Tok Wi at the Peranakan Museum; some of the object-descriptions tok-what??

Just visited the new exhibition museum at the Peranakan Museum, “Auspicious Designs: Batik for Peranakan Altars”.

Dear Maria Khoo Joseph, since you are the curator, I’d like to point out a glaring error. Yes, one pendant consists of a tiger’s claw (which is pointy and flat-ish). The other, I’m embarrassed to point out to you, is NOT a claw as the label says; it is pointy and rounded (and SO different visually from the real claw), therefore making it a canine instead.

The following are not ‘errors’, but more of of sloppy ‘curator-ship’. You seem to describe anything that is stitched ‘on-top-of’ the cloths as ’embroidery’, which I suppose you are not wrong, strictly speaking. But as a curator dedicated to Peranakan objects, I would expect you to share a bit more info about the different types of ’embroideries’ used on these cloths. For example, some are simply stitches stitched in-and-out of the cloth, while others are knotted before being tightened. One cloth on the lower floor was embroidered using gold/metal-twined thread – which was a bit more special than the rest of the tok wis, as this must have been costlier to do, and also gives the cloth a raised ‘relief’ while the other cloths were generally flat – but you had also (surprise, surprise) described the decorative technique simply as ’embroidery’.

Perhaps you were simply playing to the audience; most Peranakan visitors would already know to a certain degree what they are looking at, and therefore you did not feel that you had to ‘over-analyse’ the objects. But let’s not forget many visitors – Peranakan included – are relatively clueless, and that’s why they need a curator to point out and ‘interpret’ stuff for them.

In terms of scholarship, this perhaps signals a slight difference between the exhibitions done at ACM Empress Place and Peranakan Museum (both headed by Alan Chong). At ACM, each important temporary exhibition is normally accompanied by a catalogue, where a certain degree of academic integrity is needed for something that is ‘in print’. Therefore such exhibitions at ACM give visitors a feeling of ‘strong curatorial input’ from the staff. But at PM, I don’t recall the past few temporary exhibitions being accompanied by academically-rigorous catalogues. As such, since the curators only need to write short/simple wall text, such exhibitions give visitors a feeling of ‘weak curatorial input’. If PM wants to gain a foothold as not just a great ‘local’ museum but one with an international standing, I suppose the curators should start simply with 1) getting their object-descriptions right, and 2) share more ‘in depth’ info about these how these pretty objects were made (rather than just describing them using the lowest-common-denominator).

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3 Comments

April 27, 2014 · 9:23 pm

3 responses to “Tok Wi at the Peranakan Museum; some of the object-descriptions tok-what??

  1. Anonymous

    how interesting

  2. Anonymous

    okay, embroidery is embroidery, as you state – what’s the problem. The show is focused on batik altar cloths – and it’s really more about the uses and aesthetics of the works, not the intricate details of how they were made. I will bet you that no museum label anywhere talks about threads being knotted before being tightened; who cares?! I think you might wanna look in your mirror to find the most clueless visitor (or is it the most self-satisfied, petty, vindictive, irrelevant visitor – ah, yes, that’s it!).

    • if they are all the same, why write anything about any piece at all? a museum must appeal to different types of visitors; yes some are ignorant and are happy to admit ‘who cares’ when it comes to write-ups (because they probably read nothing on the walls anyway), but others are there to be intellectually stimulated (and therefore what is written about the objects are as important as how they look). And dear reader, it is people like you who would contribute to the death of museums; people like you will likely say ‘why visit a museum at all when I can see nice photos of artefacts online?”. Hahahaa

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