BY MELODY ZACCHEUS, Straits Times
THE wail of an air raid siren pierces the air as visitors sidestep a bomb prop that has “crashed” through the floor of the National Museum, in a space bathed in dramatic red lighting.
This is the scene at the Syonan-To section detailing life in Japanese-occupied Singapore. It is part of a new exhibition called Singapura: 700 Years, which opens today.
The exhibition, occupying an area of approximately 1,500 sq m, has been designed to give visitors an immersive experience. It chronicles key aspects of the Republic’s history, from its early years as a humble fishing village to its status as an independent nation-state.
Housed in basement Galleries 1 and 2, it will stand in as the museum’s main exhibition, while the other permanent galleries like the History Gallery undergo a year-long revamp to mark the country’s 50th year of independence. The exhibition has six sections, including Ancient Singapore (1300 to 1818) and Independent Singapore (1965 to 1975).
National Museum director Angelita Teo said the exhibition will serve as a test bed for the redesign of the other galleries, as it strives to redefine the conventional museum experience through more interactive and multi-sensory features.
These include a re-creation of Changi Prison, which housed Allied prisoners of war, and voting booths set in the context of Singapore’s merger with Malaya.
Instead of cramming in historical information, curators worked on developing bite-size stories from the community to spark visitors’ interest.
It marks a move away from the previous approach, where visitors would plug in to an audio device and wander around a gallery alone.
Ms Teo said the exhibition’s archaeology section is another key feature, as it highlights significant finds from three decades of digs across 19 sites, such as Fort Canning. The finds include a rare porcelain compass used for navigation in 14th century Singapore.
Institute of Southeast Asian Studies archaeologist Lim Chen Sian, 39, said this is the first time archaeology is featuring so heavily in a mainstream exhibition on Singapore’s history.
He said: “It is good that some of the artefacts get to move off archaeologists’ shelves to the National Museum as they help paint a clearer picture of what life used to be like in ancient Singapore, and shed light on the process of how history is pieced together.”