Narratives of the National Museum

Yesterday, we continued our “official rhetoric” tour of Singapore by visiting the National Museum. Once we arrived at the National Museum and were handed our audio guides, which only reminded me of how technology forward Singapore is- so much so that I would have been completely lost in the exhibition without my audio guide, we entered the Singapore History Gallery. Singapore’s museums are all about appealing to your senses: sight, sound, and touch. The first thing we heard and saw was a 360 degree “vision” of Singapore film with what sounded like a very dramatic version of a national anthem playing in the background. I posted a video and audio clip of the music below.

I don’t want to speak for others but it seemed as if the entire group was creeped with this nation building “geopolitical utopia” music. Yet, I reminded myself that in the United States we have our national anthem and other songs such as God Bless America of which define our nation and culture, so Singapore deserves to have this too. I guess the difference is you wouldn’t see a 360 degree visions or scenes of America video at a Smithsonian Museum.

After this room, we winded down into the actual gallery where we discovered the history of Singapore. After visiting the Singapore rock and understanding Singapore’s early history, we were presented with a choice: either experience Singapore’s history through major events or experience Singapore’s history through narratives and stories from Singaporeans. While most of these stories certainly contributed to the official narrative of Singapore as prideful nation, one set of stories stood out to me. These were the stories of Japanese prostitutes who came to Singapore in hopes of creating a better life for themselves as Singapore began to grow. Yesterday, we spent time in Singaporean neighborhoods searching for alternative narratives to Singapore’s history and it shocked me that the National Museum would include such an alternative narrative for all to see.

I noticed a picture of a young girl who couldn’t have been more than 16 or 17 years old and punched in the number of her story into my headset. Her story was tragic: she fell in love with the man she had worked for but, due to their completely different social strata, he was paying her off so he could “settle down” and marry a nice, white girl. In listening to her crying, I understood that her story was just as important as any of the others in the National Gallery, if not more important. It is often the stories of the marginalized that get pushed aside and Singapore has since valued this story as an integral part of the nation-state’s history. Yet, I wonder if this story is almost de-valued in a sense because it is presented through the interpretations of the National Museum? It was not her voice through her headset that I heard and it may not even be her story- the National Museum could have completely fabricated it to fill some sort of social gap. However, in my opinion it is these alternative narratives that make such a museum fascinating and I was happy to have experienced her important story while there.

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