Peranakans in Paris


Peranakans in Paris


An 18-piece wedding bed ornamented with wedding paraphernalia; lacquered cabinets adorned with peony carvings; elaborate dragon embroidery on elegant kebayas; intricate rainbow beadwork of Western motifs on dainty slippers; green and pink porcelain kamchengs; gold jewellery with embedded diamonds befitting of matriarchs – Welcome to the lustrous and elaborate world of the Peranakan Chinese.

Kerosang – A set of three gold and diamond brooches

The Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) transports the story of the Peranakan Chinese from Singapore to Paris, France. Associate curator Ms Tan Huism gives the Overseas Singaporean Unit a verbal guided tour of Baba Bling, Singapore’s first international mobile exhibition.

Locally-born goes Global

Ranjang Kahwain – Wedding bed

Meaning “locally-born” in Malay, the term ‘Peranakan’ refers to people of mixed ethnic origins. Among the different Peranakan communities, the Peranakan Chinese gained prominence and thrived in the Straits Settlements. Arising through intermarriages between Chinese immigrants and Southeast Asian women, the Babas and Nonyas have fashioned a culture that is rich – rich in material wealth and rich in its cultural diversity and vibrancy.

Today, the fascination with the Peranakan culture has sparked a revival of interest witnessed by the establishment of two museums – the Baba House and the Singapore Peranakan Museum, popularised by the MediaCorp TV production Little Nonya. With an amazing cultural resource at our feet, ACM has decided to share it with the world, introducing the Peranakan culture at the Musée du quai Branly (MQB).The Parisian museum is known for its showcases of indigenous art, cultures and civilisations from Africa, Oceania, Asia and the Americas.

The Peranakan in Everyone

A pair of beaded slippers with Betty Boop and Mickey Mouse motifs

In a city where museums are ubiquitous, the Baba Bling exhibition has enjoyed a warm reception and received glowing reviews. It has been attracting visitors, who include Singaporeans, from all around Europe.

Singaporean Peranakans who have visited the museum were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about seeing their heritage displayed in Europe, according to Huism. Even among Singaporeans who aren’t Peranakans, to be reacquainted with something they are so familiar with in a land far away from home, there’s been a stirring of pride and nostalgia. “It’s just their manifestation of Peranakans coming out,” Huism chuckles.

A Fresh Perspective

Baba Bling gallery

Featuring never-before-displayed artefacts, the exhibition in MQB has been designed by acclaimed exhibition scenographer Nathalie Crinière who has given the Peranakan Chinese story a French interpretation.

Even if one has been to the Singapore Peranakan Museum, Baba Bling promises to shed a different light, literally and metaphorically, and offer a fresh perspective to the celebrated culture. “You don’t want a show from one place travelling to another place to look the same. It will be totally boring.” Huism says.

The exhibition highlights the marginal difference among Chinese communities and breaks the prevailing stereotype among many Europeans of a monolithic, homogenous Chinese culture. The exhibition is also a shining example of a community adept at adapting to its environment by amalgamating the best elements from diverse influences and creating a unique, charming and colourful culture.

By Tan Meng Chuan


Baba Bling: The Peranakan Chinese of Singapore

Date: Now on till 30 January 2011
Location: Galerie Jardin, Musee du quai Branly
Click here for more details.