'Missing' museum bust now back on display

After a decade-long "disappearing" act, a 74-year-old bronze bust cherished by the Chinese community is back.

But this bust of an anonymous Chinese gentleman, which had stood at the front entrance of the National Museum for more than half a century before going into storage, has been moved indoors to protect it from the elements.

It was sculpted and presented by Mr William G. Stirling, an Assistant Protectorate of the Chinese here during British colonial rule, to the then Raffles Museum in 1939 in recognition of the Chinese community's contributions in Singapore.

The bust by the British civil servant-turned-artist, after whom Stirling Road in Queenstown was named, was put into storage in 2003 when the museum was closed for a major renovation.

The works were completed in late 2006 when the museum - renamed National Museum in 1969 - reopened as the National Museum of Singapore.

A museum spokesman said on Wednesday that the museum's curatorial team has been reviewing the exhibits, including the bust, for the past few years.

It finally decided to put the bust in the Port City section of the museum's Singapore History Gallery, which features Chinese pioneers and philanthropists such as Dr Lim Boon Keng, on Oct 8.

The bust, said the spokesman, has been elevated from a public work of art to a historical artefact, hence the decision to place it indoors to preserve it.

This is not the first time the bust has gone "missing".

In 1985, it was removed for about two months so that a time capsule could be placed under the spot where it stood. But that was enough to cause a minor furore, with letters of protest from the Chinese community in the media.

When clan leader Kua Bak Lim, 66, first found out that the bust had been in storage since 2003, he proposed that the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations borrow the bust for display at its Toa Payoh headquarters.

His proposal did not materialise, but Mr Kua said he is pleased that the bust is now back on display in the museum.

Singapore Chinese community historian Lim Guan Hock, 67, admitted that he would be happier if the bust could return to its original open-air spot. But he said the museum's move is "good news" to the Chinese community.

"We now know it is still kept by the museum and it is better protected as it is indoors," he said.

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