In Singapore, the ‘heritage’ we promote exists mainly in our museums and galleries??

I saw these adverts in the papers (click ‘here‘). The Museum Roundtable in Singapore is promoting ‘Heritage Hop-About’ from 21Nov-4Dec 2011. The write-up goes like this:

Explore Singapore!, championed by the National Heritage Board, encourages members of the public to embark on fun and fascinating journeys to discover our colourful past, rich heritage, exciting art and vibrant cultures. Aimed at making heritage and museums accessible and enjoyable, Explore Singapore! features an eclectic and unique brew of enriching yet entertaining activities happening at our island’s museums and heritage attractions.

To make this event more ‘accessible’, two familiar faces have been roped in: Mark Lee and that Jo-Jo Joget from the Noose. Just what we need to make ‘heritage’ ‘hip’…..

If you click ‘here‘, you’ll see the list of 20 events on the left. 19 out of the 20 events take place INSIDE museums/galleries. Only one, ‘Monument Open House’, brings the public OUT to 27 national monuments for on-site tours. Well done to Preservation of Monuments Board for giving their visitors a breath of fresh air out in the open!

If you look at the bulk of the ‘Heritage Hop-About’ events, they focus on what the museums/galleries are already displaying/offering. From what the Museum Roundtable is promoting, it is as if ‘heritage’ can be accessed by the public only if it takes place in a sterile, air-conditioned space where visitors are ‘guided’ through manufactured displays/activities that purport to make heritage ‘come alive’.

While I love museums, I must add that in themselves, they only show a slice of what ‘heritage’ is about. Beyond the well-research/curated aspects of tangible ‘heritage’ that sits forlornly in airtight showcases – and the related heritage-activities such as sari-tying and congkak-playing that again take place within the confines of the manufactured museum space – ‘heritage’ is out there in our everyday lives, in everything that we do.

So while the Museum Roundatable promotes ‘heritage’ largely through what they offer in existing museums and galleries, I’d like to remind our policymakers that ‘heritage’ is also out and about. For example, while the National Museum is offering ‘I’m a Singapore History Explorer – A Discovery Trail’ that gives visitors a guided tour through its permanent galleries, imagine how much more the participants would learn about our history with just one guided trip to Bukit Brown cemetery to see where many of our pioneers are buried.

Yes, the National Heritage Board (NHB) is to be commended for making ‘heritage’ hip by funding accessible, fun, well-curated museums that are increasingly visited by more each year. But as I mentioned before in a post somewhere in this blog, the NHB is not the ‘National Museums Board’, and therefore it must realise that the ‘Heritage‘ in its name is not just about what experiences it can ‘manufacture’ within the confines of a gallery, BUT ALSO about the sometimes unglamorous, smelly, mosquito-ridden – but no less important – ‘heritage’ outside the galleries.


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3 responses to “In Singapore, the ‘heritage’ we promote exists mainly in our museums and galleries??

  1. Word!

    But by “manufacturing” heritage, it will be easier to shape our national consciousness/identity (and all the insidious stuff that implies) though.

  2. Using museums to make us more ‘Singaporean’?? You said it, not me!!

  3. Great post. Esp. love your closer – ace.

    I think the first comment is spot-on: the local culture industry – from our “heritage” institutions to iconic TV programs like Under One Roof to the annual NDP orgy of self-satisfaction – has always functioned by selling Singaporean-ness, such as it were, to Singaporeans, a means of social control by controlling self-representation. Not unlike the powers-that-by deciding on the “Singapore Story” back during the first flush of independence and then writing it into history, literally.

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