Monday, March 3, 2014

Baba House - A 1920s Peranakan home in the heart of modern Singapore


Last last weekend (that's Singlish for "two weekends ago"), I attended a Cyanotype workshop at the Baba House. Located just outside of Chinatown proper, the Baba House is a heritage home and museum that showcases Peranakan culture. The House serves a snapshot of 1920s Singapore, showcasing the Straits Chinese culture that has played a major role in the island's history.

Tucked amidst other homes at 157 Neil St., the Baba House served as a home to a Peranakan family for many years, dating back to the 1860s. The term Peranakan refers to descendants of 15th to 17th century Chinese immigrants to the areas of Indonesia and Malaya (Singapore and Malaysia). 

The Baba House is quite rare, as it has retained the original and elaborate interior from the 1920s. With many pieces of original furniture and artwork still adorning the inside, one gets a unique glimpse into the heritage of Peranakans in Singapore. There are three levels in the House, with the first two displaying the culture of the original occupants. The top level now houses a gallery, depicting different exhibits that often connect with Peranakan history. During my visit, it featured a modern take on batik, work from area artists Mintio and Kabul (see below).



The cyanotype workshop was also fascinating. Leading the demonstration was the duo of Mintio and Kabul, artists who split their time between Singapore and Indonesia. For their last project, where they incorporated cyanotype techniques with the famous batik of Central Java, they spent a year studying and learning from locals in the village of Kebon Indah

For the workshop, we only worked with cyanotype, a photographic printing process that produces a cyan blue print. We selected images printed on transparencies, and then arranged them on photosensitive cloths (previously treated with two chemicals). A piece of glass was then placed on top of the images, and the cloth was placed directly under sunlight for 5 minutes. Had the day been cloudy, the same effect could have been achieved by exposing the cloth with images to a UV light for 45 minutes. The cloth has minute pores that absorb the designs with the concurrent input of light. After some simple washing, the cloth dries and darkens into its distinctive cyan hue.

I selected an image of the foyer of the Baba House, as well as a decorative seal. It turned out nicely, my first successful art project since freshman year of high school. Thanks to the NUS Museum who organized the workshop, it was a nice way of combining a hands-on project with the historical appeal of the Baba House.






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