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Reflection of Peranakan Culture at Emily of Emerald Hill Exhibition

     The one-woman show 'Emily of Emerald Hill', written by Stella Kon in 1982, featured a very relatable character, Emily Gan. The story tells the tale of a dominating wife as well as a mother, who is forced to encounter odd family issues with resilience. The story reflects the emotional struggles of a woman in a patriarchal world. Emily Gan used to live in the Peranakan enclave of Emerald Hill, Singapore. The writer has drawn on her own Peranakan upbringing and family circumstances.

The background of the show is the reflection of the Peranakan culture and Singaporean identity. And, for the first time in Singapore theatre, a play will be the main theme of a museum exhibition. The exhibition 'Emily of Emerald Hill: Singaporean Identity on Stage' is open at the Peranakan Museum until 17 February, 2013.

The exhibition provides an insight into the life of Peranakan Chinese residing in Singapore during the early 20th century. It shows how they used to deal with the issues of gender and power during that time, issue which continue to exist with people even today. This is the reason given by Maria Khoo Joseph, assistant curator of the museum on why the play was chosen.

The playwright herself was brought up in a Peranakan Chinese family. She is a descendant of two famous Peranakan families - the Lim Boon Keng family and the Tan Tock Seng family. Thus, the play is an even more authentic experience of local culture.

Some characters she has drawn were inspired by her ancestors, especially her grandmother as the blueprint of Emliy's character. And, the idea behind Emily's father-in-law was her maternal great-grandfather Tan Boo Liat, co-founder of the Singapore Chinese Girls' School and the great-grandson of Tan Tock Seng.

The museum has worked with Ms Stell Kon and her family members to perfectly bring Emily to the galleries.

If you have watched the play earlier, one part that will surely catch your eyes is the set up of Emerald Hill house. It uses pieces from museum's permanent collection and some original furniture from the Oberon, the house where Ms Kon grew up.

Costumes, script, props and other collectibles will awake the memories of theatre lovers. Even if, you have not seen the play before, you will still enjoy the exhibition. Theatre-goers will like the section displaying the history of Singaporean theatre with Emily of Emerald Hill being a flourishing part. There is another section of history-lovers which showcases the kitchenware, garments, and other personal items of a Peranakan home.

There are plenty of activities for the visitors to get in touch with the Peranakan culture. The interviews with actors who performed Emily, and people who helped in portraying Emily. And, at last don't miss the discussion with Ms Stella Kon about her writing and life.

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Posted on 2012-08-27, By: *

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