Call it a bunch of bananas or an upturned lotus, or 'the welcoming hand of Singapore', the ArtScience Museum at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore is supposedly the 'first' ArtScience Museum in the world. Its creator, Moshe Safdie, the Israel-born, US-based architect known for his geometric designs and open spaces, says that he wanted a 'floating in space' effect and an structure which would symbolise the optimistic spirit of Singapore.

The building is spread over 50,000 square feet with 21 galleries, and is environmentally-friendly with its bowl-shaped atrium that allows rainwater to collect in a reflecting pool, which is then recycled for use in the buildings restrooms.

What is ArtScience? A nascent field based on the common denominator in both art and science-creativity. At the museum, there are three spaces named Creativity, Inspiration and Expression with exhibits like Da Vinci's Flying Machine exploring the evolution of aviation with gliders and helicopters being inspired from bats in nature and an ancient Chinese scroll where history is told in pictures. We get a preview of the travelling exhibitions that the museum will host: the one entitled 'Shipwreck' is particularly enthralling, telling the story of a cargo of more than 60,000 objects carried in an Arab dhow from China. This shipwreck lay undisturbed for more than 1,000 years till its discovery off Indonesia's Belitung Island in 1998. You see rows after rows of the famous Changsha ceramics (produced on an industrial scale even in those days), gilded mirrors and gold and silver wares.

The other exhibition 'Travelling the Silk Route' takes us through silk weaving, glass blowing, and the sights and sounds of the market places on the Silk Route like Samarkand, Xian and Baghdad. Particularly striking here, is the working model of a water clock designed with precision 800 years ago.

Last is a journey to 13th Century Mongolia, chronicling the life of military leader Genghis Khan. The highlight is a 'paiza', a medallion which was probably the first passport in the world and carried by diplomats and merchants as they travelled the Silk Route. Traditional nomadic dwellings called Yurts, Mongolian musical instruments with horse tail hair and a Mongolian mummy preserved for years in the dry Gobi desert are some fascinating parts of the exhibit. With travelling exhibitions, public talks and screening of documentaries, the ArtScience Museum is another good reason to visit Singapore.

Published in Hindustan Times Cafe , 2011