About the Project: Preserving Portraits of the Peranakan

A Pilot Project to Locate Photographs from the Peranakan communities
in Singapore and Southeast Asia

“There are a lot of stories out there, some probably written and stored with old photographs in shoeboxes in attics.” 

‘Salvaging the Sentimental’ is a project which aims to locate and archive photographs from personal family albums of the Peranakan community in Singapore and other settlements in Southeast Asia.  However, since it has become problematic to define and delineate Peranakan identity and lineage, and “how authentic of a Perankan one is”, this project would like to invite all born and bred Singaporeans to contribute as our ancestors have shared a common part of history. As most photographs are kept in family albums and personal ‘archives’, this project calls for participants willing to contribute and share not only images but also memories and anecdotes that accompany the photograph.

This project is part of the author’s doctoral thesis, entitled ‘Cosmopolitan Representations: Peranakans and Image making in Colonial and Postcolonial Singapore’. A large aspect of the author’s doctoral work addresses theoretical issues on private and institutional archives and the importance in documenting the ‘life biographies’ of portraits.

This project hopes to eventually form a register of memoirs collated and presented with a personal touch for the study of portrait photography in Singapore, the histories of collecting, and the life biographies of the photographs told by their present day ‘guardians’. And more importantly to act as a rendezvous point in hope of creating a close knit community of not only Peranakans, but more importantly of Singaporeans enthusiastic about perserving the vestiges of Singapore’s forgotten charm. 

The vicissitudes of twentieth century Singapore and the ravages of war and policy saw the demise of the Peranakan culture, the destruction of its intangible heritage and the dilution of ephemeral traditions. Therefore photographic records remain a crucial visual repository of this effacement. Furthermore, the digital age and its technologies has and will continue to generate barrages of hackneyed self-representations, rendering the canons and techniques of early portrait photography obsolete. Has the ‘digital image’ reduced the ‘chemical image’ to a mere cultural relic, only to exist in institutional archives?

This project hopes to form a digital database of containing ‘visual narratives of the past’, a collection of ‘living chronicles’.

Hence, as alluded by the project’s title; ‘Salvaging the Sentimental’, the crux of this project is to document the vestiges of these memories while they still exist. This project envisions to culminate into a database of photographic material accompanied by oral histories. Combining Image and Text  The Spoken Word, the way we are used to. Click here to have a feel of how you can contribute to the written ‘spoken’ component.

Your purpose is to make your audience see what you saw, hear what you heard, feel what you felt. Relevant detail, couched in concrete, colorful language, is the best way to recreate the incident as it happened and to picture it for the audience.

Read more about how you can contribute here.  


1 reply »

  1. I have a friend who is a historian in Malacca, Malaysia in her own right. She appeared in TV documentary about Malacca about peranakakn.Will give you her info if you are interested. her name is Mdm Josephine Chua. Perhaps you have her in your circle already.

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