Pictures That Were Worth a Thousand Calling Cards





The exhibition, “Neither East Nor West: Asians in Monochrome,” offers a glimpse of a time when globalization was emerging, thanks to developments in communication and transportation, and new diplomatic ties were being formed.

“The personalities featured in the exhibition had important connections to Asia and were instrumental in shaping how the West saw Asia,” said Tan Huism, deputy director for curation and collections at the museum. “These were exciting times with an emergence of an early global culture. The exhibition tries to highlight this spirit of openness and understanding.”

Having one’s photograph taken in a studio had been popular in cosmopolitan Europe for some time. In England the fashion of using studio photographs as visiting cards emerged in the mid-1800s after the publication of an album featuring the visiting cards of the British royal family.

“Queen Victoria herself started to collect the cards of all the ‘best ladies and their husbands,’ and everyone in high society of course started to want to have their photograph taken, which they would leave as a calling card when they left a party,” said Nicola Kuok, curator of the exhibition and assistant curator (West Asia) at the museum.


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