Musings On Museums [part 3]: Cartwright Hall, Bradford vs. the Malay Heritage Centre, Singapore

[Image: Malay Heritage Centre, Singapore]


Read Part 1 HERE

Read Part 2 HERE


Part 3

Having previously looked at the ways in which these two museums make use of contemporary art to engage audiences, Part 3 explores their use of events, programmes and other means of engaging a wider and more diverse audience base.

Cartwright Hall hosts various temporary and travelling exhibitions about specific aspects of particular cultures. For instance, two recent exhibitions featured the turban in relation to Sikh faith, and Ukrainian art respectively. Though the museum began with trying to engage particular segments of the local community, its diversification and deeper exploration of these communities is a necessary step in recognising and representing the kaleidoscope of beliefs and cultures that make up the population of even a single city, let alone country. In the exhibition about Sikh culture, a Sikh Fortress Turban from the British Museum* made up the centrepiece, while many other objects from the Bradford collections and from residents of the Bradford area completed the display. Furthermore, there was a programme of talks and events involving many members of the Sikh community voluntarily giving their time to shed light on their culture. This process of co-creation has not only given the Sikh community in Bradford greater reason to visit the museum, but also created a sense of ownership over the presentation of their identity and culture, potentially helping to forge a long-term bond with the museum.

 Copyright The Trustees of the British Museum : Cartwright Hall

Sikh Fortress Turban exhibition whilst on show at Cartwright Hall Art Gallery (23 Feb – 18 May 2014)
(c) The Trustees of the British Museum / Cartwright Hall

* The Sikh Fortress Turban is a spotlight tour from the British Museum. The exhibition is currently open at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens.


The Malay Heritage Centre also has an extensive calendar of events and discussions. However, unlike Cartwright Hall, not all of them are related to ongoing exhibitions. They include lectures on aspects of Malay culture, but also sessions of traditional Malay games for children to enjoy.

Since the museum is situated in the historically and culturally rich neighbourhood of Kampong Glam, many of its learning and exploration programmes involve revolve around the environment and its relationship to the Malay community in Singapore. Its wider remit of preserving and promoting cultural knowledge, as opposed to knowledge of ‘art’ at Cartwright Hall, means it is able to draw from much wider cultural phenomena; running Malay movie nights, community-curated exhibitions and heritage festivals. As a result, their output is much broader, although its focus on the Malay language and culture is limiting in terms of audience interests and understanding. In comparison, Cartwright Hall is inclusive of various different cultures rather than exclusive to one segment of the population. Its responsibility is geared more towards engaging rather than preserving, while the Malay Heritage Centre, as its name suggests, preserves Malay heritage as its main task.


Children learning to play traditional Malay games at the Malay Heritage Centre


While the Malay Heritage Centre provides guided tours customised for school groups and young children, it does not have very much support for children to engage in a free-and-easy exploration of their galleries, as much of the information is textually conveyed. At Cartwright Hall, while there are fewer events for children, the galleries themselves have hands-on activities and games that directly relate to surrounding artworks, and which children can enjoy with minimal supervision. This widens the opportunity for the enjoyment of art and encourages creativity. Children feel that they can engage on their own terms rather than listening to complex explanations, which they may be unable to appreciate or relate to.

However, the object and story-based layout of the Malay Heritage Centre makes it easy for visitors to relate to, and for guides to adjust the complexity and depth of their tours depending on audience age and interests. Both galleries consider families and children to be an essential part of their visitor base, as opposed to only specialists or museum buffs. How they attract their visitors differs, based on the resources they have (including space, expertise and monetary concerns), as well as the core purposes of each institution.

Ruchi Mittal


Filed under: Art & Photography