Inside our #BuroSocial dinner at the Asian Civilisations Museum

Inside our #BuroSocial dinner at the Asian Civilisations Museum


Text: Norman Tan

Video: Jach Chua
Image: Robin Thang

Buro 24/7 Singapore's #BuroSocial dinner party inside the Asian Civilisations Museum to connect Singapore's creatives and discuss Korean soft power

The whole idea behind #BuroSocial is to host dinner parties in unexpected locations with the purpose of gathering Singaporeans from different walks of life. It's all about creating a unique opportunity for meaningful conversations — away from our daily digital distractions — in order to be inspired, and challenged, by different perspectives. To eat, drink, and be merry. You know, to actually connect face-to-face without FaceTime.

Our inaugural #BuroSocial was held in The Co. co-working space in Duxton Hill (with the theme, 'The Power of Collaboration'); but for our second instalment, we held our dinner inside the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM). Yes, inside the museum itself. (In hindsight, it was rather Metball-esque, though unintentionally so). After an exclusive tour of the museum's exhibition, 'Joseon Korea: Court Treasures and City Life' by lead ACM curator, Kan Shuyi, our party of 30 dined in the centre of South Korean artist Ran Hwang's contemporary artwork, Becoming Again; Coming Together. A breathtaking piece painstakingly constructed out of 50,000 pins, countless chillies, and five kilometres of string, it was the perfect backdrop for our latest #BuroSocial dinner that considered the topic: How much does Korean culture impact on Singapore life? 

Asian Civilisations Museum

Karen Meddour, Nejla Matam-Finn, Vicky Hwang Pieron

Lead ACM curator, Kan Shuyi

Traditional Korean dress

Becoming Again; Coming Together

#BuroSocial inside the ACM

Like our first #BuroSocial, we invited four hosts from different industries to each invite four of their own friends; the remaining guests were then hand-picked by Buro 24/7 Singapore to make up a seated dinner party of 30 — not too big to be lost in the crowd, and not too small so as to meet someone new. For this #BuroSocial dinner at the ACM, our four hosts were Carolyn Kan, founder and creative genius behind Carrie K. jewellery; Charlotte Nors, executive director of the Singapore Repertory Theatre; Kan Shuyi, lead ACM curator of the 'Joseon Korea: Court Treasures and City Life' exhibition; and Nejla Matam-Finn, founder and CEO of vintage e-tailer, The Fifth Collection.

Watch the video below for an inside look into our #BuroSocial dinner at the ACM.

Of course, transforming the museum into a restaurant could only have been possible with our amazing partners. Massive shout-out to Luxe Catering for outfitting the space and serving a sumptuous Korean-inspired menu (favourites included the wagyu beef and fusion bibimbap); 28 Hong Kong Street for mixing deft cocktails with The Botanist Gin (strong and generous, just how we like it); Floral Magic for elevating the event with their gorgeous flowers (that was colour co-ordinated with Ran Hwang's artwork); and Marques de Casa Concha for lubricating the night with white wine (to fuel conversation, of course).

Charlotte Nors, Carolyn Kan, Nejla Matam-Finn, Kan Shuyi

Floral Magic Flowers at #BuroSocial

Norman Tan, editor-in-chief of Buro 24/7 Singapore

Tracy Phillips, Lucinda Law

Korean-inspired menu courtesy of Luxe Catering

Marina Matthews

The Botanist Gin

Marques de Casa Concho white wine

28 Hong Kong Street cocktails

As we walk by — and in some cases, even through — the artworks that make up the 'Joseon Korea: Court Treasures and City Life' exhibition at ACM, we chat to our four hosts about the influence of Korean culture on Singapore life, their favourite pieces in the museum, and whether Singapore itself possesses any soft power. 


Carolyn Kan of Carrie K Jewellery

Has Korean culture had an impact on Singapore?
If there is anything to go by, even my parents watch Korean culture and tell me to design my collections based on what the Korean celebrities are wearing. For sure. It's pervasive. It's gone right thorugh Singapore.

On that note, how important is it for emerging Singapore designers to seed a Korean singer or actor in order to get that exposure?
I think it's nice to have. But at the end of the day, it's more important to focus on the quality of the product or whether the designer is telling a unique story. It starts with the designers. It's great to have G-Dragon or one of the other celebrities to wear your stuff, because it will go crazy, but long-term it's about your idea, your design and what you have to say.

Does Singapore have soft power to influence others?
To be absolutely honest, no. But we would love to. Singapore is only 50 years young and we are only beginning to create our own perspective and our own aesthetic. And I can see that there is now a stronger story-telling element in Singapore design — and I think we will develop soft power over time — but for now we are still absorbing a lot of influences.  

Has Korean trends influenced the way you design or style for Carrie K? 
Wow. If you had asked me that question before today, I would have given you a different answer. But now that I have walked through the Joseon exhibition at the Asian Civilisations Museum, I am completely inspired. One of the things that really came through was the influence of Chinese culture in Korea, and it's quite serendipitous, because that's one of the stories that I am working on for Carrie K. Jewellery.


Charlotte Nors, executive director of Singapore Repertory Theatre

What was your favourite part of the Joseon Korea exhibition?
The first thing that caught my eye was the Moon Vase. See, I just love that. Simple, beautiful and it's just the shape. And maybe it's because I'm Scandinavian, but I love clean lines without too many design elements. Sadly, I didn't spend enough time. I feel like I have to come back and really go through the exhibition, rather than network and talk, to understand the Chinese and Japanese influences on Korean history. 

Do you think Korean culture has an impact on life here in Singapore?
Singapore is everything good about so many parts of Asia. I know my colleagues are watching Korean TV series or listening to K-Pop, so although it doesn't really influence me, Korean culture does have an impact on local fashion and food and different parts of the art scene. I also think it increasingly has an influence on my ticket buyer's choices, so I really need to get more involved with Korean culture.

Do you think Singapore has soft power? Does what we do here influence other parts of the region?
I think a lot of people in the region look at Singapore and our stories as an example of success to follow. We do have an amazing art scene — we have amazing museums and great theatre — so people do look at us, not only in terms of content but also in the context of business of the arts: How do we reach out to people, how do we work with amazing platforms like Buro 24/7 Singapore to have conversations about the arts, and how it fits into the bigger picture of life in general.  


Kan Shuyi, ACM curator

Are you a fan of Korean pop culture?
Eventhough I am a curator of ancient or historical works, I do have to say that I am a closet Korean drama fan. Time to time, I will watch a lot of drama on YouTube, listen to K-Pop, and I also watch a lot of Korean entertainment reality programs. It's also because I am learning Korean at the moment, so it helps me with pronounciation and just getting myself more familiar with the language.

How has Korean culture influenced art in our region?
I think I can speak more closely about the influence of Korean art and culture with the installation that's right here at ACM now. So we have a work by Korean artist Ran Hwang and she works with pins and thread to make these large scale installations. Using these everyday items makes her work relatable. She also features a couple getting married, which is a significant time in anybody's life. So I feel these themes transcend geographical boundaries and would resonate with audiences here as well.

When you think of Korea, what is the first thing that comes to mind?
Kimchi. That might be unfair to say, but it's the first thing that comes to mind. I fell love with Korea when I visited the country on my grad trip. It's such a dynamic and multi-faceted place where the modern and old comes together. And I think people are very familiar with Korea, but are now starting to fall in love with other aspects of culture whether that be food or dress, and of course, their soft power is really quite amazing. But I have to admit, I always have kimchi in my fridge. 


Nejla Matam-Finn, The Fifth Collection

Did you enjoy the Joseon Korea exhibition?
What was amazing about tonight was that one of my guests had a Chanel pochette from the Paris-Korea collection, and when we were going through the exhibition, we took the pochette and placed it next to one of the Korean outfits — which is super, super vintage — and it was exactly the same colour. This is what we are all about at The Fifth Collection: Vintage can come back into vogue. 

Do you think Singapore has soft power?
I think Singapore is such a melting pot of different cultures, and we're currently in the process of creating our own culture. So although we might not influence the region the way that Korean culture or Japanese culture does, we are starting to influence each other from within to develop our own identity.

How are you personally influenced by Korean culture?
At my age, beauty. I'm not into Korean drama and I'm too old for K-Pop, so clearly the beauty. I actually incorporate a few things from Korean beauty practices into my routine and it's more than just the steps; there is a philosophy and reason behind each gesture.  

Click through the gallery below for more candid moments from our #BuroSocial at the ACM:

Check back every Monday for another @MusingMutley column from Norman Tan, Editor-in-Chief of Buro 24/7 Singapore. For more columns from @MusingMutley, click here.

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