“What is Essential is Invisible to the Eye”: Going Behind The Story of The Little Prince at the Philatelic Museum
I first read The Little Prince when I received the English translation as a gift for my 10th birthday. Since the first time I prised open its covers to discover the deceptively simple, yet rich story within its pages, I’ve fallen in love with its quirky characters and unforgettable story of an extraterrestrial monarch’s travels through space, a story of courage, hope, and love. Often in the most desperate of times, it’s acted almost as a spiritual guide for assurance, offering me both immense catharsis in recovering from an unrequited love, and comfort in ordinary days, recalling snatches of philosophy that lead my life even today.
Considering this, when read alongside author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s whimsical illustrations, it’s little wonder then that The Little Prince has become one of the most beloved books all over the world, read by almost every French person growing up, spawning animated films, a theme park and countless theatrical productions, including one by local theatre company The Theatre Practice. For the Singapore Philatelic Museum to tackle such a mammoth entity in its latest exhibition then, is a daunting one. But in The Little Prince: Behind The Story, fans and newbies to the story will find there is plenty of joy and new information to be found in this brief but comprehensive look at author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s life and the legacy it’s left behind.
Curated by Mishelle Lim, The Little Prince: Behind The Story comes at a celebratory time, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the book’s publication and displaying over 250 exhibits in the exhibition. The museum apparently loves the book as much as we do, and has even painted its atrium navy blue to resemble the colours of the universe depicted in the original book. In the atrium, the museum has decided to display ten of French artist Arnaud Nazare-Aga’s Little Prince resin, fibreglass sculptures. Previously exhibited at the Fullerton in 2015, these sculptures have finally made their return to Singapore, depicting various characters in the book, from the Little Prince himself to characters such as the Lamplighter or the Businessman.
Says Arnaud: “Looking at the book’s beautiful drawings inspired me to create these colourful sculptures to better express my joy. For me, this book is all about spirituality and how important it is to look past differences and accept each other amidst these wars and separations, and it has such a universal message attached to it that we are all the same underneath.” Besides these colourful sculptures, Arnaud has also crafted a collection of white versions of these sculptures, to be illuminated under black UV light, previously exhibited at Alliance-Francaise in 2015. These sculptures were created with the intention to raise awareness of visual impairment, where sighted visitors had the opportunity to be blindfolded and were encouraged to touch the artworks, and five of them will be presented as part of The Little Prince: Behind the Story at the Singapore Philatelic Museum in October.
Arnaud has a surprising familial link to author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – his grandfather used to be a pilot in World War II and knew Saint-Exupéry personally. Saint-Exupéry himself was remembered as a tall, charming man, a pilot who hated war and even participated in a daring feats of speed to break records. As part of the exhibition, an entire room has been dedicated to chronicling the life of Saint-Exupéry, containing not just nuggets of information, but also rare philatelic materials and artefacts gathered from a small museum in France, some never before exhibited internationally. These include handwritten letters from Saint-Exupéry, his military coat and an autographed copy of the first edition of The Little Prince, a piece of the plane wing and a thermal flash recovered from his miraculous survival following a crash landing in the Libyan desert in 1935 during a Paris to Saigon Air Race (the events of which partially inspired The Little Prince), as well as his silver identity bracelet found at sea, near his final resting ground after a fatal plane crash during World War II.
A second room at the exhibition delves into the book itself, a more child friendly room awash in colour that aims to make the book more accessible, as it displays information about Saint-Exupéry’s childhood and the book, with a number of tactile exhibits, and a shelf full of books translated into various languages. The Little Prince has been translated to over 300 official languages, including Egyptian hieroglyphics and Star Wars Aurebesh cipher (English). A number of additional programmes will also be organised in conjunction with the June school holidays as part of the National Heritage Board (NHB)’s Children’s Season Singapore 2018, including art and drawing workshops by French illustrator Cédric Fernandez and day camps or children to learn conversational French, French culture and about aircraft.
Says curator Mishelle Lim: “Stamps are windows to the world, and we can tell any story as long as they are depicted on stamps. Both The Little Prince and Saint-Exupéry have been printed and featured on stamps, and we’re not afraid to show more than just stamps and contextualise the story with our artefacts and sculptures. From the age of 0-100, The Little Prince can give anyone and everyone a different experience, and from this exhibition, we hope that from knowing a little bit more about what went on behind the story, they will gain an even deeper appreciation for the work.”
The Little Prince: Behind The Story runs at the Singapore Philatelic Museum from 8th June 2018 to 17th March 2019. Admission is free for Singaporeans and PRs. For more information, visit the website here