What makes a home? Is it a physical space, the presence of
family or friends, or a feeling of belonging? Travel through time and space to explore the diasporic concept of home through the eyes of the Malayalee community in Singapore, with the Indian Heritage Centre’s (IHC) latest special exhibition, Ente Veedu, My Home: Malayalees in Singapore. The exhibition is co-created with the Malayalee community and is the first-ever to focus exclusively on their heritage, culture and identity. From 25 November 2023 to 15 September 2024, trace the journey of the Malayalees from their ancestral roots and migration to Singapore, to their settlement and contributions to the nation, and reflect on the community’s evolving notions of home and identity.
Ms Maria Bhavani Dass, General Manager, IHC said: “Ente Veedu means “my home” in Malayalam. By co-creating this exhibition with the community, we invite all to hear their stories, and explore notions of home and identity from the Malayalee community’s perspective. We hope that visitors to the exhibition will come away with a deeper appreciation of this rich and vibrant culture.”
Originating from the South Indian state of Kerala, the Malayalees form the second largest sub-group within Singapore’s Indian population. The community itself is diverse and has been a melting pot of cultures and faiths for centuries, comprising Hindus, Muslims, Syrian Christians, Roman Catholics, and more. In the 19th century, the Malayalees’ search of better job opportunities outside of their homeland eventually led to them playing a vital role in Singapore’s development. Their contributions span diverse sectors such as healthcare, community and social services, politics, defence, and law.
Ms Liviniyah P, Assistant Curator, IHC, said: “In this exhibition, we celebrate the invaluable contributions of the Malayalee community to the rich tapestry of Singapore’s history. It has been a joy working with the many individuals and groups of the Malayalee community who helped put this exhibition together. They have been extremely generous with their time and contributions, and their steadfast dedication to preserving heritage paves the path for future generations to embrace and cherish this vibrant cultural legacy.”
Dr Anitha Devi Pillai, Guest Curator and Senior Lecturer, Applied Linguist, National Institute of Education/Nanyang Technological University, said: “Malayalee culture is diverse, with a myriad of influences and constituent parts that contribute to its richness. This is much like Singapore’s own multiculturalism. As a researcher, being able to see two decades of my research on the community come alive in an exhibition is a dream come true. This exhibition provides an opportunity to present the research as captivating stories for the world, where visitors are invited into the Malayalee “home” to get to the heart of Malayalee heritage.”
Featuring more than 200 artefacts from the National Collection, institutions such as the National Library Board, National Museum of Singapore and Singapore Press Holdings, as well as the Malayalee community – some of which will be on display in public for the first time – the exhibition examines different aspects of the rich heritage of the Malayalees over four distinct zones:
The first zone of the exhibition – From Kerala to Singapore – explores the origins and roots of the Singapore Malayalees through star artefacts which would have been used in the Malayalees’ home state of Kerala, such as a decorative elephant caparison, or nettipattam, with intricate designs and vibrant multi-coloured thread work. The nettipattam is used to adorn the head of an elephant during community and temple festivals in Kerala.
This artefact is on public display for the first time.
The second zone – Ente Singapore: My Singapore – uncovers the contributions of the Malayalees as they settled in Singapore; the spaces they lived, worked and played in; and the art forms and languages which they brought with them from Kerala and continued to practice as they evolved from Keralites to Singapore Malayalees. A highlight artefact of this zone is the only pair of Malayalam palm leaf manuscripts in IHC’s collection, which shows the importance of their mother tongue as a unifying factor in a linguistically diverse community in a new land.
The third zone – In a Malayalee Home – celebrates the depth and breadth of Malayalee customs and traditions by exploring this intimate space and the personal items it houses.
Artefacts such as a traditional doorway of a Syrian Christian house illustrate the importance of religious beliefs and customs in this religiously diverse community. This doorway is on public display for the first time.
The final zone – Malayalees in Singapore – features a display of black-and-white and sepia toned photographs, chronicles the lives of Malayalee pioneers across the 19th and 20th centuries. A video installation, titled Being Malayalee: Voices of the Future, has been produced in collaboration with youth wings of the Singapore Malayalee Association, Singapore Kairalee Kala Nilayam, Sree Narayana Mission, and Naval Base Kerala Library.
The installation rounds up the exhibition by sharing the thoughts of ten Singaporean Malayalee youth about home, culture, and identity in contemporary Singapore, and inviting visitors to contemplate what these notions mean to them personally.
The involvement of the Malayalee community allows the exhibition to provide an intimate glimpse into their lives and culture, with many personal stories and anecdotes that have not bee told in public before. This aspect of co-creation is an important part of the National Heritage Board’s Our SG Heritage Plan 2.0, which seeks to empower more Singaporeans to get involved with the celebration of our heritage.
The exhibition will be open from 10am to 6pm from Tuesdays to Sundays. Admission is free for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents. For more information on Ente Veedu, My Home: Malayalees in Singapore, please visit https://www.indianheritage.gov.sg/ and refer to:
● Annex A – Interesting facts about the Malayalee community
● Annex B – Exhibition sections and highlights
● Annex C – Exhibition programs
Source: National Heritage Board
Photos Credit: Indian Heritage Centre