Amek Gambar (Taking Pictures): Peranakans and Photography, covers more than a century and a half of photography, tracing the emergence, adoption and evolution of photography in Southeast Asia, through the lens of the Peranakan community.
Hosted at Singapore Peranakan Museum, the exhibition is looking at the exquisite photo portraits and daily life portraits from early days to today and show how the photo technology has been embraced by Peranakan communities since the beginning.
The first commercially viable form of photography may have been invented in France in 1839, but it quickly made its way to Southeast Asia. Peranakans (which designate mostly mixed Chinese/Malay or Chinese/Javanese communities) were among the earliest subjects captured by the pioneer European photographers, such as a portrait of a Peranakan family taken between 1857 and 1858.
These photographers established the earliest commercial studios in Asia, and almost immediately enterprising Asians started their own studios.
Peranakans were among those intrigued by this emerging technology, and with it they captured their own likeness and dress, their cities and rituals.
The exhibition includes studio and amateur photographs of Peranakans across Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Myanmar. In celebration of a donation by Mr and Mrs Lee Kip Lee of more than 2,500 photographs to the Peranakan Museum, this exhibition explores the multifaceted role of photography in the lives of Peranakans.
“Amek Gambar” consists of two main sections: firstly, the early history of photography in Europe, and its rapid spread to Southeast Asia through the establishment of immigrant (Western) and indigenous (Asian) studios across the region; and secondly, with the advent of portable cameras, how Peranakans chose to express and represent themselves outside of the studio, as early adopters of the technology.
John Teo, General Manager of the Peranakan Museum, said: “Every photograph captures a moment in time, and tells a story. Today, we take photographs to mark important life events – births, marriages, deaths – but also the mundane, the ordinary, the everyday.
The ‘photographs’ in Amek Gambar – from monochrome early images on metal plates, to dazzling digital displays – provide a fascinating insight, not only into the Peranakan world, but life in Southeast Asia and Singapore, from the mid-19th century to today. As we enter the museum’s 10th year, it is also timely to showcase our collection of photographs of Peranakans, one of the best in the world, in part through the generous donation of more than 2,500 photographs by Mr and Mrs Lee Kip Lee.”
The exhibition was opened in early May and is on view until early February 2019 at Singapore Peranakan Museum on 39 Armenian Street, near to the Parliament and Fort Canning Park.