The descendants of philanthropist Tan Tock Seng came from various parts of the world for a reunion recently. One of their gatherings was at the Peranakan Museum, amidst the beautiful textile art on Sarong Kebayas, some of which are from the collection of a well known Lee family.
The Peranakan Museum building is closely connected to the Tan Tock Seng family. Tan Kim Cheng, the eldest son of Tan Tock Seng, allowed his residence to be the temporary home of the Tao Nan School. In 1910, Tao Nan School built their own building, where the Peranakan Museum is now.
Tan Kim Ching’s descendants from Thailand have his original portrait, which was painted in Singapore from a photograph taken in Singapore. They kindly presented a beautiful copy of the portrait to the Peranakan Museum team, who are preparing for future exhibits about the Tan Tock Seng family. The Tan Tock Seng family will be travelling to their ancestors’ hometown in China, which will be hosting an exhibition about their family.
We were lucky to be able to join members of the Tan Tock Seng family for curator Ms Jackie Yoong’s tour around Peranakan Museum. There was art in the architecture, art on the Chinaware, art in the furniture, art on Sarong Kebayas and even art on slippers! An imposing altar too high for an HDB flat ended up in the museum. On it are symbols from traditional Chinese culture and a Western religion. The exhibits are continually updated. This museum certainly presents a living culture, not just objects.
The Sarong Kebaya exhibition include the beautiful collection of Mr and Mrs Lee Kip Lee (better known as parents of musician Mr Dick Lee). Curated by Peranakan culture expert Mr Peter Lee (he and Mr Dick Lee are brothers) and Ms Jackie Yoong, we learnt how blue coloured designs once used by Peranakan
Chinese for mourning were used with different motifs by the Peranakan with Dutch descent for weddings! Contrary to popular belief, the Chinese made Batik too. And Batik Prada is not connected to the famous design brand.
Find out more at the Peranakan Museum since it is one of the Singapore public museums with free admission in August 2011. Or you might want to go there when there are Peranakan Museum events. I highly recommend the curators’ tour with Mr Peter Lee and Ms Jackie Yoong, who are interesting guides.
Now, what is my great grandfather’s name? Hmmm…..
Artitute photographs by Suzzana Chew.