ACM = ASIAN CULTURE & MUSIC: a festival of traditional performing arts by the Singapore River

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Traditional Burmese puppetry – Asian intangible cultural heritage in need of preservation.

This past weekend, without much fanfare, the first programming series I initiated as Director of Asian Civilisations Museum kicked in. This is the Asian Culture & Music, or ACM Series – kudos to my Audience Team for the clever name!

In reference to my earlier post on the Definition of Asian, Civilisations and Museum, I had always felt strongly that the museum needed to espouse a broader definition of “Asian Civilisations” that went beyond Asian antiquities to include intangible cultural heritage (amongst other things).

I asked the questions: What does “exhibition” mean when it comes to intangible cultural heritage? How does one “display” and “collect” intangible cultural heritage?

My Audience team and I came up with this: a “Festival” series of forms of traditional Asian performing arts and music, where each installment of the festival would “exhibit” a form of traditional cultural heritage that is in danger of going extinct. This isn’t anything revolutionary (nor completely new), but it is absolutely important.

For each installment of the series, there would be an element of “collecting”, in that the performance of the artform will be recorded for posterity, and for future display, where appropriate. And there would also be an element of “research” and “education”, in that the performance would be accompanied by a talk about the artform, and there could be a museum publication on the artforms featured later on.

The Asian Culture & Music Series is being piloted between January and April 2017, and I am happy to say that the first monthly installment this weekend was very well-attended. Featuring a performance of traditional Burmese puppetry – in conjunction with our Cities & Kings: Ancient Treasures from Myanmar exhibition – the programme saw some 300 persons attending about four performances-cum-talks. ACM had the privilege of welcoming the Htwe Oo Myanmar Puppet Theatre, led by Mr Khin Maung Htwe – a passionate spokesperson of the artform – and his family.

The first performance on Friday evening took place on the Riverfront Terrace, with strains of Burmese music floating out over the water – this too, was a deliberate attempt to activate the museum’s waterfront and demonstrate to revellers at Boat Quay that something (unique and magical) was happening on this side of the River. The other performances on Saturday afternoon took place in the Shaw Foyer.

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The Asian Culture and Music Series – featuring Htwe Oo Myanmar Traditional Puppet Theatre – on the ACM Riverfront Terrace on Friday evening, 6th January 2017.

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Htwe Oo Myanmar Traditional Puppet Theatre at the Shaw Foyer, on Saturday afternoon, 7th January 2017.

As the photographs reveal, audiences were intrigued and delighted by the opportunity to experience such a rare form of art in Singapore. The interest is encouraging and unexpected, particularly since Singapore is such a modernised and urbanised society, and one does not expect Singaporeans and residents to be much concerned with issues of vanishing intangible cultural heritage outside of Singapore.

Interest was encouraging enough that we will be putting up budget proposals to continue the series past April.

For now, do come by the museum every first Friday evening of the month, where we will be presenting a performance of an Asian traditional performing arts and music form on our Riverfront Terrace, along the Singapore River. Alternatively, come on the first Saturday afternoons of the month when the performances will be taken inside at the Shaw Foyer.

For those who have come for the first installment of the Asian Culture & Music Series, I thank you for your interest! I also thank Mr Khin Maung Htwe and family for a magical, educational and inspirational weekend at ACM. And to my passionate and wonderful Audience team – Bravo!! I thank you for a great first installment!!

For more information or to follow Htwe Oo Myanmar Puppet Theatre, please check out their website: http://www.htweoomyanmar.com/

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What was exceptionally moving was how this traditional artform was being transmitted from one generation to the next. Thank you Htwe Oo Myanmar Puppet Theatre for a magical Friday evening and Saturday afternoon!

About Kennie Ting

I am a wandering cityophile and pattern-finder who is pathologically incapable of staying in one place for any long period of time. When I do, I see the place from different perspectives, obsessive-compulsively.
Gallery | This entry was posted in Art & Architecture, Culture & Lifestyle, Heritage, Southeast ASia and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to ACM = ASIAN CULTURE & MUSIC: a festival of traditional performing arts by the Singapore River

  1. Hello Kennie. Came across your site when I was researching for an article on identity for the Overseas Singaporean site. Kudos! Good blog. Kind regards, Monica
    PS: Small world.. As a SEAsian Studies graduate from NUS, ACM was one of my favourite museums when I lived on the little red dot.. Fingers crossed the ACM series continues past April 🙂

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