Harry Potter, Titanic and The Mummy – these are the some of the exhibitions at the Arts and Science Museum in Marina Bay Sands that took the hum-drum out of the usual shopping and eating in The Garden City. Dinosaurs: Dawn to Extinction made a compelling reason to travel to Singapore last weekend. The exhibit, curated by Dr. Patricia Vickers-Rich, a Melbourne- based expert on birds and prehistoric life, showcases fossils, specimens and artworks that illustrate the geological timescale spanning 650 million years ago to today. I walked through the late Precambrian period, sauntered into the Paleozoic era then made a beeline for the Mesozoic era to gawk at dinosaurs of different shapes and sizes. My jaw dropped when I got to the T-Rex.
My mind was reeling from two startling facts after the exhibit. First, it’s difficult walking like the terrible lizards: on tip toe and body leaning forward. The second fact was even more mind-blowing. It debunked the age-old theory that dinosaurs are extinct with its pronouncement that people have been constantly seeing them albeit in its newer form. And that form – drum roll – is a bird (a.k.a. avian dinosaur). I had to pick my jaw from the floor after I read the explanation board.
“The dinosaurs are still alive,” I mumbled to myself.
Fortunately, photo-taking is allowed, but no flash photography, and the exclusive edition exhibit catalogue should make a good reading material for my future classes.
It is an edifying experience to see an exhibit at Arts and Science Museum. You walk away with nuggets of wisdom to ruminate upon. It feels good to be a student again gazing at the artefacts on display and reading the explanation boards. The mummification workshop during The Mummy exhibit was a huge help in my lessons on Egyptian mythology. My lecture, a pastiche of history and myth of ancient Egypt, helped to shape the fragmented knowledge of my students as they read through Roger Lancelyn Green’s Tales of Ancient Egypt and Rick Riordan’s The Red Pyramid. Taking pictures of the mummy – on loan from the British Museum then – didn’t appeal to me.
Being a Harry Potter follower, the exhibit was like a walk behind the scenes of the films. At least, that was how I was imagining it as I looked intently at the costumes and sets while listening to the audio tour. Future costume and set designers would have been in seventh heaven! It was a peek at how the pros worked – each detail like button on a shirt or a simple shawl carefully chosen to complete the ensemble and make the character come to life. The artists’ meraki was simply awe-inspiring. Too bad – photography wasn’t allowed.
Meanwhile, the Titanic exhibit left me reflective. Thoughts of how the passengers felt as the gargantuan ship sunk to the bottom of the ocean zipped through my mind. How do you begin to comprehend such a tragedy? Then the feelings came. The panic I imagined that gripped them at first had my stomach twisting into a huge knot; the rising fear that would have followed next stabbed at my heart. Did the passengers quickly accept their fate? Or put up a fight until the very last end? The recreated deck, engulfed in darkness with a few stars sparkling from a distance, emphasized the ominous end of the ship.
On a lighter note, the simulated cabins clearly showed the distinct social classes of the passengers. First-class passengers (like Rose in the movie) had well-furnished suites reminiscent of top hotel suites while economy-class passengers (Jack’s kind) had nondescript rooms. The crockery unearthed along with the personal effects of the ill-fated passengers like perfume bottles (a perfumer hoped to make his millions overseas) and spectacles reminded me of the personal effects of the prisoners on display at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. A room of luggage, shoes, spectacles, scissors etc. filled one area of the museum. The difference is Titanic was a tragedy of semi-force majeure proportion while the Holocaust was a tragedy caused by one man who was acting like a deity.
Every Titanic-exhibition-goer was handed a “passport” before entering the gallery. When I reached the room near the end, a throng of people were gathered in front of a wall, some standing, others were seated on the bench. They were all looking at the “passenger manifest” posted on the wall that revealed if the holder of the “passport” survived or not. I “survived”; my gal-pal didn’t.
Visiting the museums brings a new dimension to a brief Singapore sojourn. The country has a stupendous line-up of museums: Peranakan, Singapore Art Museum, Asian Civilization Museum, Philatelic Museum and the National Museum. Arts and Science Museum is a new addition on the list – and it’s always a new adventure to walk its halls.
Dinosaurs: Dawn to Extinction runs until July 27.