6 Special Exhibitions at the Asian Civilisations Museum

Asian Civilisations Museum

Exhibition Design

The sense of the dramatic can be seen in Hidden Faces, an exhibition of 48 Noh Masks and 10 Noh Theatre Kimonos. Pebbles representing water are used to create stylized ponds and a stream. A floating lamp transmutes into a lotus floating on the pond. Pine trees, used in traditional Noh Theatre to symbolize heaven, earth and humans become the third wall in his re-creation of a Noh Theatre space. The Japanese filmmaker Kurosawa's influence is seen in the 'endless corridor', multi-screen panels and the interplay of shadows and light. The kimonos are displayed in two rooms which face each other directly, as if they are contemplating or conversing with the other. In contrast with the sense of antiquity, contemporary graphics of sakura and pine trees are used to create a stylized natural environment. Black, red and gold, colours that symbolize wealth and prestige in Japan, are used to represent the high status of Noh Theatre in Japan.

"My various experiences visiting international museums have convinced me that Singapore is at the forefront of the new modes of presenting museum exhibitions. Here, design is closely integrated with the display of the artifacts and exhibition themes. It is both artistic and educational"

Edwin Lee, Principal Architect, CPG Consultants agrees, "I personally find his museum exhibition designs on par and even better than some of the other museums around the world. Some of his outstanding works are 'From the Land of Ottoman Sultans' which featured enclaves and intimate corridor exhibition spaces reflective of the palaces interior in spirit. The inventive use of lighting cast on panels with cut outs created interesting shadows on the exhibits. In the case of the Vatican's Journey of Faith exhibition, it was a totally different design approach with a very modern minimalist design using strategically placed light box tubes to cast a spiritual glow over the religious icons. On the other hand, Power Dressing exhibition, an exhibition on Chinese textiles, one has the impression of walking on a Chinese bridge whilst looking out onto 'sails' of Chinese gowns of ornate intricate patterns."

Sebastian regularly conducts design tours for each exhibition and engages with students and members of the public in dialogues, design seminars and forums for international exhibition designers. He also regularly accompanies press, media and important foreign dignitaries on tours of the exhibition to talk about his design rationale. "I believe all these interactions help to create and promote better awareness of design as a whole"


Asian Civilisations Museum
Sebastian Chun

Ng Pei Kie
Teng Yoke Kim
Asian Civilisations Museum

Alvin Lee Liang Meng
Asian Civilisations Museum

‘‘Get a good foundation and do research for each subject that you are working on. Aim for the result, not the reward. Develop an awareness of all kind of arts, culture and people. Be open minded and not self-indulgent, each design and creation should be selfexplanatory and be current - a sense of today - to date!’’

Insights from the Recipient

What was your main objective for the design?

Sebastian Chun: My main objective was not to over-design the exhibitions. Socially responsible design is an attitude that emphasises the needs and experiences of people over concerns of form or aesthetics. It was therefore important to understand each exhibition's learning objective and target audience. This allows us to develop new channels of communication with stakeholders and to streamline the creative design processes. Through in-depth design research, we created a relevant design language for each exhibition that enhances but did not overpower the content and display. This provided the public with a visual and learning experience that was interesting.


‘‘Get a good foundation and do research for each subject that you are working on. Aim for the result, not the reward. Develop an awareness of all kind of arts, culture and people. Be open minded and not self-indulgent, each design and creation should be selfexplanatory and be current - a sense of today - to date!’’

Jury Citation

The 6 special exhibitions at the Asian Civilisations Museum – Spirit of Wood, Sari to Sarong, From the Land of the Ottoman Sultans, Nyonya Kebaya, Journey of Faith, and Power Dressing – deftly cross-pollinate design and theatrical elements, to provide viewers with a complete and immersive visual experience.

Rather than tread the conventional path of transporting the visitor back into the past, the exhibitions employ the language of theatre to “float” the visitor in a dreamlike panorama of images and memories evocative of the past. The exhibitions show consistent quality and attention to detail throughout, and elegantly utilize design to enhance the subject matter.


Nominator Citation


Sebastian Chun has worked under my direct supervision for four years. He joined the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) in 2002 to head the then newly-created Design Services Department. His responsibilities are the conceptualisation, development and roll-out of all design-related components of the ACM'soperations. He has led his Department to establish ACM's current reputation as the museum with the best design work in Singapore.

His most significant contribution to the museum has been in the design of our special exhibitions. Bringing his experience in theatre design to a museum setting, Sebastian has set new benchmarks in innovative exhibition design.

The six exhibitions designed by Sebastian for the ACM's Empress Place premises are: Spirit of Wood (an exhibition of Malay wood carving), Sari to Sarong (an exhibition of Indonesian and Indian textiles). From the Land of Ottoman Sultans, Nyonya Kebaya, Journey of Faith (an exhibition from the Vatican Museums), and Power Dressing (an exhibition of Chinese costumes and textiles). Sebastian has also designed ten other exhibitions for the ACM's Armenian Street premises.

The exhibitions at ACM Empress Place have been complex and high profile, with large numbers of artefacts having different mounting, conservation and lighting requirements, and loans from famous overseas museums or well-known private collectors. Not only have all the exhibitions been professionally mounted in accordance with international best practices, Sebastian has shown great skill in balancing the needs of each exhibition - by establishing a different design and style for each show, yet not overwhelming the exhibits by over-designing.

Every exhibition that Sebastian has designed for the ACM has been elegant, engaging and creatively atmospheric through the use of colour, lighting and sound. Through his versatility, he achieved the difficult feat (in the Ottoman Sultans exhibition) of ramping up the design element in order to compensate for a relatively small number of exhibits, whilst still allowing the exhibits to shine.

Perhaps his best work is Journey of Faith, which was respectful of the religious works on display yet having a distinct character with a contemporary twist that united the disparate works on display.

His work is on par with what I have seen in the best museums in the west, and sometimes even exceeds them. As a result, visiting the museum's exhibitions is a beautiful and uplifting experience for all our visitors, and the museum as a whole has become more attractive and accessible to Singaporeans.

In addition to his work for the ACM, Sebastian helps to promote the local design industry by conducting public tours and workshops on the subject of exhibition design.


Hans Tan


Founder, Hans Tan Studio; and Assistant Professor, Division of Industrial Design,
National University of Singapore
Hans Tan Studio