Singapore’s DNA: Storytelling of Singapore History through Clothing and Textiles

Singapore’s DNA: Storytelling of Singapore History through Clothing and Textiles

A project of DIHA

Partner Institution


2015 to 2017

Description / Summary of Project

Singapore, as a migrant society, embraces ethnic and cultural diversity from the beginning. Renowned English writer and traveller reveled her first impressions of Singapore in 1879, describing the clothing worn by the different races at that time (Bird, 2000). Textiles are a central part of ‘human consciousness’ and play a significant role in cultures (Gordon, 2010). As clothing or costumes, textiles define who we are, symbolise the connection across time and contexts, and function as a form of wrapper, container or framer of our body from birth to death.

In a multicultural society like Singapore, the way people value a country’s heritage is influenced by the way they had previously defined their own cultural identity (Arizpe, 2000). The meanings, stories and identities behind textiles and clothing from the past may be different today. And yet, ‘what we wear’ is often forgotten and taken for granted in the passage of time. For instance, the cheongsam or qipao was regarded as an everyday wear for Chinese women back in the 1920s and 1930s, but today, it became a rarity to see them on the streets. The 1993 exhibition titled ‘Costumes through time’ indicated that British influence, mass media (such as newspapers and televisions) and political changes were among the key factors contributing to the decline of traditional costumes in the 1950s (National Heritage Board, 1993). New ideas, technologies and cultures from the West were adapted and expressed in unique ways by the people in Singapore rapidly (National Museum of Singapore, [2015]).

A team of scholars from different disciplines (product design, humanities, library and digital preservation) is assembled to collaborate on this research project. Together, the team will investigate and preserve the textile heritage of different cultures in Singapore with the following aims:

  1. To build and create physical and digital collections of clothing and textiles that reflects the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of the major ethnic groups in Singapore.
  2. To engage different groups of people in Singapore through talks, presentations and community events as part of the iterative process of this research.
  3. To challenge people to think critically about their history, culture, society and environment through the investigation of clothing, identity and storytelling.
  4. To revitalise the cultural heritage by leveraging on emerging technologies into new forms relevant to today’s society

This research project will be conducted in three key parts:

  1. The study of the origins of Singapore’s textiles and clothing
  2. The study of the aesthetics of clothing across different periods, gender and cultures of Singapore
  3. New applications and outreach

Posted on

September 1, 2016

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