The Lost Kingdoms Exhibition @ Muzium Negara, Kuala Lumpur

Southeast Asia was once home to many Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms, such as Angkor in Cambodia, Kedah Tua in modern-day Malaysia, as well as the mighty Srivijaya, Sailendra and Majapahit empires in what is today Indonesia. Their legacies can be seen in the form of ancient temples, relics and artefacts that have survived through the ages. Good news for history buffs – you can see them for yourself at The Lost Kingdoms exhibition, currently running at Muzium Negara in Kuala Lumpur until the end of April 2020. The entrance fee to the main section of the museum is just RM2, and covers entry to this exhibition as well!

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Working with the National Museum of Indonesia and the National Museum of Cambodia, Lost Kingdoms maps out 12 ancient Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms of Southeast Asia, featuring 103 items that are a mix of real artefacts as well as replicas. Through these items, one can see that there are many similarities between the cultures of the region, from the techniques used to create beautifully carved statues of the gods, to the elaborate decorations found on the hilts of traditional weaponry.

Here are just some of the exhibits that visitors will get to see at the exhibition:

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A 9th century statue of the Hindu god Vishnu, from pre-Angkorian times (on loan from the National Museum of Cambodia).

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Angkorian/Banteay Srei style seated garuda from the late 10th century, carved from red sandstone. Half man and half bird, the garuda is an important mythical figure in Hindu folklore, being the bearer of the Hindu god Vishnu. The garuda features heavily in Javanese and Balinese culture, and is also featured on the Indonesian crest.

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Another statue of Vishnu, this one from the pre-Angkorian period in the Prei Khmeng Style. The statue is made from sandstone and dates back to the mid 7th century. The full, round forms of the face demonstrate the strong Indian influence in the region. Vishnu holds a conch in his raised left hand, a war discus (chakra) in his right, while his lowered left hand rests on the remains of a mace.

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If I’m not mistaken, this is the head of a Kala, a common sight at many Hindu/Buddhist temples in Central Java. The Kala is a mythical lion-like creature – its name in Sanskrit also symbolises ‘time’, which is why the kala is said to devour everything, just as time does.

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One of my favourite pieces from the exhibition is an elaborate relief of Vishnu riding the Garuda, dedicated to the king of Airlangga from the Kahuripan kingdom (9th to 10th century). The image of Vishnu was made in the king’s likeness, to honour his contribution to rescuing and rebuilding Java after the kingdom almost collapsed from war with a neighbouring empire. This is on loan from the National Museum of Indonesia.

 

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Statue of the Hindu elephant god Ganesha made from granite stone, from the Kedah Tua (Kataha) kingdom, 6th to 7th century. Unlike the Hindu Buddhist kingdoms in Java, Indonesia, or even Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, not much remains of the Kataha kingdom in Kedah, other than a couple of candis (shrines).

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Prajnaparamita Statue from the Singhasari Kingdom, 13th century. Prajnaparamita is the goddess of transcendental wisdom in Buddhist tradition, and this particular statue is said to have been modeled after the beauty of Ken Dedes, an ancient Javanese princess who was the consort of Ken Arok, the first king of the Singhasari Kingdom. It is said that the kings that ruled from the Srivijayan to Majapahit eras were direct descendants of Ken Dedes, making her the literal mother of kings.

The Lost Kingdoms Exhibition is running until April 30 at Muzium Negara’s Gallery 2.  Entrance is RM2 for Malaysians (included with the ticket to the main museum).

Museum opening hours are from 9AM – 6PM.

Poison & Venom Exhibition @ The National Museum

I was bored over the weekend, so I thought of dropping by KL to explore Muzium Negara (the National Museum). Unlike the US or the UK, Malaysian museums aren’t big on interactivity – the exhibits are static and haven’t changed in years. I can see how people see them as dull, drab places compared to glitzy, air-conditioned shopping malls.

Still, it’s an interesting place to visit once in awhile and a welcome change from the mall-culture we’ve gotten so used to. Not to mention cheap – entry is only RM3 for Malaysians.

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You don’t even have to pay for the outdoor exhibits. Apart from a large steam locomotive replica at the front, visitors can find old train cars, like this one from Penang Hill..

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And the very first Proton Saga which came out in 1985. My dad had one of these, in red.

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A carved hornbill (?) ship masthead.

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The museum is currently having a temporary show, the Poison and Venom Exhibition, until October 31. Located next to the main building, entrance is free.

Upon entering, visitors were greeted by a wall of text. And I mean, literally, a wall of text of buntings and banners. It was like the curators wanted to cram as much info as possible into the small space, resulting in tiny text that you had to squint to read.

I learnt something new though – did you know that poisonous and venomous animals/plants/etc are different?

Venomous organisms inject toxins directly into their victims (snakes, wasps, bees), whereas poisonous organisms do not but are harmful when touched/eaten (some plants, frogs, etc).

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I didn’t know wtf this was until I had stared at it for a full minute. Turns out it was a giant octopus attempting to smother(?) a ship. The exhibit looked tacky, but I can imagine that the museum doesn’t get much of a budget. Malaysians aren’t exactly known for our appreciation for culture and history. I mean, just look at the museum’s HTML-ish website that still runs on Javascript and Flash. I bet it has never seen an upgrade since 2002 or something. Still, a good effort by the museum, working with what little resources they could glean.

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An entire wall was dedicated to explaining venomous and poisonous organisms according to the Al-Quran.

And then there was a sculpted model of Medusa, the mythical greek Monster who was said to be a beautiful woman once until she incurred the wrath of the Gods and was turned into a snake-like half creature with serpents for hair. Mannequin on the left (with very shapely, womanly legs, for some reason) represents a man who was turned to stone after looking at Medusa’s hideous form.

I was excited to see the glass cases behind.. but it turns out they were just static displays with fake snakes. lulz

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I was feeling slightly disappointed, but the exhibit got more interesting as we walked further in. (Above) A realistic (and cute looking) model of a monitor lizard (Biawak Air). I’ve seen these buggers running around on the road or swimming in small ponds in parks. Didn’t know they had venom. @_@ Did I mention I’m afraid of reptiles (except snakes)?

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What’s a venom/poison exhibition without some giant spiders ?

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I’m glad I’ve never encountered ones as large as these.

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Some body parts, to make it interesting.  We were trying to figure out if they were real preserved specimens, because some of them had this old, rubbery texture, like it had been soaked in formaldehyde for a long time.

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*stares intently*

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A classroom setting for the kids.

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Another section housing preserved snakes in bottles and jars.. which reminded me of snake/lizard wine souvenirs I saw while travelling in Vietnam. They’re supposed to be good for libido. Not that I’d care to try any..

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Small, live animals like frogs and fish were also on display. The bright colours on this frog warn predators that eating it is not gonna be pleasant.

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Stingrays might look harmless, but are lethal due to their venomous tail stingers.

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Mini aquarium area with actual fish and aquatic life

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Spot the stone fish.

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A type of fish that still retains its primitive evolutionary-looking legs. It’s like a fish with trousers.

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The Poison and Venom Exhibition started off boring, but kept its ‘gems’ to the end. Pretty good for a free exhibit, and a nice way to spend the afternoon especially with family.

Open daily from 9am – 6pm (until Oct 31).

Muzium Negara 

Jalan Damansara, 50566 Wilayah Persekutuan,

Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur,

Malaysia
+60 3-2267 1111

A Tale of Two Countries: Watercolour Works of Singapore and Malaysia

Malaysia and Singapore are like two sides of the same coin – sharing culture, cuisines, language and a diverse ethnic makeup. This was documented in ‘A Tale of Two Countries – Singapore and Malaysia’ by Singaporean artist Seah Kang Chui at a week long art exhibition, which ran at Soka Gakkai Malaysia in KL. The show featured over 50 watercolour artworks by the veteran painter.

*All artworks are copyrighted to Seah Kang Chui

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Seah has 40 years of experience under his belt, and it shows through his colourful paintings. A central theme to all his artworks is the depiction of rural scenery in Sg and Malaysia, from villages to old, heritage buildings. Some, like Lau Pa Sat Market (left) convey a deeper message. Seah said he deliberately painted the high-rise buildings in the background using a blurred style, to signify the ‘faceless’ modernity compared to the old market’s rich culture and history.

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Singapore River

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An old bridge in Singapore, with the ultra modern Marina Bay Sands building in the background.

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If you grew up in Malaysia and Singapore, many of these village and jetty scenes would be familiar. Seah captures the simplicity and essence of kampung living, so much so that looking at his paintings transports the viewer to childhood memories of running around barefeet in the yard, chasing chickens while coconut trees swayed in the breeze amidst a backdrop of traditional wooden houses on stilts – or climbing into long wooden boats and watching fishermen docking at rickety jetties in the evening.

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New Sarawak state assembly building’ next to the river.

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Paddy field in Sekinchan transports the viewers to this agricultural town, famed for its endless yellowing fields of ripe paddy and blue skies.

Seah’s fondness for rural scenes came from his own childhood, as he grew up in a village.

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“I often paint on the spot. If I can’t finish it, I take photographs to be continued at home,” he said. Sometimes a painting may take several tries.

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Heritage buildings are also a favourite subject – like the Christchurch Melaka (left).

It was amazing to see how skillful the artist was with his brush strokes.  I can’t claim to be a high culture person, but I enjoy looking at art I can understand and which connects emotionally with me on a deeper level, instead of random swishes and abstract notions.

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