Singapore, 22 November 2022 – Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) explores wellness and wholeness of body, spirit, and mind with Body & Spirit : The Human Body in Thought and Practice.
Featuring over 100 objects from the National Collection, private collectors, and local communities, the special exhibition presents a stunning display of sacred and ritual art.
Conceptualising the body as a material expression of our mind and spirit, the exhibition surveys the rituals, healing practices, pilgrimage, and divine images of different faith communities. It features a variety of objects – from manuscripts and paintings to medical tools, talismans, prayer furniture, textiles, and more, to contemplate the many ways in which religions in Asia understand the human body.
The full experience of Body & Spirit extends beyond the Special Exhibition Gallery into the rest of the museum. It is complemented by two showcases. Buddha Relics in the Level 2 Foyer features beads and precious offerings that were buried together with bone relics of the Buddha in the Piprahwa Stupa in India. Vel Vel: The Burden Dance, located in the Contemporary Gallery on Level 1, explores the practice of making and bearing kavadi – elaborate structures carried during Thaipusam, a yearly festival celebrated by Singapore’s Tamil Hindu community. Visitors are also encouraged to explore objects on permanent display in the Faith and Belief Galleries along a specially curated museum trail that continues the theme of bodily and spiritual wellness.
Kennie Ting, Director of ACM and Peranakan Museum, shared, “Body & Spirit continues our slate of special exhibitions for #ACM25. It has been a project almost three years in the making, delayed one year due to the pandemic. It carries our response to recent global disruptions and the challenges we’ve all faced at the community and personal level. We are opening Body & Spirit at the close of the year – as a way to celebrate us stepping out slowly but surely into a new normal; but also as a reminder for us all to prioritise health, wellness and the body as we face another year ahead.
Body & Spirit, and our two special showcases from Buddhism and Hinduism, explore the rich cultural and artistic heritage of cultures and faiths across the larger Indian Ocean world. In particular, we explore sacred and traditional wisdom with regards to the human body, holistic healing, and cycles of birth, life and passing. The exhibition encourages the visitor to explore universal themes across cultures and faiths, and to contemplate our place within the Infinite. We invite you to come with family and friends, to be awed and to experience restorative calm, in this space of beauty, spirituality and hope.”
Conceptualising the relationship between body, mind, and spirit
The human body is the medium through which we experience the world around us. Reaching deep into Singapore’s National Collection, Body & Spirit sheds light on how philosophers across different cultures have created frameworks for understanding our place in the universe – part of a continual search for meaning.
Given the fragility of the body and its connection to spirituality, religions often provide guidance on cleanliness and health. Visitors to the exhibition will encounter not only how various faith communities conceptualise the human body in relation to the spirit, but also different methods of healing and body discipline. This is not limited to the living, but extends to views about the afterlife, in which the body is regarded as the material manifestation of one’s spirit after death.
The exhibition also highlights the significance of the human body in religious rituals and practices. Such rituals may require the assertion of certain postures or movements, conveying a sense of humility on the part of the practitioner. Others require collective assembly, where believers not only reaffirm their faith but also strengthen their sense of community. Highlights in this section include objects on loan from St Joseph’s Church (Victoria Street) and Masjid Darul Aman, which provide a glimpse into the material culture of various religions.
Among these sacred and ritual objects, a special meditative alcove bathed in soft light allows visitors to immerse themselves in a cocoon of contemplation.
On display in the Level 2 Foyer are Buddha relics – carved beads, pearls, flower-shaped gems, gold foil discs, and other precious offerings – which were found together with bone fragments and ashes excavated from the Piprahwa Stupa in Uttar Pradesh, India, by British landowner W. C. Peppé in 1898.
These relics are from the portion of the find that Peppé was allowed to keep. The bones and ashes were enshrined in temples in Thailand, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka, where they are still venerated by Buddhists today. Powerful symbols of belief, they are seen as substitutes for the Buddha himself, animated with his power; able to fly through the air, emit rainbow rays of light, bring rain, and multiply.
In recognition of the significance of these relics to communities today, visitors will be able to leave offerings of fresh and dried flowers at a special station in the gallery.
Vel Vel: The Burden Dance
Located at the Contemporary Gallery is Vel Vel: The Burden Dance – a showcase that spotlights the practice of bearing elaborate structures known as kavadi (“burden” in Tamil) during Thaipusam, one of Singapore’s most important festivals. The different forms of kavadi presented are richly crafted, with a significance and beauty that shows their makers’ creativity.
Produced by the local art collective Sistrum, the showcase includes a sonic experience that highlights the close-knit collaboration of the community, who take part in a constantly evolving tradition and its essential relationship with dance and music.
Interactive spaces, programmes, and tours
Visitors can also destress and reflect at the Level 2 Foyer, part of which will be transformed into an interactive space dedicated to Asian wellness practices. The public is encouraged to employ wellness techniques, learn about practices like yoga and traditional Chinese medicine, and enjoy a sonic mindfulness experience and slow craft activities. In conjunction with the special exhibition and showcases, there will also be curator tours, interactive activities, and workshops focusing on mindfulness and bodily wellness – these will be available online and onsite.
Body & Spirit: The Human Body in Thought and Practice, Buddha Relics, and Vel Vel: The Burden Dance run from 25 November 2022 to 26 March 2023 at ACM. Admission charges apply. For more information, please visit www.acm.org.sg | @acm_sg | https://www.facebook.com/asiancivilisationsmuseum