What's Next | Raffles in Southeast Asia: Revisiting the Scholar and Statesman at Asian Civilisations Museum

Raffles in Southeast Asia_Revisiting the Scholar and the Statesman. Image courtesy of Asian Civilisations Museum (1).jpg


Revisiting the Scholar and Statesman


February 1, 2019 - April 28, 2019

What do we really know about Sir Stamford Raffles and his role in 19th-century Southeast Asia? What else was he doing in the region, beyond establishing a British East India Company outpost on the island of Singapore? What was the larger global and regional geo-political context in the lead-up to the so-called “founding” of modern Singapore?

Co-curated by Singapore’s Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) and The British Museum, Raffles in Southeast Asia: Revisiting the Scholar and Statesman illuminates the different sides of this famously enigmatic figure and his role in the region.

Through displays of sculpture, architectural and natural history drawings, wayang puppets and masks, gamelan instruments, krises, and royal regalia of Indonesian sultans, this exhibition at the Asian Civilisations Museum seeks to showcase the rich artistic and cultural heritage of Java and the Malay World.

The exhibition features the historic Raffles Collection at the British Museum, which consists of mostly Javanese and Sumatran objects Raffles personally collected during his time in the region. The exhibition also features objects from the following lending institutions and collectors:

  •  The British Library, United Kingdom

  •  Royal Asiatic Society, United Kingdom

  • National Museum of Indonesia, Jakarta

  • Museum Batik Danar Hadi, Surakarta

  •  National Museum of World Cultures, Netherlands

  •  Wereldmuseum Rotterdam, Netherlands

  • Leiden University Libraries, Netherlands

  • Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, Singapore

  •  National Museum of Singapore

  •  National Archives of Singapore

  •  National Gallery Singapore

  • Dr Farish A. Noor, Singapore

Director of the Asian Civilisations Museum, Kennie Ting explains, “There are two main intents for this exhibition. The first is to objectively address the figure of Raffles, presenting him as a complex and multifaceted personality, rather than the mythical, one-dimensional “founder figure” most Singaporeans “know” him as. He was a scholar and avid collector of natural and cultural heritage, but also a ruthless statesman and colonial opportunist. We hope to inspire visitors to look beyond the conventional origin story of modern Singapore; to place this story against larger historical and geopolitical developments in the region.”

“The second, equally important, intent is to showcase the rich artistic and cultural heritage of Java and the Malay World. The exhibition takes the visitor on a virtual tour of the great empires of Java – from the 9th century, when the great Hindu-Buddhist monuments of Borobudur and Prambanan were built, through to the 18th and early 19th centuries, to explore the origins of today's still-thriving central Javanese royal courts of Yogyakarta, Surakarta, Mangkunegaran, and Pakualaman. The tour ends off in the lands of the former Johor-Riau-Lingga Sultanate, allowing the visitor to delve deeper into Singapore's own roots in the Malay world."

In this special exhibition, visitors will see some 240 objects that show what aspects of Southeast Asian history most intrigued Raffles and the British – but also some parts that they missed, or refused to acknowledge. This will also be the first time that pivotal objects pictured and discussed in Raffles’ The History of Java (which became an important 19th-century reference to Java for the Western world) are brought together from different parts of the world in one venue.

Keeper of the Department of Asia at the British Museum, Jane Portal said, “Sir Stamford Raffles played many roles. He sought to understand the region through his collection of natural history and cultural materials and promoted Southeast Asian cultures to the British. Together with the ACM, we are excited to present a balanced perspective of Raffles that develops a fuller picture of the history of the region to the diverse audiences of Singapore and Southeast Asia.”

Part of the Singapore Bicentennial commemoration in 2019, Raffles in Southeast Asia: Revisiting the Scholar and the Statesman will be open from 1 February to 28 April 2019 at the Asian Civilisations Museum.


Exhibition Preview


Ritual Fan | Riau-Lingga Archipelago, before 1913
Gold, silver, 51 x 27.7 cm
Image Courtesy of National Museum of Indonesia

A white monkey, probably Hanuman, identified as Monyet Fugganga
Central Java, Late 1700s—early 1800s
Hide, horn, pigment, and gold leaf, 74.5 x 21 cm
Donated by Rev. William Charles Raffles Flint, executor of Lady Raffles’ estate
Image Courtesy of British Museum