Upon entering the Modern Colony gallery, I was at first struck by the absence of plastics which are ubiquitous in today’s world. Also prominent was the elaborate, nature-inspired ornamentations incorporated into the designs of that era (1920s to 1930s). As we went through the displays accompanied by descriptions, we learnt that Europeans styles (e.g. Victorian, Art Nouveau) as well as their cultures were brought in through shipping, trading and the British colonial rule. The possession of these “modern” Western items were enabled by wealth and status.
Cloth surfaces heavily feature illustrative and meticulous details (e.g. cross-stitch, embroidery), with the usage of motifs, floral patterns, lace trimmings, etc. Materials such as European, Chinese and Japanese silk damasks, lawn and satin distinguished the various classes in society. A shoe embellished with gold thread and sequins can be contrasted with the simple black ones worn by domestic servants.
Metal surfaces also feature floral patterns which are usually embossed or printed on. Functional casings (containing wax or soaps) were observed to be made from tin, while decorative items (like cutleries, vanity sets, and mesh purses) were made of silver. Gramophones and sewing machines also utilised the durability and strength of metal.
Wood also tend to be decorated elaborately as exampled by the mother of pearl inlays on a teakwood vanity box and the intricately carved details on tables and chairs. It was often used to make supports, boxes or furniture. The choice of wood (e.g. teak, mahogany, bamboo) reflects the materials easily found in those times. As for ceramics, floral ornamentations were incorporated unto the surfaces as well.
The gallery gave us a glimpse into the lifestyles of the past, the origins of a particular surface and technologies available in those times. It also triggers thoughts about the values and stories each item possess. Some items were also a hybrid of both Western and Eastern cultures (e.g. cocktail shaker with dragon motifs, auspicious engravings). We can further appreciate the surfaces we see presently, and to dwell on how it reflects the current society.