From 4 April to 24 May 2023, learn more about kebaya as a form of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) and the community stories behind them at Love, Kebaya Travelling Exhibition. Kebaya has been submitted as a multinational nomination “Kebaya: Knowledge, Skills, Traditions and Practices” to the UNESCO Representative List of the ICH of Humanity.
The travelling exhibition will kick off at the National Museum of Singapore and travel to various locations around Singapore thereafter. It will feature community contributions, including six kebaya created by kebaya craftspersons and practitioners, and photographs.
The photographs show kebaya worn by women of various communities in Singapore, including Malay, Peranakan and Eurasian communities, across different time periods and occasions – as casual wear, at festive occasions and important rites of passage, or as part of traditional performing arts.
Continued Community Engagement
The Love, Kebaya travelling exhibition builds on National Heritage Board’s (NHB) efforts to engage and involve the community in all stages of the nomination process. NHB is closely supported by a local community network of 51 kebaya stakeholders, Kawan Kebaya (Friends of Kebaya), whose efforts have been instrumental in encouraging a deeper awareness and appreciation of kebaya among Singaporeans.
Kawan Kebaya members had earlier taken part in a series of focus group discussions in Singapore organised by NHB to share information about kebaya and discuss safeguarding measures, and also provided letters of consent and support for the nomination.
Several Kawan Kebaya members also attended joint workshops online and in Malaysia and Indonesia to discuss and prepare the nomination file with community and government representatives from the other participating countries.
Members of Kawan Kebaya actively contributed content and kebaya for the Love, Kebaya exhibition. In addition, they provided guidance and were featured in NHB’s #WeHeartKebaya digital campaign, which has generated over 240 entries to date from members of the public sharing stories about their kebaya.
All are welcome to continue to post their personal photos and use the hashtag to share their love for the iconic garment.
Safeguarding efforts for kebaya
Kawan Kebaya members have been actively involved in organising talks and workshops to transmit skills and knowledge on kebaya.
Further outreach programmes on kebaya are being planned. The Peranakan Museum will host a kebaya showcase in June 2023, which will feature and celebrate kebaya as a garment worn by women of different communities living in Southeast Asia, rooted in the traditional fashion of the Malay and Indonesian World.
The Malay Heritage Centre will also feature kebaya in some of its outreach initiatives and curatorial efforts, such as in its annual Hari Raya video in April 2023 and roadshow on Malay textiles from mid-June 2023 onwards.
Multinational Nomination of “Kebaya: Knowledge, Skills, Traditions and Practices”
As announced by Malaysia, the five participating countries – Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand – have jointly submitted the multinational nomination to inscribe “Kebaya: Knowledge, Skills, Traditions and Practices” on the UNESCO Representative List of ICH of Humanity in end March 2023.
The five countries worked together on a multinational nomination for the first time, to celebrate kebaya as a form of shared heritage in the region, and an ICH element that transcends ethnicity and religion, facilitates dialogues and unites Southeast Asian communities.
Kebaya continues to be actively produced and worn by many communities today, and the nomination is an opportunity to promote cross-cultural understanding amongst different communities in the region. The nomination file submitted to UNESCO includes:
- the official nomination form;
- a set of 15 photos representing how kebaya is practiced and safeguarded in the participating countries;
- letters of consent and support from community representatives from all the participating countries;
- a video featuring the consent and support for the nomination by kebaya community members from all the participating countries; and
- a 10-minute video to provide the Evaluation Body and the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the ICH, which will be assessing the submission, a better understanding of how kebaya is practised and safeguarded in the participating countries.
UNESCO will evaluate the nomination file collectively submitted by all five participating countries based on these five criteria:
- How “Kebaya: Knowledge, Skills, Traditions and Practices” meets UNESCO’s definition of ICH;
- How the potential inscription of “Kebaya: Knowledge, Skills, Traditions and Practices” contributes to visibility, awareness and dialogue of ICH, and sustainable development;
- Safeguarding measures that may protect and promote “Kebaya: Knowledge, Skills, Traditions and Practices”;
- Community participation in the nomination process and consent; and
- Inclusion of kebaya in the ICH inventories of participating countries.
The decision on the nomination will be reached in end 2024.