attacked. And very quickly and virally a hashtag was created: #prayforparis.

But Beirut was also a victim of terror attacks… and yet no one has #prayforbeirut.

Faith in humanity though, there’s still a #prayfortheworld.

No matter what people tell me, I see westernisation everywhere. And isn’t it still a kind of colonialisation?

It’s as if we can never be rid of the western influences anymore.


I had fun the semester learning about art and issues in colonialism. I really really did. I never even fell asleep in class, no matter how tired I was. I couldn’t help it. It was just too interesting.

Until next time <3

Reflections: Port Singapore.


First off, huge shout out to Team 6. They’ve been the bestest group ever, and we’ve had the craziest time together. I think we really trusted each other and that helped with our project.

I wish we had photos of the making process, but when you’re working on zero sleep for 48 hours, it’s hard to remember things like that.

I am oddly pleased with my copper coins since I hand made them and painted them.

Also, I like the clean style of the exhibit, although now I think maybe black walls would have been a truer representation of what a museum would be like.

Since our items were so different from one another, we had to find a way to curate our exhibition such that it made sense. As Kimberly mentioned in class, our proposal was on the verge of becoming 4 separate exhibits.

I feel that the key takeaway from this little project is that it’s a lot harder to curate than one would think. There needs to be an overarching idea, a little something that brings all the items together, for a successful exhibition.

I feel that it’s not just “how the exhibition looks” that makes it successful. There are many “traditional” museums and exhibitions that do not decorate the area, choosing instead to focus on the art pieces itself.

I think that our exhibition has been a unique twist on the traditional museum, being minimalistic in architecture, but also incorporating many digital formats.

Islamic Art Conference at ADM

I’ll be honest. Being raised in a strict Christian family, I know very little about Islamism.

Several bad experiences with some Malay classmates as a child definitely does not help.

I’m quite close minded about Islam. I know nothing about it. And I do not have any desire to learn more about it.

Nonetheless, I tried. I went for a lecture.
Companionable Objects, Companionable Conscience: Ethical Pleasure, Islamic Art, and the Making of Happy Objects by Kenneth George.

I couldn’t understand most of the lecture. Jargon was used, and definitions were not defined. I remember one key thing. That happiness is “sticky”. Although how I never really figured out.

Another thing that stuck to me was how people interpret the artworks differently.

There was one performance art mentioned (unfortunately I do not remember the name or the artist), where the artist calligraphed on plates and smashed them. I thought that this represented liberation. But apparently the artist was criticised for being offensive and hurtful.

There was another instance that stood out to me. How artists were criticised for “decorating” their calligraphies, and thus “defacing” them. Even though these artworks were done in “happiness”, or to obtain “happiness”, not everyone feels the same way.

It just goes to show that haters will hate and you can’t please the whole world.

Despite me not taking away very much from the lecture, I do believe that I have been affected by it deep down. I’ve been carrying around the CIADA2015 totebag, and every now and then I look at the quote.

“Where and how does the north meet the east?”

And I wonder.

This might just be my first step into understanding islam a little more.

Week 8: Trip to ACM

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I don’t know why, but the broken ceramic pieces were calling out my name.

I think it’s just my personality and aesthetics to be drawn to the mundane and unloved.

I feel like each broken piece of pottery and ceramic has a story behind it. And each piece is trying to tell us something about it’s journey. Even the tour guide merely mentioned the broken ceramics as a passing remark.

The key thing that really piqued my interest was the white-blue ceramic pieces. I was wondering what kind of white-blue ceramics were they, and if there was any chance that they were Chinoiserie works?

Well, long story short, they were made long before the Chinoiserie movement, so they probably aren’t.

Nonetheless, when I look at these broken ceramic pieces, a hundred questions run through my mind.

Why aren’t they shiny? Is this a sign that they are not top-notch luxury items? Or are they actually top-notch luxury items and they don’t shine because of water damage? Is this blue considered vibrant or faded? Was this a regular rice bowl that the traders ate with? Or was this precious cargo that was mishandled during transportation? Was this even during the period where white-blue ceramics were considered valuable?

I remember a time when I could not appreciate white-blue ceramics… I see them all the time in my kitchen!

Yet, something really called out to me in these pieces.

Maybe its the delicate floral pattern depicted?

It might be. On closer inspection, I do quite like the patterns on these pieces… The diagonal lines contrasted with organic floral, leaves and vines… The individual pieces balancing white and blue, how some of the pieces were more white than blue, and others were more blue than white.

I personally find it hard to believe that this was merely a rice bowl. I find it too pretty.

I just feel that there is more than meets the eye.

Week 7: Chinoiserie? Japonaiserie?

Before I write my reflections of Chinoiserie or Japonaiserie… I am suddenly reminded of this incredibly terrible song that I love.

But all the songs I love are terrible.

I was never quite able to comprehend anything in this video. I couldn’t quite place my finger on whether it was meant to be Chinese inspired, Japanese inspired, or even Southeast-Asian inspired.

Well now I know it’s called Chinoiserie. Good lord.

No disrespect to Chinoiserie art, but as a Chinese who has grown up watching various historical and fictional dramas of ancient China, I cannot take this video seriously due to it’s incredible appropriation.

Also, bad acting is bad. And hilarious.

I appreciate both Chinese art and Japanese art…
And both Chinoiserie art and Japonaiserie art are gorgeous.

But when I compare Japanese art and Japonaiserie art, I feel a little critical of the way the subtleties of Japanese art are often lost.

Japonaiserie art is far more grandoise and extravagant compared to the almost minimalistic aesthetics of Japanese art. Especially in the woodblock prints.

Plum Park in Kameido (1857) by Hiroshige
Flowering Plum Tree (after Hiroshige) (1887) by Vincent Van Gogh

Both prints are gorgeous in their own way, and neither is strictly “better” than the other. It just happens to be a matter of tastes. And I just happen to appreciate more subtle art. I like the choice of colours in the original print by Hiroshige, along with the soft gradients in the branches of the trees. On the other hand, the Van Gogh creates a dynamic interpretation of the Flowering Plum Tree with his choice of Vermillion and Yellow-Greens. I cannot emphasise on how both are gorgeous works of art, and that I love them both, but that it is simply a matter of personal preferences and of artistic choice.

That being said, I do genuinely appreciate Chinoiserie a little more than its Japanese counterpart.

Personally, my family has a couple of Chinese Ink and Watercolour scrolls of cranes, commissioned from China, and also a few Chinese paintings hung up in my grandmother’s home. On top of that, we have buddhist idols on the alter (my grandmother is buddhist), and a single Chinese(?) vase in the shape of a koi.

As a child, I loved the watercolour scrolls. They were so delicate, so Chinese, and yet not overwhelming. The thick brushstrokes balanced perfectly with the few dashes of colour on the cranes.

On the other hand, I always felt that the statues in my grandmother’s home were too brightly coloured, and too detailed. There were too many embellishments, too many colours. I liked the gentle curves of the statues, but since they were for prayer, I couldn’t touch them.

In many ways, Chinese culture and art has always been a love-hate relationship for me. I liked the ancient Chinese dress-sense, in long flowing gowns and robes… but I didn’t quite like the Manchu garments. The style changes so much, I can only like certain aspects of it.

A fanciful view of a Chinese garden by the French painter François Boucher (1742)
Wallpaper on canvas, handpainted with chinoiserie ornaments, from the museum Geelvinck-Hinlopen Huis

Strangely and surprisingly, I have quite enjoyed the Chinoiserie art that I’ve seen so far. I like the delicate blend of western elements and Chinese elements in the art works. I appreciate how the most subtle of the Chinese art has been extracted and worked on, rather than blatant copying and appropriation of the art. I also enjoy how the art has been interpreted, creating a whimsical fantasy and dreamlike impression of what China was like. To be honest, it isn’t quite far from the fleeting fantasies of ancient China that I myself imagine.

I would probably like to decorate my room with the wallpaper above, probably sparingly as too much can become distasteful. I like how the base colour of the wallpaper is a simple, clean white, while it is embellished with pastel pinks, blues and green that glisten and reflect light. I’d probably have a couple of paintings if I could afford it. I’d like them to be of Chinese gardens and couples in love, because the Chinese do tell fabulous love stories.

I might even like a single porcelain jar.

Baby’s bottle in Medici porcelain. Soft Paste Porcelain, ca. 1575–87.

I know that this is a picture of a Baby’s bottle, but I do like the prints on it. White and blue, clearly inspired by Chinese porcelain, but the patterns are not quite Chinese and contain european influences of an almost rococo-style.

(I actually like rococo art. Is that why Chinoiserie appeals to me so much? The only thing that I don’t quite like about rococo is how it’s “too much”. I like the curves and the leaves and floral embellishments, but quantity is not quality. In my room, I’d like to have a few intricately made furniture, and the rest of a more tone-down style. Tee hee c:  I kind of enjoyed this question a lot.)

Week 6: Family Potraits

I’m not in the picture, but it’s a picture of my family.

Most of our family portraits these days are around a dining table of sorts… usually after lunch or dinner. They also happen to have less than the full family in them. Sometimes some of my cousins aren’t present, other times a whole family is missing.

Our family portraits these days are meant to be a celebration of the extended family getting together. Surprisingly, it’s not easy getting the family together, even for a simple dinner. Especially not with the young un’s in their 20s, running around, going out with friends instead of their family.

I’ll be honest, I get really mad when my cousins don’t turn up for family dinners… especially because of something dumb like “went out with friends”. Who knows how much longer our grandmother has? I don’t think anyone has fully comprehended loss.

My grandparents’ home has a bunch of portraits hung up on the wall. Similar to the ancestral pictures in the Paranakan homes, but instead the photos are photos of my aunts and uncles in their graduation gowns. Now I’m just waiting for proper portraits of my cousins to be put up on the wall.


The above picture is Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe de la Famille Soler, 1903 (oil on canvas), painted by Picasso, Pablo (1881-1973).

I like this painting as it’s interesting how it uses bright colours, depicting a family at an apparent picnic, posing for a picture. You can sense the happiness in the family, even if they aren’t smiling widely. Also, considering this is actually a painting by Picasso, it isn’t in his “signature” style, since it was made before he started experimenting with cubism. This is a painting that was commissioned by the family portrayed as payment for clothing.

I think it’s interesting how it would appear that the key elements of what family portraits are remain mostly the same from the past until today. They are essentially a form of note-taking, a way that people make their mark in the world… a sort of “proof” to say “I was here, I did this, don’t forget me”. At the core of everything, they are made so that we can look back and remember and feel nostalgic.

Or, like I said, maybe it’s just a form of “proof”. After all, the existence of photographs and paintings of families are the only way we even know that they ever existed today. Likewise, people in the future will probably stalk our facebooks and instagrams and make judgements about who we were based of our photos.

Week 5: Labor in Art

So this was the week where my group did a presentation on Samsui women.

I did quite a bit on research on the Samsui women, and noticed that most art pieces celebrating their hard work, focusing on the suffering they went through. With the exception one artist, most artworks I’ve found on Samsui women are sombre and serious.

Patrick Teo portrays Samsui women in joyful expressions, using bright colours and bold paint strokes to celebrate them.

Although, I do wonder if Teo ever knew the Samsui women personally, or if he has ever met them. I wonder if he ever knew them personally to know “the happier side” that he wanted to portray.

I find it interesting that art pieces of Samsui women are mostly in celebration, or in remembrance. Modern art today of other forms of servitude (domestic helpers, labourer, etc.) seem to focus more on bringing to light their social plight and the issues they face, and not so much of “celebrating” them. Maybe its because Samsui women are now a thing of the past? Do people feel that there is no point digging up dirt from the past?

Speaking of the past, I remember one of our classmates mentioning something about Samsui women, now old and probably living happily with their families. I never got to mention it during the presentation, but actually, many Samsui women never got married, some continued to remit money to a family in China they never heard back from… So maybe they didn’t even have any existing family left.

Some were able to go back to their hometowns with help from of various organisations such as the Sam Shui Wai Kuan Association before they died. Others remained in Singapore, many living on their own in one room flats.


The woman in this video was the oldest Samsui woman at that time. Sadly, she passed on several later after a fall.  She needed to be hospitalised, but because she was unwilling to burden her family, she committed suicide. Her self-sacrificial act is characteristic of typical Samsui independence (and reported stubbornness).

Even tho the Samsui women had it tough, I really respect their will power and their strength. Especially for the woman in the above video. Despite how her situation is clearly not ideal, she greets the camera with a smile and laughter.

After this presentation and all the research done with it, it really makes me wonder… Was there really a “happy” side to the Samsui women? Or is it just how they viewed life? Their own inner strength?

Well, in other casual news, there was actually a whole TV-series portraying the life of Samsui women, and this was considered one of the best dramas produced by Singapore. It can be watched on Youtube! I watched one episode as part of my research, and its really good. It explores the life of Samsui women during and after their prime.

Also, there’s a chinese restaurant called Soup Restaurant, and its signature dish is “Samsui Ginger Chicken”, a kind of chilled steamed chicken dish, served with ginger sauce. It’s actually really nice and my family really enjoys eating at this restaurant.

Week 3: Female Patrons of the Arts

I’m not sure why, but when I think “Female Patron of Arts”, I think of Queen Cleopatra. Although maybe being a queen receiving gifts isn’t really considered a “patron”? Anyway, I wasn’t able to find any actual evidence of Cleopatra being a patron of the arts.

I would have thought that females were the main patrons of art. Maybe it’s because my parents do like buying paintings to decorate the house with. From my experience, the women in my family appreciate buying art more than the men.

A quick google suggests that the norm in the past was otherwise.

Now thinking about it, it does make sense considering the social stigma against women in the past. Also, considering that it has been pretty much a patriarchal society where the men control the finances, it would be hard for women to dabble in such an expensive “hobby”.

Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, daughter of the Emir of Qatar, is one of the most influential female art patrons of today. She is said to have bought the most expensive painting int the world, Paul Gaugin’s When Will You Marry? in 2015 for $300 million. Other art works she has bought include Cezanne’s The Card Players in 2012 for $250 million, as well as Mark Rothko’s White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose) in 2007 for $70 million, and a Damien Hirst pill cabinet for $20 million. She is also in possession of various works by Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Francis Bacon.

On a personal level, I do not always understand the price tag on art works. To me, buying and collecting art is like a form of investment, holding on to the piece and then selling it for a much higher price in the future. On the other hand, I like museums. I like how they make art works accessible to the general public. Sometimes I grumble when I see nice art pieces, search up for them and see them labelled under “Private Collection”. I get so jealous and envious that I could probably never see these art pieces in real life.

Team 6: Catalogue, Wall Text, Item Label (Draft 2)

For easy references. Draft 2.


Chinese Copper Coins


Chinese Copper Coins
Singapore (Temasek), 14th – 15th century
Currently in the possession of NUS museum

Excavated from Fort-canning Park, Empress Place, and Singapore River, these ancient coins originated from ancient China. They were the ancient currency of Singapore and were used in trade when the Chinese came to Singapore. Archaeologist Lim Chen Sian once jokingly referred to these coins, saying, “Why bother to produce copper coins when you can get them from China?


The origins of these coins vary between several dynasties, suggesting that well-established trade had been on-going between Singapore and China long before the British colonised Singapore.


Previous and later excavations have revealed coins originating from other countries, including Sri Lanka and Indonesia. This discovery further supports the theory that Temasek was once a boisterous and successful trading port during the 14th century and was well-connected to the countries around her.


[edited for grammar]
It is interesting to note that from current evidence, it would appear that Temasek was engaged in trade mostly within Southeast Asia, and with China.

Wall Poster: Ancient Chinese Coins and Temasek’s Trade with China


While a large number of ancient Chinese copper coins have been recovered from recent excavations in Singapore, we still know very little about them as they are still being studied and analyzed. However, this is still a huge discovery to Singapore’s history.


Although most Singaporeans are familiar with Sang Nila Utama, supposed founder of Singapura, he is often dismissed as part of a legend and myth, deemed as mere fiction and not history. This is partly due to the over exaggerated nature of the story of Singapura’s founding, and partly due to the fact that lions (, the namesake of Singapura,) have never existed in Southeast Asia, and thus throws the story’s credibility in doubt. Thus, most of the credit of founding Singapore is attributed to Sir Stamford Raffles instead. Singapura is then perceived to have been a “sleepy fishing village” before the British colonialism.


However, a small number of records speak of Temasek, an urban city of its time, teeming with trade. According to the legend, Temasek was the name of Singapore, before it was named Singapura. With the discovery of these ancient currencies and other aretfacts, it slowly becomes evident that Singapura was indeed bustling with trade, even before the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles.

As we wait for more in-depth analysis of these coins to be completed, we can still derive much information from these coins. There are a variety of coins, each originating from a different dynasty. Current research suggests that the coins originate from the Tang dynasty, Jin dynasty, Song dynasty and Yuan dynasty of China. The existence of these coins suggest that the Chinese have set foot in Singapura, and that they brought money with them, presumably for trade. Also, considering the large number of coins that were preserved until now, it implies that there were a lot of these currency going around Singapura. Furthermore, seeing that these coins span across dynasties, we can tell that trade in Singapura was well-established, stretching across time.


The distance between Singapore and China is considerable, and with the amount of evidence of trade with the Chinese, we can estimate a large amount of interaction between Singapura and China. Such large amounts of prolonged interaction is not by coincidence, but rather suggests a deliberate effort of the Chinese to travel down to Singapore, carrying their goods and money with them. All these evidence point towards the existence of Temasek, the bustling trading port of ancient Singpura. Even though there are few records of Temasek, it is interesting to note that Chinese records acknowledge that Sang Nila Utama was the ruler of Singapura, suggesting that China had relations with Singpura at that time.

Catalogue: Ancient Chinese Copper Coins


Catalogue: Ancient Chinese Copper Coins


Recently, intense excavations have been carried out by a small team of four in Singapore. From their excavations, the team recovered several tonnes of priceless artefacts, datable back to the 14th century. This discovery has been an important one to the history of Singapore, especially as Singapore’s government has little to no focus on archaeology in Singapore. Due to Singapore’s lack of focus on archaeology, land in Singapore has been extensively developed, disturbing the soil beneath, and damaging, if not destroying, any possible artefacts that lay buried. Thus, these excavations have been regarded as great successes for merely being able to reach an undisturbed layer of soil, let alone for the amount of artefacts that were recovered.


The excavation sites, Empress Place and Fort Canning Park are both thought to be prime areas in the past. Empress Place was the location of a thriving port along the Singapore River, while Fort Canning Park is thought to have had a royal palace on its summit. Both sites have revealed a sizeable number of artefacts and evidence for the claim that Singapura was once a thriving port-city, even before the arrival of the British.


From Fort Canning Park alone, a number of luxury and exotic good were uncovered, revealing that there was an elite class that lived on the hill during the 14th Century. Amongst these artefacts, exquisite Chinese ceramics, Indian glass beads and gold ornaments have been recovered. Nearer the foot of the hill, artefacts uncovered were of lower grade and quality, further suggesting that while the elite stayed on the summit of Fort Canning Park, the middle-class men stayer at the foot. Not only that, but the presence of exotic goods are evidence of trade during the 14th Century.


From Empress Place, around 400 kilograms worth of artefacts were recovered in Febuary 2015 alone, including artefacts of earthenware, animal figurines and rare Buddhist figurines. Much of the artefacts recovered are broken ceramic shards, hinting that they were literally trash of the 14th century. Archaeologist Lim Chen Sian suggests that the area was possibly a bazaar or marketplace, saying that it was unlikely that there would so much trash if it were a residential zone.


Ancient Chinese copper coins were also recovered from Empress Place. The origins of these coins vary, and research has suggested that they originate from the Tang dynasty, Jin dynasty, Song dynasty and Yuan dynasty in China. These coins are evidence that the Chinese have travelled from China to Singapura, and that they brought money while travelling down to Singapura. On top of this, the existence of different coins across different dynasties suggest that this practice was a prolonged one and that it was a continuous practice to travel down to Singapura to do trade. With recent excavations revealing the sheer amount of coins preserved, it would not be a stretch to suggest that trade was very well-established and boisterous during the 14th century. This is especially so considering that much of these ancient coins probably no longer exist, since there have been artefacts uncovered of copper coins partially melted by heat. This possibly indicates a practice of recycling copper coins, melting them and using them instead as materials instead.


It would have taken tremendous effort for the Chinese to travel down from China to Singapura, so it could be suggested that Singapura had something extremely desirable for China. However, modern day Singapore is a small island city, surrounded by waters, with little to no natural resources. Ancient Singapura would likely face this very same problem of minimal natural resources. Taking into account of previously mentioned artefacts of Indian glass beads and other exotic goods, it is most likely that the Chinese came down to Singapura for its trading ports, and to trade with other countries that stoppped by.


Other ancient coins originating from other countries have also been excavated from Singapore, including a Kupang(Indonesian) coin. Coins from Sri Lanka have also been found. These evidences suggest that Singapura’s trade was mostly within Southeast Asia, and with China and India. Although Singapura’s trade was well-established, they had little to no contact with the European countries during that time.


Considering that serious excavations have only just started in Singapore, it is very likely that much of the information we have of Singapura now is still limited and on the surface. With further excavations, we will probably have greater insights into Singapore before colonialism, and we will get a clearer picture of what ancient Singapura the trading port was like.




Archaeological dig at Singapore’s Empress Place uncovers tonnes of artefacts. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2015, from

Archaeologists find 700-year-old relics at Empress Place. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2015, from

Archaeology of the “Forbidden Hill” – Singapore History. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2015, from

Dig into past at Empress Place uncovers 700-year-old artefacts. (2015, February 13). Retrieved November 16, 2015, from

Digging up Singapore’s history. (2015, February 20). Retrieved November 16, 2015, from

Empress Place dig yields ‘excavation jackpot’ with 2.5 tonnes of artefacts. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2015, from

Southeast Asian Archaeology :: Archaeology in Singapore :: Fort Canning. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2015, from

Southeast Asian Archaeology :: Archaeology in Singapore :: Padang. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2015, from

What was Singapore LiKE before 1819? – Infogram, charts & infographics. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2015, from

World of Temasek. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2015, from

World of Temasek. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2015, from

Team 6 : Coins from the Temasek Port

During the trip to NUS Museum, a coin caught my eye. This was a coin that was excavated from Singapore Fort-canning Park. After discussion with my team, we agreed that it would be very interesting to do Singapore’s monetary system during temasek.

In my research, I found that most of the coins used in Singapore during the Temasek period are ancient copper coins from the Song and Yuan dynasty. However, there have also been coins from Sri Lanka and Kupang (Indonesia) that have been excavated.

Nonetheless, I will be using Chinese copper coins for my exhibition..

Chinese Copper Coins


Chinese Copper Coins
Singapore (Temasek), 14th – 15th century

Excavated from Fort-canning Park, Empress Place, and Singapore River. These ancient coins originated from Song and Yuan dynasty in China. These coins were the ancient currency of Singapore, used in trade when the Chinese came to Singapore.

Poster Draft 

As intense excavations are carried out in Singapore, various artefacts from before Singapore was colonised by the British were uncovered. Amongst these artefacts, numerous ancient Chinese copper coins were found.

The origins of these coins stretch from the Song dynasty to the Yuan dynasty, suggesting that well-established trade has been on-going between Singapore and China long before the British colonised Singapore.