Images of Peranakans, from the dawn of photography to the present, expose the long and complex relationship between cameraman, camera, and subject. The dynamic negotiations between these three elements produced diverse results, depending on countless variables – from the mood of the cameraman, the lighting, and the technical capacities of the camera, to the expression and pose of the subject.
In the multicultural environments of port cities, where social rules were less strictly enforced among migrant communities, both posed studio photographs and amateur snapshots betray an inconsistency and diversity of expression. These characteristics are also clearly apparent in photographs of members of the wide and varied networks of Peranakan communities across Southeast Asia. Therefore photography, rather than asserting Peranakan identity, endlessly undermines it.
About the speaker
Peter Lee is an independent art and heritage consultant and the honorary curator of Baba House, a historical house museum managed by the National University of Singapore. He is the co-author of The Straits Chinese House (1998). For ACM and TPM he has curated the exhibitions Junk to Jewels: The Things that Peranakans Value (2008), Sarong Kebaya: Peranakan Fashion and its International Sources (2011), and Port Cities: Multicultural Emporiums of Asia, 1500–1900 (2016). In 2016, he also co-curated Singapore, Sarong Kebaya and Style at the Fukuoka Art Museum and the Shoto Museum in Tokyo. He is guest curator for the Amek Gambar exhibition.
This lecture is free. Seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis. No registration is required.
Organised in conjunction with the exhibition
Images: Studio portraits. Left: Gho Siak Tat, a kapitan of the Chinese in Padang. Gelatin silver print. Ban Seek Photograaf. Padang (Indonesia), 20th century; right: Oei Tjie Sien (1835–1900). Albumen print. R. Schütz. Semarang (Indonesia), 1888. Peranakan Museum, Gifts of Mr and Mrs Lee Kip Lee.