Speech by Mr Ng Cher Pong, Chief Executive Officer, National Library Board, at the finale of the vOilah! France Singapore festival and the opening ceremony of the Mapping of the World: Perspectives from Asian Cartography exhibition on 10 December 2021, 6.10pm, at The Pod, National Library Building.

Mr Lee Seow Hiang, Chairman, National Library Board

Your Excellency, Ambassador Marc Abensour

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

1. Bonsoir, and a very warm welcome to the National Library Building.

2. Just last month, we launched a book showcasing a long-forgotten collection of natural history drawings of Singapore and the surrounding region at the vOilah! France Singapore Festival. These illustrations of birds, animals and plants were drawn by local artists commissioned by Pierre-Médard Diard and Alfred Duvaucel, two French naturalists who accompanied Sir Stamford Raffles on his maiden voyage to Singapore in January 1819. The book Diard & Duvaucel: French Natural History Drawings of Singapore & Southeast Asia was the result of a collaboration between NLB, the Embassy of France in Singapore, the French National Museum of Natural History in Paris, Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum and Epigram Books. Throughout vOilah!, we celebrated the best in the arts and culture from both our countries, spanning more than 50 programmes. And as the Ambassador has shared, they were very well-received.

3. All too quickly, we are now at the close of the festival today. Like any great piece of music, the finale is very important. It must not only be evocative and add colour to the entire piece, but also serve as a proper bookend to bring the music to a triumphant climax. As the finale event for this year’s vOilah!, we are happy to share with you this evening the opening of the Mapping the World: Perspectives from Asian Cartography exhibition. This exhibition was co-curated by our exhibitions team with our friends from France – Professor Pierre Singaravélou and Dr Fabrice Argounès, and showcases more than 60 cartographic treasures from collections in France, the US, Japan and Singapore. These works, which are shown together in one place for the first time, will present lesser-known stories behind Asian maps, and how people in the past saw the world.

4. Among some of the oldest works in the exhibition is a 15th century manuscript world map (which is actually a copy of the original map drawn in the 10th century) graciously loaned to us by the National Library of France. This map depicts the continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe, with the Islamic world in the centre. The map also appears in the Kitab surat al-ard or the “Book of the Configuration of the Land”, which was written by a famed Arab traveller and geographer, Ibn Hawqal.

5. The exhibition, which will run up till May next year, will be accompanied by a series of tours, talks, and programmes. I would like to invite everyone to view the exhibition, so as to see different views of the world, and mapping traditions from various cultures in Asia.

6. I would like to take this opportunity to extend our deepest thanks to our partners – the Embassy of France in Singapore for initiating the collaboration for this exhibition. I would also like to thank Professor Pierre Singaravélou and Dr Fabrice Argounès for their expertise in co-curating the exhibition and writing the book, and our sponsors Temasek and Tikehau Capital for making this exhibition possible. The exhibition has also received support from many local and overseas institutions.[1] We are truly grateful to everyone who has helped to put this together.

7. This exhibition reflects the deepening ties between France and Singapore. Even as this edition of vOilah! ends, I am hopeful that we will continue to find more ways to collaborate in our journey ahead, to bring more artefacts and exhibits to the public together.

8. I hope you will find this exhibition both informative and enjoyable.

Thank you.

[1] The exhibition features artefacts on loan from eight institutions and one private collection. These are France’s Bibliothéque Nationale de France, Bibliothèque de l’École française d’Extreme-Orient, Musée national des arts asiatiques – Guimet, and a Private Collection, USA’s The MacLean Collection, Japan’s Yokohama City University Library and Information Center, and Singapore’s Asian Civilisations Museum and Indian Heritage Centre.