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Feature: Experience the beauty of Nyonya Needlework in Singapore

by June 21, 2016 General

SINGAPORE, June 21 (Xinhua) — While the origin of embroidery can be traced to China, and that of beadwork to the Middle East, Southeast Asia in fact played an important role in the expansion of designs and styles of needlework in the 19th and 20th century. A special exhibition at Singapore’s Peranakan Museum will shed light on how the Peranakans struck a balance between innovation and working within traditions.

Scheduled to be launched on Friday, the special exhibition — “Nyonya Needlework: Embroidery and Beadwork in the Peranakan World” — will showcase nearly 200 spectacular, intricately-crafted embroidered and beaded artworks.

“This exhibition, which was five years in the making, is the first in the world dedicated to a comprehensive showcase of beaded and embroidered Peranakan works of art,” said John Teo, General Manager of the Peranakan Museum.

The exhibits on display are the results of 30 years of dedicated collecting by Singapore’s museums, and many of them are seldom-seen objects. Besides, some of the earliest dated embroidered and beaded objects in the world from the renowned Rijksmuseum and the National Museum of World Cultures in the Netherlands will be on display.

Straddling influences from all over, the Peranakan community demonstrates great inventiveness and forward-looking thinking in creating and embracing design and stylistic influences in their handcrafted decorative and fashion textiles.

The exhibition not only displays celebratory items such as wedding slippers, bed and wall ornaments, and personal accessories such as belts, purses and handkerchiefs, but also presents the diverse styles of Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia’s Malacca and Penang, as well as less-known techniques.

“Nyonya Needlework showcases the pathways of creativity in this Peranakan art form,” said Cheah Hwei-Fen, lead curator of the exhibition, “although needlework was very much rooted in a traditional context, embroiderers often borrowed and “translated” techniques and designs from other cultures and other media, introducing novelty and dynamism into the art. The overlaps in regional styles of beadwork and embroidery convey a shared sense of identity; at the same time, their diversity expresses their local connections.”

Cheah took a pair of ankle boots with gold embroidery as an example to elaborate on this. These boots are embroidered with traditional Chinese auspicious images, but their shape follows European women’s ankle boots fashionable in the 1880s. The gilded heels with their pin-prick designs also relate to the gold-embroidered velvet slippers with “high gold heels” favored by Eurasian women in Java at that time.

“I think that one of the message through the embroidery is that by borrowing, by copying, by experimenting, we can be creative at the same time and be innovative,” Cheah told Xinhua. She thought the pathways of creativity happened in Nyonya needlework can still remain with us.

“There is always a context for creativity, and we are in the perfect environment for this, because we are in a multicultural society. There are so many ideas around us and we can take what appeals to us, and we can interpret it, and we can share these ideas.” said Cheah.

The special exhibition will run from Friday to March 26, 2017. Visitors can also participate in curator tours on specified dates. Enditem