An all-new exhibition by the National Library Board, Human X Nature explores our impact on the natural world through archive collections of botanical drawings, taxidermy and oral histories. Here’s a sneak peek of what you can expect if you do visit the exhibition:
Located on level 10 of the Central Public Library, you won’t miss the large sign pointing you towards the exhibition. Human X Nature takes up the floor space of the Lee Kong Chian Reference Collection, which also houses some of the library’s other archival materials that you can take a look at if you’re interested!
The exhibition starts with a look at Singapore’s classification efforts in regards to the flora and fauna of the region. Beginning in the early 1800s, this is the start of your journey through Singapore’s past and present of Singapore’s natural history.
Greeting you is a tapir, brought to life by the art of taxidermy. Artfully preserved by the efforts of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (which supplies the other biological specimens in the exhibition), this documents the beginning of Singapore’s development as a nation-state.
Botanical drawings take centre stage with cross-sections of flowers, sketches of fungi and more! Collections from prominent botanical artists tell the story of the region’s biodiversity through print media, audio and digital guides.
Featured digitally are a collection of natural history drawings by Pierre-Medard Diard and Alfred Duracell, who managed to smuggle parts of their work to France before it could be turned over to the East India Company. These are the only surviving drawings that could be exhibited by the Museum National d’Histoire Naturalia, which has allowed the exhibition to digitally showcase the drawings.
More taxidermied specimen are on display, with the critically endangered Grey-Cheeked Flying Squirrel and Lesser Mouse-deer that used to densely inhabit Singapore. It’s a grim reminder of how modernization and development have encroached on the natural habitats of these animals.
Colourful botanical illustrations bring a splash of colour to the first section, with illustrated mushrooms, botanical life sketches and flora being especially visually entrancing. We were especially drawn to the lifelike botanical illustrations, which provided a glimpse into the kinds of fungi you could see in the region in the 1800s.
Preserved butterfly specimens are neatly displayed behind glass casings, allowing visitors to marvel at the many species that can be found throughout Singapore and Southeast Asia. The Dark Blue Jungle Glory, Malayan Tree Nymph and Malay Lacewing can still be spotted in Singapore today, though sightings of the Dark Blue Jungle Glory are considerably rarer.
While the first part of the exhibition ends on a colourful note, the next part of the exhibition takes a somber turn into the Japanese Occupation era. Surprisingly, botanical exploration and study continued during the Japanese Occupation, with the Japanese placing importance on the preservation of cultural sites.
Documenting their botanical discoveries, the Japanese expanded on Singapore’s collections in the Botanic Gardens and furthered research on the subject. By the end of the war, there were significant advances in Singapore’s botanical research.
The exhibition then transits to a post-war commentary of natural history, and the increasing need to develop more land reducing the amount of jungle space the nation had. Written accounts and taxidermied species continue to set the stage for the crux of the exhibition – how much are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of progress?
As Singapore continued to develop in the 19th and 20th centuries, the demand in the taxidermy trade continued to rise. Singapore was at the heart of this industry, serving as a shipping warehouse and entrepôt. Displays of animal specimens drew many visitors to museums, and this lucrative trade continues to this day.
If you’ve ever wanted to see a taxidermied otter or a pangolin, the displays continue to showcase preserved animal specimen collected throughout the years. These taxidermied specimen are conserved for education and research purpose, in the case of an extinction event of a species.
Did you know that there was once a time where tiger sightings were a frequent occurrence in Singapore? Not just behind glass enclosures in zoos, but free-roaming through much of the island’s vegetation. While the tigers were an unusual sight which intrigued many, the danger of letting a vicious predator roam free on the island would soon come to light.
After a spate of deaths resulting from tiger attacks, the remaining tigers in Singapore were hunted down before they could cause any more harm. Like this tiger, some were taxidermied for future study and exhibition. The lifelike display of this taxidermied tiger makes one wonder what it was once like living among them.
The final segment of the exhibition documents Singapore’s emergence as a bustling metropolis. With the focus shifting to transforming Singapore into a garden city, more emphasis was placed on botanical research. The flourishing flora and fauna are depicted in these paintings, showcasing the biodiversity of the region.
True to its name as a National Library Board exhibition, this segment also features a reading corner where you can peruse books relating to Singapore’s natural history. Quotes from the books in the reading corner are scattered throughout the exhibition, inviting visitors to learn something new about Singapore’s biodiversity.
You can also listen to interviews and oral histories around the exhibition area, which provide a glimpse into the experiences of contributors to Singapore’s early “Garden City” movement.
The exhibition ends off with Singapore’s wetland conservation efforts and the various ways we can help towards caring for the environment. Maintaining the harmony between the natural environment and industrial progress is a delicate task, which Human X Nature delves into through an insightful, thought-provoking exhibition that challenges visitors to reclaim their natural heritage.
Date: Now–26 September 2021
Address: Level 10, Central Public Library, 100 Victoria St, Singapore 188064
Opening Hours: Monday–Sunday 10am–9pm