Borrowing from the phase Treasures Untold, this Year 3 Enrichment is titled Treasures Retold to suggest that when we engage and interact with them, treasures and cultural artefacts can inform us more about our ancestry and be given a new breath of life.
In learning more about the selected artefacts during the guided tour that formed the first part of the programme, students gained a deeper understanding of how cross-cultural interactions happen and, came to recognise the results of such intermingling as evident in the artefacts’ purpose, provenance and creative impetus.
Directed by their inspiration, students revisited their artefact of choice and tried their hand at penning a poem inspired by the artefact. In doing so, students were further exploring the ekphrastic poetic form. Meaning “description” in Greek, an ekphrastic poem is commonly based on a work of art. Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the “action” of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning. (source: Poetry Foundation)
To support their understanding of ekphrasis, students reviewed two such examples. Firstly, the poem Not My Best Side by U. A. Fanthorpe based on the painting of Paolo Uccello, St. George and the Dragon, and secondly the lyrics of Starry Starry Night by Don McLean based on the works and life of Vincent van Gogh.
The Year 3s were treated to an energetic dramatisation of Not My Best Side by Jaanvi Agarwal, Rukshana Driver and Natasha da Costa who brought to live the distinctive tones of the different personas to show how U. A. Fanthorpe had subverted discourses in chivalry and the other. Another element of surprise that was delightfully sprung was the lovely a capella rendition of Starry Starry Night by Natasha da Costa.
In retelling the stories of these artefacts students are challenged to put themselves in the shoes of a voyager, craftsman, entertainer, or scholar to imagine their hopes and dreams and perceive these artefacts through various lenses such as anthropology, history, geography, literature and the arts.
We would like to make a special mention of thanks to Sharon Chen, ACM Education Officer, and the dedicated and thoroughly delightful team of docents for making this enrichment possible.
Faith Lee (O7) relates her experience:
As a VA student, I really appreciated and enjoyed seeing all the reliefs and sculptures in the gallery. They were so intricately carved, and knowing how difficult it is to sculpt, I admired their skill. I learned a lot through the tour. It was really interesting to learn about the context of their creation. It was interesting how the wealthy sailors would commission such sculptures as an act of gratitude for protection on the seas. I was surprised to learn how each depiction of Buddha evolved depending on which country the religion spread to. The sculptors carved some of the statues with features or into poses that resembled those of deities already worshipped in the native country. This helped Buddhism be accepted more readily and spread quickly.
It was also interesting to learn about the origins of Buddhism. I was captivated by the story of how Siddhartha Gautama gave up his princeship and everything he possessed, and wanted to write a poem to reflect this. It was quite a unique experience to write a poem based on another older artistic creation. This was like adding a further layer of meaning to the sculpture, and writing my interpretation on it was almost like bringing it to life.
Poems and artworks can be experienced by the viewer in two ways. Firstly, through a quick glance to admire its beauty, or through close analysis, which uncovers deeper details and meanings that may not have been noticed before. Examining a turn of phrase in a poem, or the composition and brushstrokes used in an artwork can allow one to fully appreciate the intention and skill of the poet or artist.
Jaanvi Agarwal (O6) shares her insights:
I enjoyed looking at the different artefacts and artworks from different parts of the world, and seeing how art influenced the lives of the people over the centuries. The artworks were preserved very well. For example, cloths from India still had their patterns and colours clearly imprinted which showed how dedicated the artists of that time were to make quality work. This taught me as an artist to also put a lot of dedication into my work, and make it valuable enough to transcend time and become part of the collective culture.
During this enrichment, I learned that the world has always been very multicultural, and a lot of artefacts were created, exchanged and transacted as a result of economic trade and business. For example Vietnam started making blue porcelain with designs inspired by Indian myths, when China ceased the export of cobalt.
Adapting a work of art into creative writing was an interesting experience because before this I had never thought about how an art piece and its history and background can help me craft a poem. I decided to do a shape poem to discuss the artefact and its creation though the structure of the poem. I found my work aesthetically pleasing in a similar way that the artefact is aesthetically pleasing as well.
The programme made me realise that poetry does not necessarily have to be abstract or distant. Many people can appreciate poetry that has been inspired by almost anything such as object, an event, or a person.
The Enlightened One by Faith Lee (O7)
Accession number: 2014-00570
Exchanging a golden crown
For pearls of wisdom
Cabinet by Rukshana Burzeen Driver (O6)
Accession number: 2013-00164
A pearl comes out of an oyster,
It shimmers like the sun,
The perfection of a craftsman,
The cabinet need not be filled,
As it is filled with a glittering emptiness,
Which is fullness.
عالم الفلك (Astronomer) by Isabella Ocampo (O5)
[read as ‘ealim alfulk’]
Artefact: Planispheric Astrolabe in the River
Accession Number: 1998-01545
Qibla; Mecca; Hajj
words I will never understand.
they follow a golden path of
(life death rebirth)
the universe’s slightest
whisper of a map to the ends of time.
we are not them.
we are a middle generation,
strung along temple visits and prayer times
before we stop
and light becomes big burning balls of gas and
the path to Jannah disappears
but they remain
with the Adhan and Iqama of their fate.
We will never know the meaning of stars.
Blue Velvet / Sandstorm Seas by Oliver Noel Phillips (O4)
Gallery: Tang Shipwreck
They carried the seas with them
Lines that once guided,
Blue velvet waters
Now frozen with time and varnish
Sand dollars awaiting an unfulfilled exchange,
Hope was suffocated in silt, sand and clay
Centuries of sleeping dormant
Awakened by the humble and curious sky
Spirits arranged in ceramic bloom
Glazed over eyes imprisoned
A glistening barrier between
The voices of the past and minds of the present
Depressed bowls filled,
Each with one undying soul
Memory enslaved by the patterns,
Both engrained in the sandstorm browns
Embellished mirrors turned asunder,
Protecting cried faces of antique people
From those who stare with modern empty wonder
As burgeoning chapters of history are subtly unwritten
Greedy creatures had stolen them from rest
Pulchritude of the living dead
Hollow sight and marvelled glares
On ever-passing dates
A series of uprooting by Aditi Bharade (O8)
Artefact: Storage Jars, containerised shipping in antiquity
Accession Number: 2005-153087
Unaware, I was uprooted from my earthy habitat, chiseled against my will into a fine, utilitarian form.
Unaware, I was loaded unto a vessel with hundreds of others like me, equally unsure and uncertain.
Unaware, I plunged into the saline depths of the sea, and dark and unforgiving as my future.
Unaware, I landed amongst a colony of colourful creature, who were taken aback by this intrusion.
Aware, I was embraced by the aquatic life, and content, I lived this way for many dynasties, oblivious to the wars above me.
Unaware, as an old man I was uprooted as I had been as a child, again by those loathsome hands, to beautify me, shape me, in foreign white spaces.
Unaware, I was placed with precision onto a spotless white stool, where I glowered down upon those who gave me a disgusted eye, those who had no concern of my story, those who shuffled away in the unearthly quiet to prevent getting another glimpse of me.
Aware, that the colourful aquatic beings who had latched themselves upon me were slowly conforming to the surroundings, becoming unremarkably white.
Unaware, that my life would continue to be a series of uprooting.