Musing on masterpieces
Nyonya Linda Chee spends an evening resplendent with sarong kebayas at the Museum
Over 360 guests packed the atrium of the Peranakan Museum on 31 March 2011 to witness the launch of a breathtaking collection of vintage sarong kebayas in a special exhibition called Sarong Kebaya: Peranakan Fashion and its International Sources. The array of female guests dressed in their finery did not escape the attention of Dr Alan Chong, Director of the Asian Civilisations Museum. Welcoming the guests, he remarked with delight that he had never seen so many nice sarong kebayas and kasot manek, and jokingly urged the ladies to leave their kasot-kasot at the door for the Museum’s next exhibition.
On a more serious note, Mr Chong said the exhibition “breaks new ground by carefully considering the historical sources of the sarong kebaya. Like Peranakan culture generally, its costume is a complex fusion of several cultures, with sources in India, the Islamic world, China, Southeast Asia, and Europe.”
Guest of Honour Lee Suet Fern, the Chairman of the Peranakan Museum Board, lauded the donation of over 400 kebayas by Mr and Mrs Lee Kip Lee. Thanking them for their generosity, she said the superb collection was an invaluable addition to the Museum.
Baba Peter Lee, who co-curated the exhibition with Jackie Yoong, noted that the sarong kebaya had transcended borders by not being indigenous to a specific country but across borders to a whole region. It had become an icon of Peranakan culture and “its appeal is timeless. Our family takes great pleasure in sharing the beauty of the collection and its interesting history with all visitors to the museum. With the Peranakan Museum now as custodian of the collection, our family is assured that the collection will be held in pristine condition and well-preserved for the enjoyment of future generations.” He warmed the crowd with light-hearted comments about Mr and Mrs Lee, his parents: “All good things in life are free and my parents are free,” to laughter and applause in the house.
On display presently are 131 objects, including 58 outfits. Highlights include batik masterpieces from three museums in the Netherlands: the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague, the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, and the Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden.
Half of the exhibited objects will be replaced in October 2011 to allow a greater number of textiles to be shown to the public, and also to avoid prolonged exposure of the more fragile pieces to light. A catalogue containing new scholarly work on the sarong kebaya will be published later in the year.
Guests musing over the displays of beautiful sarongs and delicate kebayas, some dating back to the 16th century.
Sarong Kebaya: Peranakan Fashion and its International Sources will run until 26 February 2012 at the Peranakan Museum. A full range of family programmes and events will complement the exhibition.