Courtesy of Tan Kim Ching & Family

Amek Gambar: A Rare Glimpse Into the Peranakan Community and Early Photography in SEA

In a time infested with camera-wielding Instagrammers, Facebookers, Twitterers (Tweeters? Whatever)–it’s hard to imagine that photography was once a rare commodity and not as annoyingly available as it is today.

In fact, affluent Peranakans were among the first to participate in this technological breakthrough, in the process providing the rest of the world with an insight into Southeast Asia.

The Peranakan Museum’s newest exhibition, Amek Gambar (Taking Pictures): Peranakans and Photography, is a stark reminder of this now abused art form’s regal origins despite its humble roots, and the significance it shared with its deeply cultural subjects.

The exhibit covers more than a century and a half of photography, tracing the emergence, adoption and evolution of photography in Southeast Asia, with the Peranakan community as its visual tapestry.

“Every photograph captures a moment in time, and tells a story. Today, we take photographs to mark important life events – births, marriages, deaths – but also the mundane, the ordinary, the everyday. The ‘photographs’ in Amek Gambar – from monochrome early images on metal plates, to dazzling digital displays – provide a fascinating insight, not only into the Peranakan world, but life in Southeast Asia and Singapore, from the mid-19th century to today. As we enter the museum’s 10th year, it is also timely to showcase our collection of photographs of Peranakans, one of the best in the world, in part through the generous donation of more than 2,500 photographs by Mr and Mrs Lee Kip Lee,” said John Teo, General Manager of the Peranakan Museum

Consisting of two main sections: firstly, the early history of photography in Europe, and its rapid spread to Southeast Asia through the establishment of immigrant (Western) and indigenous (Asian) studios across the region; and secondly, with the advent of portable cameras, how Peranakans chose to express and represent themselves outside of the studio, as early adopters of the technology.

Amek Gambar: Peranakans and Photography runs from 5 May 2018 to 3 February 2019 at the Peranakan Museum. More information can be found on

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