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Amek Gambar – Taking Pictures at the Peranakan Museum

Amek Gambar

They say a picture tells a thousand words, and in each and every one of the photos of Peranakan Museum’s latest exhibition, you’ll find an entire history housed in each subject’s face and their surroundings.

Titled Amek Gambar, literally translating to ‘taking pictures’, the exhibition traces over a century and a half of the history of photography in Singapore and Southeast Asia, with many of its origins lying in the Peranakan community, often featured as subjects of photos. From its early history with photo studios to the rise of portable cameras and photo taking in the outdoors, Amek Gambar brings you on a journey through the ages and a glimpse into the many lives that have come before us.

9. Baba in a sarong kebaya
Baba in a sarong kebaya
Photo credit to Peranakan Museum. Gift of Mr and Mrs Lee Kip Lee

Within the walls of the museum, discover stories and people through old photos of Singapore’s landscape, fancy dandies taking the first photographs for vanity’s sake, black and white photos coloured in to give them painterly qualities, and plenty of posed, stern photos taken for both weddings and funeral altars, where life meets death.


Along the way, the museum has also collected a number of vintage cameras to showcase the evolution of technology and techniques over time, and some of these devices even have their viewfinders still intact for guests to get a chance to see through the eyes of photographers past. In the second half of the exhibition, photographs of varied lives also allow visitors to ponder upon identify itself, with how photos are often completely posed affairs and a means to craft a persona through props and setting to be remembered by; while the body is mortal, the photograph is eternal.


Besides the photographs, new items have been specially crafted by local fabric store Onlewo for Museum Label, and guests can purchase Peranakan printed cushion covers or even order lampshades and gorgeous stools. Says exhibition co-curator Peter Lee: “Photography itself is Peranakan; it’s a hybrid format, where so many people come together to create a single image with a conference of moments.”

4. Chinese Children in New Year's Dress
Chinese Children in New Year’s Dress” (1900s)

He concludes: “Through this exhibition, seeing history through the lens of the Peranakan community acts as just the starting point to think about photography as a whole and how it’s evolved, and opens us up to remembering the past and thinking about the future” With the advent of the Peranakan Museum’s 10th anniversary, Amek Gambar makes for the perfect retrospective on the long and illustrious history of Peranakan culture and identity, and whether you’re a photography enthusiast or selfie king, come down to the exhibition and get to the heart of what makes photography and the lives of others so endlessly fascinating.


Amek Gambar takes place at the Peranakan Museum from 5th May 2018 to 3rd February 2019. Tickets available on the door, and for more information, visit the website here


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