Intriguing early drawings of animals and plants have been brought to life at the National Museum of Australia (NMA) in its new digital installation, Voyage: Experience the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings of Southeast Asia.
The NMA in Canberra is the first stop on an international tour for the new installation, based on one of the most treasured collections from the National Museum of Singapore – a set of 477 watercolour drawings commissioned in 1819 by William Farquhar, the first colonial administrator of Singapore.
Farquhar, who administered the British East India Company settlements in Melaka (1803–1818) and Singapore (1819–1823), was fascinated by the local fauna and flora and instrumental in documenting many species.
He took part in several collecting expeditions and was the first European to formally describe the Malayan tapir, sending a description to the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1816, accompanied by drawings and a skeleton of its head. He even reared a juvenile tapir at his home and noted its timid disposition and fondness for bread and cake.
The William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings comprises botanical and zoological works and is a significant document of the biodiversity of the Malay Peninsula and broader Southeast Asian region. The installation features animals such as the rhinoceros hornbill, cowtail stingray, flower crab, Malayan tapir, climbing perch and zebra dove.
Director of the NMA, Dr Mathew Trinca, said the museum was delighted to “bring this fascinating digital experience to Canberra to showcase the wonderful fauna and flora captured by Southeast Asian artists in the early 19th century”.
“This is an excellent example of how modern technology can capture and enhance physical drawings from the past. We look forward to strengthening our relationship with the National Museum of Singapore and working on future collaborative projects,” he said.
National Museum of Singapore director Chung May Khuen was excited to partner with the National Museum of Australia in Canberra and showcase Voyage at its first international stop.
“We hope that visitors in Australia will enjoy this immersive experience, which offers an accessible introduction to Singapore’s history through the familiar themes of flora and fauna that resonate with many of us,” she said.
“Collaborations with esteemed partners like the National Museum of Australia allow us to bring stories of Singapore to the world, and more importantly, advance cultural understanding and exchanges. We hope to create more of such opportunities in the future.”
Voyage introduces a variety of species represented in the Farquhar Collection by bringing them to life through animation, morphing into fantastic environments in which the lush plant and animal life flourish. The title “Voyage” refers to the spirit of exploration exemplified by British East India Company officials during their time in Southeast Asia.
The four-minute animation experience features 30 works while the other watercolours in the 477-drawing set appear on a digitised touch screen.
At the opening of Voyage in Canberra, the NMA and Singapore’s National Heritage Board renewed their Memorandum of Understanding, signed in 2015. The National Heritage Board operates the National Museum of Singapore and eight other museums and heritage institutions.
Voyage: Experience the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings of Southeast Asia is on display at the NMA, Canberra, until 5 November 2023 in the Studio Gallery. Free entry.
Original Article published by Sally Hopman on Riotact.