29 September 2023
National Museum of Singapore’s vibrant digital installation Voyage brings animals to life
Extraordinary early 19th century drawings of animals and plants from Southeast Asia are brought to life in a colourful contemporary digital installation on display at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra as its first venue on its international tour.
Voyage: Experience the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings of Southeast Asia features intriguing animals such as the rhinoceros hornbill, cowtail stingray, flower crab, Malayan tapir, climbing perch and zebra dove.
One of the most treasured collections at the National Museum of Singapore is the set of 477 watercolour drawings commissioned by William Farquhar, an officer of the British East India Company who became Singapore’s first Resident and Commandant in 1819.
National Museum of Australia Director Dr Mathew Trinca said, ‘We are delighted to bring this fascinating digital experience to Canberra to showcase the wonderful fauna and flora captured by Southeast Asian artists in the early 19th century.
‘This is an excellent example of how modern technology can capture and enhance physical drawings from the past. We look forward to strengthening our relationship with the National Museum of Singapore and working on future collaborative projects,’ Dr Trinca said.
National Museum of Singapore Director Ms Chung May Khuen said, ‘We are excited to partner with the National Museum of Australia in Canberra and showcase Voyage at its first international stop. We hope that visitors in Australia will enjoy this immersive experience, which offers an accessible introduction to Singapore’s history through the familiar themes of flora and fauna that resonate with many of us.
‘Collaborations with esteemed partners like the National Museum of Australia allow us to bring stories of Singapore to the world, and more importantly, advance cultural understanding and exchanges. We hope to create more of such opportunities in the future,’ Ms Chung added.
Voyage introduces a variety of botanical and zoological species represented in the William Farquhar Collection by bringing them to life through animation, morphing into fantastic environments in which the lush plant and animal life flourish. The title ‘voyage’ references the spirit of exploration exemplified by the British East India Company officials during their time in Southeast Asia.
Farquhar commissioned the artworks from local Chinese artists during his tenure in Malacca (now Melaka). Although he had a more objective vision of documenting nature, referencing the scientific drawings produced in Europe, the Chinese artists were trained in a different tradition which often injected a story into the picture.
The idea of animating the drawings and placing them within a narrative was inspired by the way in which they were originally produced, resulting in an engaging hybridity enhanced by a specially commissioned soundtrack.
The four-minute animation experience features 30 works while the rest of the 477 appear on a digitised touch screen.
During the Voyage opening on 28 September 2023, the National Museum of Australia and Singapore’s National Heritage Board renewed their Memorandum of Understanding, which was first signed in 2015. The National Heritage Board operates the National Museum of Singapore and eight other museums and heritage institutions. Both parties have enjoyed a good working relationship and look forward to continued cooperation over the next five years.
William Farquhar (1774–1839) was a Scottish colonial officer in the British East India Company who administered the British East India Company settlements in Melaka (1803–1818) and Singapore (1819–1823).
Farquhar was fascinated by the local fauna and flora and instrumental in documenting many species. He took part in several collecting expeditions and was the first to formally describe the Malayan tapir, sending a description to the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1816, accompanied by drawings and a skeleton of its head. He reared a juvenile tapir at his residence and noted its timid disposition and fondness for bread and cake.
The William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings comprises 477 botanical and zoological works and is a significant document of the biodiversity of the Malay Peninsula and broader Southeast Asian region.
Voyage: Experience the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings of Southeast Asia is on display at the National Museum of Australia from 29 September to 5 November 2023 in the Studio Gallery. Entrance is free.
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