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Jun 17, 2022
Supriya Sivabalan

#RIUHVisits: Skola Gambar: Enrique De Malacca Exhibition at ILHAM Gallery


Today, we explore ancient relics as a tribute to an enslaved Malay sailor and interpreter named Enrique de Malacca who is among 270 crew members who undertook the first circumnavigation around the world via the Magellan-Elcano expedition. Skola Gambar Enrique de Malacca is the fourth iteration of the Enrique de Malacca Memorial Project by Ahmad Fuad Osman.

Upon entering the exhibit, I was provided two guides. One that provides an introduction and understanding of the exhibit, and another a glossary to truly understand the little details that go behind each art piece, artifact and discovery. The exhibit is split by sections - 1. Kacukan (Creole), 2. Peta (Picture), 3. Mare Liberum (High Seas) and 4. Keramat (Afterlife). 

2 exhibit guides provided at the entrance
Section 1: Kacukan (Creole) 

One of the items that caught my eye is a Malay Badek that is made of steel, wood, brass and horn. It is a self-protective weapon that’s second in popularity to the keris and has been used in the Malay community for centuries. Seeing these weapons in person made me gape in awe as I tried to picture the fear and difficulty of having to travel the high seas while ensuring your safety with such unique equipment. I thought it looked very similar to a walking stick, but was amazed to find out that it is actually a popular weapon used for self-defense. 

The beautiful Malay Badek

Apart from the Badek, this section of the exhibit features many other weapons developed by locals that were carried onboard and throughout the expedition including the Malaccan Spears, the Malay Kris, the Lawi Ayam and the Marlin bone dagger. Most, if not all of these weapons are made out of natural items lying around - from fishbones to tiger claws and other animal remnants. It truly showcases the wit and resilience of the crewmates that embarked on the expedition. 

This section left me further intrigued of the mini stories of the many sailors that were part of the same journey as Enrique de Malacca. In what instances were these weapons relevant? How did they choose to use it? Was there a strategy to ensure safety? The exhibit evoked a sense of curiosity within me that I never knew I had. 

Section 4: Keramat (Afterlife)

Moving on, the exhibit then brings you to the afterlife section before the other two parts. I personally believe this is a creative, intentional direction to invoke deeper impact within the individual at the start of the exhibit before further delving into other details and specifics of the journey. 

In this section, the lighting was significantly dimmer. It was a stark contrast to the earlier exhibit with white, fluorescent lights that were almost too bright. The moment I stepped into this exhibit, there’s a huge shift in mood. It was incredible how some lighting and exhibit placements can cause such a drastic impact in the atmosphere. 

The first thing I laid my eyes on here  are two mannequins in two different, very unique attire. There was a clear distinction between the two displays though, as one attire was of a high-ranking title holder living in 16th century Malacca while the other was of a typical sailor. Upon inspecting both outfits meticulously, it is very interesting to note that they both look so similar yet are set apart by minor differences. For instance, the waistcloth of the sailor’s attire to hold weapons vs. the headgear, dubbed tengkolok or destar of the high-ranking attire  to protect the wearer from light blows to the head. It is a difference separated by offense and defence based on the responsibility they hold. 

The mannequins

This part of the exhibit also features a 24 minute single-channel video titled Waris (Heir) that revolves around a village in Negeri Sembilan whose residents believe that their ancestry can be traced back to Enrique de Malacca. 

Besides that, is the Armada de Molucca crew list that featured the names of all crewmembers and their post duties. 

Section 2: Peta (Picture)

This section features the Tordesillas Map, which is the earliest surviving map showing Portuguese geographic discoveries in the East and West. 

History meets Geography!

Besides that are portraits of significant figures in that era. One of them being a stunning oil on canvas portrait of Ferdinand Magellan. Magellan was known to be a skilled navigator and is deemed one of the greatest explorers who lived, despite not completing the entire voyage. 

Ferdinand Magellan by Ahmad Fuad Osman

Another portrait that drew my attention was the painting of Antonia Lombardo Pigafetta. An Italian scholar and explorer, Pigafetta was one out of 18 mea who completed the voyage after a 3 year old journey. The portrait captures the dignified, intellectual presence of Pigafetta and provides a fantastic depiction of his aura. 

Antonia Lombardo Pigafetta by Ahmad Fuad Osman
Section 3: Mare Liberum (High Seas) 

Here, I got the  chance to see Enrique’s name in Magellan’s Last Will and Testament. To quote it, “And by this my present will and testament, I declare and ordains as free and quit of every obligation of captivity, subjection, and slavery, my captured slave Enrique, mulatto, native of the city of Malacca, of the age of twenty-six years more or less, that from the day of my death thenceforward for ever the said Enrique may be free and manumitte, and quit, and exempt and relieved of every obligation of slavery and subjection…” 

There was also a frottage of Lapu-lapu’s monument that outlines where and how Magellan died.

Frottage of Lapu-lapu’s monument


Overall, this exhibit was extremely engaging and thought-provoking. I had a fun time piecing together the different parts of the exhibit to slowly understand Enrique’s life story through a range of sources. It was definitely an experience to remember and a beautiful take on important significant moments that were lived by Enrique, being a slave perservering through the rough voyage of the Magellan-Elcano expedition.