Catch the epic journeys of Manila Galleon: From Asia to the Americas at the Asian Civilisations Museum

Published on 15 February 2024
By Team Catch

The Asian Civilisations Museum is hosting another special exhibition, Manila Galleon: From Asia to the Americas, a fascinating showcase that chronicles the Manila Galleon trade that occurred between the 16th and 19th centuries when Spanish trading ships ferried precious goods such as silk, spices, porcelain, and silver across the Pacific Ocean between Manila in the Philippines and Acapulco in Mexico. The exhibition, one of the many events stretching beyond Singapore Art Week 2024, features an array of artefacts, multimedia displays, and interactive installations, and narrates the many stories of this historical trade route that connected the East and West. It’s good to note that many SAW events actually stretch beyond the Art Week itself!


Typical of special exhibitions at the ACM, this one is packed with over 130 works of art and artefacts from the period, revealing how people, goods, and ideas were exchanged between the Philippines and Mexico, creating a distinctive shared cultural and artistic heritage. There are of course, parallels between this, and our own Singaporean “blended” society, and the important role that port cities such as ours and Manila have played in trade and cultural exchanges.

Wide frontal shot of the Tree of Life

The Tree of Life: a timeless symbol connecting generations worldwide.

The Manila Galleon: From Asia to the Americas exhibition starts off with an epic size installation located in the foyer of Level 2 of the Asian Civilisations Museum. Called The Tree of Life, it is an original Mexican and Singaporean commission. You could say the sheer size of the piece is proportionate to the epic annual journeys that the Spanish galleons undertook across the span of the Pacific Ocean. Conceptually, the tree of life is an essential archetype in spiritual and philosophical traditions, representing life cycles, and the connection between the physical and the ethereal.

Collage of three exhibition pieces in the Ancient Religions and Ancestors and Rituals gallery

After a grand welcome, navigate through exhibits showcasing the fusion of cultures from afar, revealing the epic journeys of Manila Galleons.

After this huge welcome of sorts, make your way to the rest of the exhibition, via the two rooms housing the permanent exhibits of Ancient Religions and Ancestors and Rituals, to the Special Exhibitions Gallery. This is where the stories of the epic journeys properly begin. Artefacts ranging from attire from the period that were influenced by Spanish, Chinese, and native Filipino craftsmanship to commissioned porcelain homeware made by makers in Fujian, China showcase the blending of cultures from opposite sides of the world.


There is also religious iconography on display, with a variety of caskets, religious items intricately adorned with items traded between the locations, such as silver, mother-of-pearl, and ivory. The cross-cultural influences that pervade the history of the Philippines, Latin America, and Spain is evident in this exhibition. A map on display, of the epic journeys via the Pacific and the Atlantic give a sense of the immense scale of this trade route.


Manila Galleon: From Asia to the Americas runs till 17th March 2024, All-Access passes to the Asian Civilisations Museum are priced as follows: 


Foreigners: Adults $25, Seniors and Students $20; Singaporeans and PRs: Adults $12, Children, Students and Seniors are admitted free.  


All images belong to Catch.

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