Written by root. Posted in FEATURES


Published on September 02, 2016 with No Comments

The lost tradition of Baba Nyonya embroidery and needlework is revived at The Peranakan Museum.



The cosmopolitan world and intriguing history of the Peranakan Chinese comes alive at the Peranakan Museum in Singapore this month, as 200 spectacular, intricately-crafted objects of beads, gold threads and silk embroideries are displayed at the Nyonya Needlework: Embroidery and Beadwork in the Peranakan World exhibition.

Millions of beads, metres of silk and metallic threads, and hours and hours of handcrafted artistry, with many seldom-seen objects from Singapore’s National Collection are seen for the first time, attesting to 30 years of dedicated collecting by Singapore’s museums. Singapore now holds the largest collection of Nyonya needlework in public hands.

This bespoke showcase also displays some of the earliest dated embroidered and beaded objects in the world from the renowned Rijksmuseum and the National Museum of World Cultures in the Netherlands. John Teo, General Manager of the Peranakan Museum, explains, “This exhibition, which was five years in the making, is the first in the world dedicated to a comprehensive showcase of beaded and embroidered Peranakan works of art. Coupled with important new research about regional styles and techniques, this show will deepen scholarship around this South East Asian cross-cultural art form.

The Peranakan community, straddling influences from all over, demonstrates great inventiveness and forward-looking thinking in creating and embracing design and stylistic influences in their handcrafted decorative and fashion textiles. The Peranakan Museum is proud to spotlight their bold originality through the museum’s rich collection, built up over more than three decades, and complemented by objects from partner museums and private collectors.”

One of the key highlights is a beaded wedding bed valence from the National Museum of World Cultures in the Netherlands, which is the earliest reliably dated embroidery in the exhibition – made around 1848 in Indonesia. It shows early influence and adaptation from Chinese embroidery. The public also stand to be enchanted by a European-styled, glass-beaded table cover from the 1900s, with wedding toast verses stitched in English along its borders, and magnificent ankle boots with gold embroidery of a style worn by women and men at the turn of the 20th century. This extensive display in the exhibition will debunk conventional perceptions of the beloved traditional artistry that we are used to in the South East Asia region that Peranakan fashion is not just beaded slippers and wedding purses.

Previously unexamined and lesser-known techniques of Nyonya needlework are also given a spotlight at this exhibition. The show is divided into five sections that range from Emblems and Symbols; Creative Hands: Makers and Methods and Materials; to the diverse styles of Indonesia, Malacca, Singapore and Penang. “Nyonya Needlework showcases the pathways of creativity in this Peranakan art form. Although needlework was very much rooted in a traditional context, embroiderers often borrowed and “translated” techniques and designs from other cultures and other media (including batiks, ceramics, and metalwork), introducing novelty and dynamism into the art. The overlaps in regional styles of beadwork and embroidery convey a shared sense of identity; at the same time, their diversity expresses their local connections. We hope visitors will enjoy the refinement and detail in these works, and discover the innovative spirit and craftsmanship, as well as the stories of the Peranakan Chinese embedded in this cross-cultural art form, and be inspired to create their own”, said Dr Cheah Hwei-Fen, lead curator of the exhibition.

Together with Dr Cheah, the museum has produced a profusely illustrated catalogue to accompany the exhibition. Nyonya Needlework: Embroidery and Beadwork in the Peranakan World will run until 26 March, 2017.

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