We were at the Asian Civilisations Museum yesterday, marking my second visit to the museum at Empress Place. Currently they have an exhibition that showcases the mobile tents and shelters of Asian nomads.
From my first visit to the museum, I remember it as being both visually and structurally appealing. The exhibits and artefacts sprawl three levels, with many stations that play videos pertaining to the exhibits. There was even a video projection on the floor that I thought was rather creative!
Moving on to the artefacts, I used to think that ancient Chinese emperors wore only yellow garments. But there was a particular cloak, adorned with clouds and dragons, in snow white colour! It looked huge too.
This monumental Buddha was missing its torso. It came from the 1368-1644 time period.
The porcelain ewer, or pitcher, came from the yuan period (1279-1368). It was beautifully crafted and incised with Chinese characters, 天下太平 (world peace). I like it a lot! Despite being so old, it was in pristine condition. With the four decorative holes, how it held any tea or wine is beyond my grasp.
Due to its multiple arms, we thought this guanyin (goddess of mercy) statue from North vietnam looked more like a fusion of Buddhism and Hinduism.
This book that originates from North sumatra in Indonesia contains text that is every bit as potent as it looks. It has magical spells, oracles, medicinal recipes, and instructions for performing rituals and various magic cures. Sounds like pretty lethal stuff!
Moving on, the museum has a huge section dedicated to qur’ans. They come in all forms and sizes and a wide range of colours.
My favourite is this 12th century qur’an from North Africa. The calligraphy is written in gold, and has somehow survived over the centuries. The gold still looks shiny and new! The letters have been accented in dark brown ink to make them more legible.
The script on this qur’an section is also written in gold, and enclosed within cloud designs.
Even more impressive is this particular qur’an manuscript. Instead of being written, the calligraphy has been painstakingly cut out! The aim is to make the cut-off resemble the calligrapher’s handwriting exactly, and requires great skill and precision.
The asma’ al-husna (ninety-nine names of Allah) is considered a source of blessing. Each one has been written onto the centre of a page, and adorned with colourful geometric designs.
This marble tombstone comes from the 9th century. It has been elaborately engraved with Islamic wordings, although elaborate tombstones are traditionally frowned upon.
“All that is gold does not glitter; not all those that wander are lost.”
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
The exhibition showcases the dwellings of nomads from central and West Asia.
Mongol people were expert horsemen trained to ride from young age. Perhaps the most famous of them all would be Genghis Khan. The mongol yurt is called a ger (pronounced “gair”). At its centre is where the stove would be typically located. The back of the yurt is reserved for the most respected or eldest person.
Funnily enough, the Turkish tent does not appear to have any sort of covering over the front, like anyone is free to waltz into the tent any time! It looks as though it can be set up within five minutes.
The turkmen yurt, called the oy, looks the best out of the group. The new ones are called aq oy (white tent) when the felt mats are still clean and white. Eventually they turn black from the smoke of the fire burning within the yurt, and these old tents are then called qara oy (black tent). How cute!
The walls of the yurt are covered with panels of bamboo screens. The entrance is beautifully decorated with multi-coloured woven bands embroidered in different patterns. Within the yurt, there are three sections — one for the women (with the baby cradle, cooking utensils and such), one for the men(with ropes and weapons), and a place of honour that faces the entrance.
Overall, I was largely disappointed by the scale of this exhibition. I had fully expected a huge array of tents that come in various sizes, materials and colours, with different functionalities and perhaps the ways they have changed over the centuries. But there were perhaps just three or four noteworthy tents. The modern tent on loan from NUS’ sports society doesn’t count! For an exhibition spanning three months, it was one of extremely small scale.