Monday, 27 February 2017

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Liana Gurung

Note: Diary of an NUS Museum Intern is a series of blog posts written by our interns about their experiences during the course of their internships. Working alongside their mentors, our interns have waded through tons of historical research, assisted in curatorial work, pitched in during exhibition installations and organised outreach events! If you would like to become our next intern, visit our internship page for more information! 


Liana Gurung is a fourth-year English Literature at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. As our South & Southeast Asian Collection Curatorial Research Intern, Liana assisted with the research and organisation of information for upcoming Southeast Asian exhibition projects.

Even before my internship, NUS Museum was not a foreign name to me: I’d participated in a writing programme there in my first year, so it was somewhat nostalgic that I would return there in my last one.

Our little nook

Briefly, what our particular batch of interns had to do was very self-directed; we were to write – or curate, more accurately (curate? Accurate? Hmm) – a museum guide for the new permanent exhibit in the NUS Museum, Radio Malaya. I think all four of us were pretty daunted by the task initially (and even now, on hindsight) – how could we, four undergraduates only just beginning to scale the iceberg of all the knowledge we do not even know we do not know, even think to have the authority to frame any sort of historical narrative? But that was precisely the point. The idea of narrative and the implications of popular appeal and reception were driven home for us during that first briefing with Ahmad and in all our various conversations with the rest of the tight-knit museum staff. What I really like about NUS Museum is how it navigates that murky border between down-to-earth accessibility and academic rigour; the emphasis it places on personal lenses, the importance it accords various different viewpoints, and the respect it has for the individual’s gaze.

I visited the Central Library more times in December than I ever have in my entire undergraduate career (I’m not sure what this says about me – take it as you will). As a Literature major, this is some feat; and as a person not quite as well-versed in local literature and the history thereof as I perhaps should be (sorry Prof Holden!), it was a crash course. I spent hours reading in the soft afternoon light, alternately lamenting and praising the selection of local literature available in NUS (there are so, so many amazing plays out there that I didn’t know of before that is c r a z y – please do yourselves a favour and check out Details Cannot Body Wants by Chin Woon Ping, Singapore’s first R-rated theatre production and a beautifully, painfully written one-woman play).

Best Of, by Haresh Sharma – another one-woman play that I am so sad I missed

Those hours were perhaps more effective than any four years doing Social Studies might have been; parsing, yes, through stilted English, but learning so much about the fire that drove so many early poets and playwrights in Singapore. Understanding precisely the intersection between politics and poetry that was the first engine for Singaporean literature. If you take the time to go through Radio Malaya, that hope and fierceness is what I hope you will take away from it; how language was used as fissure and to fuse, and how weighty the word “Malaya” must have been for the people of that era. Wang Gung-wu, a name and poet I’d seen and studied, jumped off the page and into a batik shirt for the opening of the exhibit in January. If I may be so impertinent, he reminded me slightly of my late grandfather, holding himself in what I imagine to be the manner of the English-educated of that particular era; with a slight dry formality, a kind of quiet confidence. He was somewhat soft but clearly-spoken, talking to a room of nodding heads and attentive silence that rippled only during moments of his gentle good humour. He spoke of Malaya and, with a poet’s attenuation to language, of the word “Malaya”, what it had meant to him and his peers, crackling out on the static of the radio. That evening was warmly nostalgic, and a little sad. But often, that’s what my experiences of museums tend to be: my body is facing forward, but my head is turned behind. We must contend with an innate helplessness in the face of history, that perhaps the different branches of the museum deal with, in a way: we curate, to try and dredge new meaning; we catalog, to remember with knifelike precision; and we communicate, to share the former two, and to invite people in, through the threshold.

Lessons from the Museum: Documentation

Lessons from the Museum: The Importance of Framing I

Lessons from the Museum: The Importance of Framing II 

I mentioned to my supervisor Sidd, briefly, that the concept of curatorship appeals to me because of my slight hoarder mentality. Meaning via arrangement, via juxtaposition, also means that nothing – or few things – are ever truly useless or worth discarding; the impulse to reclaim, renew, repurpose is ever-present and ever-possible.

And as Chin Woon Ping writes in Details Cannot Body Wants,

How do you live with flatness? How do you live with plainness? How do you live with ugliness? How do you live with emptiness?

My own answer, which is one that I’m not sure is right, but who really is sure anyway: you don’t. Or you don’t have to. If you can change your perspective, if you can let yourself trust others’ perspectives, nothing need ever be dismissed or perhaps even should be. I’m thinking now of that Romantic/romantic idea of negative capability, or humanity’s ability to live in limbo and in liminality, to be able to grapple with uncertainties, even with all the various anxieties that come with the idea of curating (that a predecessor Mary Ann put so well): “on representation, on narrative, on authority, on the institution.” We leave marks, wherever we go, and on whatever we touch. There are a polyphony of voices, speaking out from any kind of arrangement, or exhibit, something I’ll listen harder for, now that December is done.

Hands I 

Hands II 

Thank you again to everyone at the museum, particularly Sidd, Wardah, Michelle, and my fellow interns Sheena, Jeremy and Clarice, for making my December as fulfilling as it was. All the best to all of you, and stay in touch!

Interns, signing out (our hands represent Clarice, stationed at the Baba House)

Monday, 20 February 2017

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Jeremy Wong

Note: Diary of an NUS Museum Intern is a series of blog posts written by our interns about their experiences during the course of their internships. Working alongside their mentors, our interns have waded through tons of historical research, assisted in curatorial work, pitched in during exhibition installations and organised outreach events! If you would like to become our next intern, visit our internship page for more information! 


Jeremy Wong is a third-year Ancient World, Politics and International Studies student at the University of Melbourne. During his time as Collections Intern at the NUS Museum, Jeremy assisted the Collections team with organizing the collections data, art handling and research.

I knew I was in for an interesting ride as the Collections Intern at the NUS Museum. After all, I had to check approximately around 865 digital records of the museum’s collection, I was the only University of Melbourne student amongst my fellow interns and had to handle more artifacts and artworks than my whole semester load of ancient Egyptian subjects. So yes, a definite step up from the weekly tutorial discussions of touching and examining ancient Egyptian ceramics and funerary figures. I was tasked with vetting the digital records in the NUS Museum’s online collections database, checking for spelling, grammar, punctuation errors along with any presentation improvements I could suggest to help improve the online collections database records.

Naturally online dictionaries become one of my faithful companions during this quest of vetting the museum’s online collections database as I found my vocabulary expanding due to my constant checking for the definitions of words such as oeuvre and islets. Some records were reasonably easy to check as the only errors were minor spelling or grammar mistakes. However, there were some days where I would spend a good amount of time staring at the object’s record and attempting to decipher the original meaning of odd sentences like ‘by many said to be superior to the very best Penang’ to present a better rephrasing of these sentences for viewers. Due to the focus of my Ancient World Studies major in Melbourne University on ancient Roman, Greek, Egyptian and Near Eastern civilisations, I found myself learning more about the histories and material cultures of civilisations from different Chinese, Southeast and South Asian periods such as the longquan celadon wares and the meanings of different Buddha statue poses like varada mudra meaning compassion. And thanks to my checks of the digital records of the museum’s collection, I have been able to add interesting places like the Goa Gajah or Elephant Cave in Bali to my travel list, so who says careful evaluations cannot be rewarding?

One of the few documents containing my notes on all the spelling, punctuation, grammar and presentation errors for the museum’s online collection database. Will be working on making this presentable in a song and dance performance in the future.

Thanks to the other assignment given to all the interns to produce a gallery guide on the exhibition Radio Malaya: Abridged Conversations about Art, I found myself learning and being fascinated by the art, literary, political and social history of my home country. I must admit though, my work on the gallery guide started with plenty of confusion on my part, as Singaporean art history was a significant gap in my knowledge and therefore Singaporean artists like Ng Eng Teng and Chen Wen Hsi were like strangers to my mind. I am grateful to Michelle, Sidd and Ahmad for their openness to allow us interns to explore topics that are of interest to us and so starting me on a journey to learning more about how the independence period had a such profound impact on many aspects of Singaporean society, politics and history. I am also particularly grateful to Jonathan Tan who despite his responsibilities was willing to tell me interesting pieces of information about the various artworks in the exhibition and for giving me valuable suggestions and encouragement for my gallery guide project.    

Clearly our chairs were shedding tears every time we had to be away from the office

Soon I was to discover that such checks are only a small part of the Collections team’s responsibilities, as Donald brought me along to observe and participate in other collections management work. Physical handling of the various artifacts and artworks of the museum’s collection extended beyond just placing selected objects in the museum’s galleries for display, but also for condition checks and conservation examinations by the curators and conservators respectively. It was interesting to observe how Donald’s inputs and comments regarding the conditions of various artifacts and artworks were all considered by the curators and conservators, indicating that the Collections team are not just passive observers in the interpretation of the museum’s collection.

Donald and myself unpacking objects for From the Ashes: Reviving Myanmar Celadon Ceramics exhibition

As I participated in the various activities of Collections management from packing paintings that were on loan to the museum to be returned to their owners to helping unpack Myanmar ceramics for the upcoming exhibition From the Ashes: Reviving Myanmar Celadon Ceramics, I realised that many details must be considered in Collections management work. Whether it is properly placing paintings in a specific manner so that the wires of the back parts do not touch the actual artworks or using specific light lux levels for different types of artworks like Chinese scrolls, I found myself amazed at all these considerations that Donald, Devi and the exhibition’s curator Su Ling shared with me in their work so much so that the voice of Sherlock Holmes saying “Elementary, my dear Watson” popped into my head as I recognised that putting on gloves to handle artifacts in tutorials was only the first step in Collections management.

Lovingly handmade cardboard for the packing of paintings

This attention to detail is not only for the conservation of artifacts and artworks in the museum, but also extended to the presentation of the exhibitions as me and Donald channeled our inner Bob the Builder and went around touching up scuff marks, giving fresh coats of paint to exhibition display features like a pedestal and parts of a display case and placing in new acrylic holders to a newly hung up Chinese scroll painting. As I continued helping with From the Ashes: Reviving Myanmar Celadon Ceramics exhibition, I realised that visual presentation of the exhibition went beyond aesthetical considerations as Donald and Su Ling discussed potential issues such as whether placing some bowls or portions of a figurine on a raised platform could mislead people into thinking these objects are important. Even the texts on the exhibition’s walls are placed in a specific fashion to communicate to visitors what is important and peripheral information with regards to the exhibition, which served as a reminder to myself that everything a museum does creates meanings and interpretations to visitors whether intentional or not.

Myself (on the right) with fellow intern Clarice pretending to be spooked

Liana, Clarice, myself and Sheena embracing our love for the Arts and the occasional costume

This internship has been undoubtedly a wonderful and unforgettable experience, allowing me to learn and further appreciate the various works done in museums from the different methods to store various objects to considering the impact of how a museum’s presentation affects viewers’ interpretations. Despite learning of the various responsibilities and activities that need to be done in museum work, it has only increased my enthusiasm for museum work. I would like to thank Greg and Michelle for giving me a chance to be the Collections Intern for the past 7-8 weeks and for their ever-patient supervision and advice.  Also, I am very grateful to Donald and Devi for putting their trust in me and allowing me to participate in various Collections management activities and handle many precious artifacts. I would also like to extend my appreciation to the other various NUS Museum staff like Su Ling for her willingness to answer my various questions on curatorial work and Myanmar ceramics, Freda for reading and implementing my long list of corrections to the NUS Museum’s online collection, Wardah for her ever interesting conversations in the office, JJ for always kindly helping us to enter the office, the TJC interns Janessa, Valerie and Whitney for their help in doing preparation works for the Radio Malaya exhibition opening and for reminding me of my younger days along with everyone else at the NUS Museum! And finally, to my fellow interns Sheena, Liana and Clarice for the various fun conversations along with intriguing discussions we had about our gallery guides, for introducing me to good places to eat in NUS (I have learnt from the best) and for helping me to learn a little more about Singapore through their remarks or discussions about Singaporean artists and writers like Arthur Yap, Robert Yeo and Charlie Chan Hock Chye. As I said in the beginning, this internship was going to be an interesting ride, and what a ride it was for making me ever more passionate about museum work.  

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Sheena Koh

Note: Diary of an NUS Museum Intern is a series of blog posts written by our interns about their experiences during the course of their internships. Working alongside their mentors, our interns have waded through tons of historical research, assisted in curatorial work, pitched in during exhibition installations and organised outreach events! If you would like to become our next intern, visit our internship page for more information! 


Sheena Koh is a third-year English Literature student at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. As an Education Outreach Intern, Sheena was tasked to conduct various researches and assist with the museum’s programmes which provided her with greater insight to the museum's outreach operations.

As I type this, the fact that it’s my last day as an intern at the Museum has just started to sink in. In a couple of hours, my desk will be pristine. I will squirrel away the stacks of books and papers that litter my desk, and it will be as though I had never been there. But if there’s one thing I learnt from my time here, it’s that meaning often resides in the space between, rather than merely within what is said. My eventual absence then only signifies the presence of experience, of learning, of having been. And even though I’ve only spent a month here, I think I’m all the better for it. 

Before I launch into an epic-length recitation of my time here, here’s the tl;dr for those of you who are reading this because you can’t decide if you should apply or not: this internship will challenge you, but you will also learn lots, so just fill in the application form already!

Also, internship perks: free tickets to the Biennale!

And here’s the long story long:

I came into this internship with some art history background and arts/education working experience. When I started, I was attached to the education outreach team. As an intern, I spent my time proofreading and editing copy, as well as compiling databases and conducting research into various organisations and ideas related to the art scene in NUS and Singapore. At the same time, I was involved in preparing materials for MUSES 2017, a future museum education resource and a gallery guide for the Radio Malaya exhibition (opens 17 Jan 2016).

Although these projects took up the bulk of my month here, I have to say that I really enjoyed working on them. I applied for this internship programme because I wanted to sustain my involvement in art theory and education, areas that I had touched on in my summer internship as well as the previous semester in school. These projects enabled me to do just that.

Of particular note is the gallery guide project. In my iteration of the internship, it just so happened that the Radio Malaya exhibition was slated to open in January 2017. In order to increase interdisciplinary engagement with the show, the other interns and I were tasked to create a gallery guide in accordance with our own research interests. Initially, I found this project daunting – I wasn’t sure where to begin, and if my ideas were of any good. This was disorientating to say the least, especially after years in goal-driven academic environments. Yet, working on this guide gave me the push I needed to discover, experiment and basically, to enjoy the process of learning and researching for its own sake. And this was how I spent my December reading volumes of poetry by Arthur Yap and Boey Kim Cheng, as well as papers on the particular complexities of multiculturalism and identity formation in Singapore.

As you can see, while there were guidelines for the projects, they were largely self-directed. I enjoyed the kind of hands-off learning that I went through at the museum, and I really appreciated and enjoyed the level of freedom that I was afforded in this internship. However, this is not to say that it was unstructured – rather, it was the opposite. Even though I independently conceptualised and designed my projects, Michelle, my supervisor and Outreach Manager of the Museum would often check in on my progress and offer valuable suggestions for improvement. I am grateful for the guidance extended to me by everyone in the office, and of course, my fellow interns.

On this note, I’d like to reassure those of you who are still reading (thanks!) that this internship isn’t
all about work, but also about the people you meet! I think my internship would have been a lot less enjoyable and thought-provoking had it not been for my fellow interns and colleagues at the Museum. Being heritage/arts/culture geeks, we’re like-minded in many ways, and in the course of our one short month together, we’ve explored exhibitions and museums, as well as food spots on campus, while talking about everything from the history of opium to TV shows. 

The Four Interns ™ hard at work listening to Georgina, a curator at NLB bringing us through the Script & Stage exhibition

Imbalanced height distribution aside, here we are with the Outreach Team and Georgina :-)


I could not ask for a more enriching experience in the field of the arts. I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to develop my interests in art, education and museology in this creative, vibrant and welcoming space.

Come Monday, I’ll be in an anonymous lecture theatre somewhere in school – so, not too different from the semester I just left. But in this month between, an intermediary space, I have found meaning, and much to be grateful for. 

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Xu Xi

Note: Diary of an NUS Museum Intern is a series of blog posts written by our interns about their experiences during the course of their internships. Working alongside their mentors, our interns have waded through tons of historical research, assisted in curatorial work, pitched in during exhibition installations and organised outreach events! If you would like to become our next intern, visit our internship page for more information! 


Xu Xi is a third-year Political Science student at NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. As a Resource Library and Curatorial Intern, Xu Xi worked alongside her fellow intern Teen Zhen on the research of various approaches and strategies in organizing the museum’s library collection.

Much of my 10 weeks of internship is spent in the NUS Museum's resource library, where Teen Zhen and I assisted with the organization of the Chinese collection. We were tasked to work on introducing a system of classification for the books that can facilitate new encounters, such that they are not being constrained by the traditional method of the Dewey decimal system or the Library of Congress Classification which lumps books containing similar subject matter together.

Our search for the best strategy was an adventurous and arduous one – definitely not words one would usually associate with 'library classification'. It started out with a fieldtrip to various libraries to observe the different classification techniques and layouts of library space. We ventured from NUS Central library to the ADM library and Chinese library at NTU (TZ's homeland where she kindly gave me a short tour around her campus), and also to multiple public libraries around Singapore. Initially, the task to find the Best Classification Strategy seemed easy, and we were quick to identify several different ways of classifying the books. Little did we expect that there were actually many considerations to take note of, and we ended up taking quite a long time to decide on the most ideal strategy. We realise that whilst there may be many options available, we must make sure that the chosen option is able to accurately relay our intended message. It is essential to keep questioning ourselves 'why?' and 'how?' while testing out the various methods. Throughout the whole process, Kenneth gave us a lot of space and ideas to try out various methods and strategies, and provided us with reading materials that helped to frame our train of thought. Really am thankful to have him as our supervisor! 

Featuring a blurry TZ who photo-bombed my attempt to capture the layout of CLB Chinese Library. Glad to have TZ together with me as we endured through the cold and the dust!

Featuring stressed me as I stare at the endless pages of Excel file of Chinese book titles

The collection of books we dealt with the most are the Chinese collection, which TZ and I have grown to be really fond of (especially for TZ, the Chinese Studies major). It surprised me that almost the entire collection came from donations, and equally fascinating was the immense variety of books available. There are books that are dated from as far back as 1929, many of which were bounded by the traditional Chinese bookbinding technique.  The library also contain all sorts of periodicals, auction catalogues and compiled collection of paintings and stamps etc. The wide range of content available was especially impressive – these books cover many areas and forms of Chinese art, ranging from contemporary and ancient paintings to specific art forms such as Buddhist art. There were even books on Chinese weaponry! Avid fans of Chinese art or people interested in that discipline should definitely drop by and visit once the resource library is open to the public!

Antique-level books that can be found in NUS Resource Library :O

Our beloved Chinese collection.

A major part of the internship I found intriguing was the various fieldtrips to museums, which were arranged by Michelle. This internship provided me with wonderful opportunities to get in touch with Singapore's art scene and to understand them from the perspective of curators. Sidd and Kenneth often ask us questions after the tours to enhance our understanding of the exhibits and introduce alternative point-of-views, allowing us to explore beneath what's under the surface. This definitely changes the way I will be looking at museums and exhibitions in future. Moreover, visits to places such as the Substation forces one to reconsider the role of art institutions in Singapore amidst the increasingly vibrant art scene. 

NUS Baba House – one of my favourite trips which highlighted the importance of conservation in Singapore in preserving these rare cultural heritage sites.

Last but not least, the internship dialogues – it is a new initiative to ensure that the interns were able to maximise our learning here, whereby we were tasked to come up with our individual research topics and present the results of our findings to the rest during the bi-weekly sessions. It was a fulfilling and enriching experience to be involved in discussions with the fellow interns, who are an interesting mix of people from different majors – ranging from Chinese studies major, Philosophy to Global studies major. The dialogue was a great platform for a battle of wits, exposing us to the differing perspectives regarding issues dealing with museum and art, especially since each of us has different areas of research interest.

Wefie after staff outing – thanks for all the joy and laughter throughout the past 10 weeks! (Missing Chutong in this pic ): )

All in all, this internship had been a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience for me, that had allowed me to come in touch with the various behind-the-scenes of museum work and experience a small part of life as a curator. It has been such a great honour to have been given the chance to intern here, allowing me to discover this hidden cultural gem we have right here in NUS.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Wang Chutong

Note: Diary of an NUS Museum Intern is a series of blog posts written by our interns about their experiences during the course of their internships. Working alongside their mentors, our interns have waded through tons of historical research, assisted in curatorial work, pitched in during exhibition installations and organised outreach events! If you would like to become our next intern, visit our internship page for more information! 


Wang Chutong is a fourth-year Marketing student at the NUS Business School. Chutong joined the Outreach team where she undertook various research tasks and event organisation, providing her with with more insight on the Museum’s outreach operations and programming.

This summer, I spent a meaningful 10 weeks with NUS Museum as an outreach intern. Out of the 8 interns from my batch, I was the only one who was in year 3 (going year 4), and the only one who's from business school while the rest are all from arts and social sciences. Being the unique one of the gang, my personal experience proves that so long as one has a passion for art and culture or the passion to advocate them, one can gain from this internship. The internship experience has been truly an eye-opening one which brought me to see the multiple aspects of the art and culture industry in Singapore. Prior to the internship, I was a passionate outsider; after the internship, I became on track of exploring this industry as a partaker.

My post as an outreach intern has been a mystery to many of my friends. People had problem understanding what the post meant. Even my intern friends at NUS Museum asked me what I do in outreach. At the beginning, I tried to put it really simply and said: " It's like being in the marketing and PR department of the museum." As time passed, I felt that rather than relating it simply to the marketing aspect, using the below analogy would have been more accurate: If NUS museum was a book and its exhibitions were its contents, the outreach team would be the one that designs the book cover, invites renounced people for its recommendations, writes its introduction and postscript and edits a summary with suspense at the back cover, finally the outreach team plans the look launch party and the media conference. A book that sits on a bookshelf is silent and passive as it can't shout out to promote itself. The outreach team then does everything to support, to package, to market and to convey its value to the audiences out there.

One routine of the outreach team is to give museum guided tours to various visitor groups. As an intern, I was tasked to do the same. My guided tour experience started with a short 8-minute introduction tour on NUS Museum's background information and progressed into a 2-hour full museum tour covering 3 permanent exhibitions and 2 temporary exhibitions. At the end of the Internship, I could even give a guided tour in Mandarin to a group of immersion programme students from Sichuan, China. Well, before there were good results, there was also a good deal of suffering at the preparation stage. My challenge was that other than having attended several curator's tours of the museum's exhibitions, I wasn't equipped with any additional information or tour script at all. While I was preparing my own tour script, I had to read through many artists' archives, documentary books and other online materials in order to to pick up interesting stories and facts to build up the details of my script. It was also important for me to keep on cross-referencing, validating and substantiating the facts that I wanted to elaborate on in order to improve the accuracy and reliability of it. In addition to a script, I had to prepare around 30% more materials so that I could answer the impromptu questions raised by visitors. Slowly through this intensive research and writing process, I eventually established a strong personal connection to the museum and its exhibitions. My passion towards the artists and artefacts grew each time I read about them.  Understanding the exhibitions also made me salute our curators even more. I came to realise that the process in which the curatorial work brings life to an exhibition is an artwork in itself. Thank to this preparation process, I was able to lead my own guided tour with a tinge of my personal flavour. Imagine if I were given a readymade script and a tour SOP at the beginning, I wouldn't have been able to give such passionate and affecting depiction, but a rather dry and robotic one.  

This was me giving a full tour of the museum to a group of my friends. Thank you Trina for letting me invite them over! (With regard to giving guided tours, I have to say how I admire Michelle and Trina who are able to vary their tone and styles to tailor to different visitor groups while maintaining a high level of professionalism.)

The execution and facilitation of various museum events is another important task of an outreach intern like me. Events such as exhibition opening, movie screening and exhibition closing talk bring crowds to the museum and generate good marketing resources. To the interns, an event night could as well mean a welfare night. Not only do we get to listen to the guest speaker giving an in dept analysis or leading a meaningful discussion on the exhibition topic, we also get to enjoy the reception after the event while chatting among ourselves and networking with other participants.

I still vividly remember the opening talk that we held for the two Vietnam exhibitions Lines and Who Wants to Remember a War. Our curator Siang invited Phoebe Scott from National Gallery Singapore to come down and give a talk on the struggle and the development of Vietnamese art during and after the Indochina Vietnam war period. I have always been an admirer of Ms Scott who co-curated Reframing Modernism with Centre Pompidou Paris at National Gallery and I was charmed by her passion for art since the opening day of National Gallery when she gave a talk on Raden Saleh, an Indonesian artist. Having heard that she has been confirmed to be the guest speaker, I started looking forward immediately and hoping to be able to speak to her. On 14th July, the event date, I was preparing the registration list and I realised that even the participating guests were big shots in the art industry: there were staffs and curators from National Gallery, university professors and researchers in the relevant fields. I felt grateful and honoured to attend the same event with them. In fact, during the Q&A session, all the interns learned so much from the interaction of the guests and the speaker Ms Phoebe Scott. Right after the event, I walked up to Ms Scott and had a short conversation with her. She is a friendly person who did not hesitate to share. Though we couldn't talk more due to the many other people awaiting, I value this networking experience as I could finally come out of my comfort zone and make an effort to participate in the art industry that I always wanted to be in. 

I was super excited before talking to Ms Phoebe Scott

I rarely have that nervous-happy-smile in photos

Here are my lovely friends/colleague. Together, we invented jokes that only we could understand.

Lastly, I want to thank Trina and Michelle for their guidance during the 10 weeks. Thank you Trina for letting me tag along in many events and meetings that I showed interest in and advising me on my career path that I'm always concerned with. Thank you Michelle for the abundance of information, resources and network that you shared with us. I feel very blessed to have been working in the same office with two of you!

Friday, 4 November 2016

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Tan Teen Zhen

Note: Diary of an NUS Museum Intern is a series of blog posts written by our interns about their experiences during the course of their internships. Working alongside their mentors, our interns have waded through tons of historical research, assisted in curatorial work, pitched in during exhibition installations and organised outreach events! If you would like to become our next intern, visit our internship page for more information! 


Tan Teen Zhen is a third-year Chinese Studies student from Nanyang Technological University. As the Resource Library and Curatorial Intern, Teen Zhen researched and devised strategies for the display and organisation of the Museum’s library collection.

As the Resource Library and Curatorial Intern, I was paired up with another intern, Xu Xi, to work on curatorial strategies and assist in organising materials in the NUS Museum Resource Library.

My first week with NUS Museum started not with the museum library itself, but with visits to libraries around Singapore. Xuxi and I sought inspiration from other libraries and to see what is it that we could do differently. Some of the things we took note of included the classification system used in the libraries, the type of material that was sorted and the way shelves were arranged.

The Resource Library is made up of gifts and donations to the museum, purchases made over the years by curators as well as books inherited from the Nantah Collection. These materials include books, exhibition catalogues and encyclopaedias amongst others. Cataloguing and organising the materials had been a great learning experience as I explored a myriad of topics in art history, Chinese art and archaeology that I had never known about. 

Some of the books/subjects I read about

We were also tasked by Kenneth, our supervising curator, to research and find out more about classification systems in libraries. How else can books be sorted if not by categories or by the Dewy Decimal System? Through this process, I began to develop an awareness and sensitivity to the use of different classification systems in libraries. Here I quote from one of our readings, intercalations 1: Fantasies of the Library, “Library classification systems are rational structures inherently motivated by a “fear of being engulfed by this mass of word s,” and yet, even if they are powerful enough to suppress this fear, in so doing they proliferate other limits, cracks, and misguided trajectories.” (pg 25). Perhaps there will be no truly objective library classification system, for the narratives that form as a result of books interacting with one another on the shelves carries with it a certain bias, shaped by the system itself. Understanding how libraries, depositories of human knowledge, are shaped and structured will allow us to be more conscious of the ways we think and learn.

Kenneth encouraged us to think about classification systems for the Chinese collection which could facilitate new connections between different subject matter as well as provoke thought about library systems. Hence, instead of simply arranging materials by subject matter and using established classification systems, Xuxi and I sought other methods of arranging which would reflect the content and type of library materials. We also wanted to explore possibilities of surfacing existing debates in Chinese scholarship through our work. The content of library materials and the fact that they were library materials, however, both limit and liberate the possible connections we can make. We experimented with alternative ways of classification and eventually decided to arrange the collection by— visit to find out! 

Usual work at the Library

Aside from working in the library, many other activities kept me busy during the internship. One of which was the Internship Dialogues. It was an opportunity for us to pursue our research interests with a presentation as an end product. Looking back now, trying to accommodate research interests of everyone in the group was what prompted me to step out of my comfort zone and tackle my topic on Chinese art history from a different direction and perspective. I also learnt a lot from the presentations by other interns and subsequent discussions that followed. 

With Diyanah after the Dialogues

Another aspect of the internship which I enjoyed were the curator tours around museums in Singapore. Starting with the Museum and Baba House, Siang, Su Ling and Kenneth brought us interns on curator tours around exhibits such as the Vietnam War exhibits (“Who Wants to Remember a War?” and Lines), Archaeology Library and Ng Eng Teng: 1+1=1, just to name a few. We were also privileged to hear Kenneth talk more about the ideas behind the upcoming exhibit in NX1, consider it a sneak peek if you will! I also enjoyed the tour by Ailing at the Substation very much. This is partly because I had never been to the Substation, and partly because I appreciated knowing more about the position of smaller local arts institution or spaces in Singapore and their struggles to keep true to what they want to achieve for local arts.

I want to thank NUS Museum for providing me opportunities to listen in on worthwhile experiences of curators, filmmakers and conservators. I would also wish to thank Kenneth for always asking thought-provoking questions and giving me opportunities to initiate and learn. Special thanks to Michelle, Trina, Johnathan, Philip and Donald for guiding and accommodating me for the past 11 weeks. Last but not least, I would like to thank my fellow interns: Xuxi, Chutong, Diyanah, Mary Ann, Nicole, Joshua and Zhien for the lovely conversations, discussions and company throughout this internship. 

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Nicole Lin

Note: Diary of an NUS Museum Intern is a series of blog posts written by our interns about their experiences during the course of their internships. Working alongside their mentors, our interns have waded through tons of historical research, assisted in curatorial work, pitched in during exhibition installations and organised outreach events! If you would like to become our next intern, visit our internship page for more information! 


Nicole Lin is a third-year English Literature student at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. During her time as a NUS Baba House Outreach Intern, Nicole was involved in the daily operations and maintenance of the Baba House, and research and execution of programmes.

When I first applied for the internship I was expecting the typical internship experience, like shadow the curator, learn how they conducted research for exhibitions, behind the scenes preparation for events, and maybe attend a couple of talks on the mechanics of the museum as an institute. What I got out of the internship were all of these, and so much more.

Currently an undergraduate majoring in English Literature, my interest is in the ‘people’s’ literature. I am fascinated by the depth of culture that we can glean from these stories, and their society of the times built through the what is written, explicitly or not. Being accustomed to translating from words to reality, where my work revolves around writing the intangible concepts of life, the experience of working in the Baba House, amidst the physical landscape of such a rich peranakan culture, was truly amazing. To work in this recreation, which perfectly encapsulate the spirit of their times — a 1920 peranakan household and community — was like stepping into the text that I have always been so preoccupied with. And that is what the Baba House is exactly. The text of history is delineated in each and every carefully curated artefact in the heritage house. Understanding the stories behind the architectural features, aesthetics and layout of the house is at the same time like having an intimate understanding of the family of peranakans who lived there, as their desires and way of life quietly manifests in their surrounding crockery, accessories, furniture etc.

A Baba House pantun recited during our talk on Baba rhymes and verses

I did not glean all of these merely from the stack of readings Poonam and Michelle provided me the first day I stepped into my workplace. Rather it is through working with the Baba House team daily, through observing their meticulous care of the decade old house, their enthusiasm when interacting with the heritage tour visitors, and the extra step they never fail to take to preserve the culture in this society now that is so preoccupied with change and advancement.

The trips to various museums, art galleries, and artist lodges packed into our schedule during the internship were equally insightful. As the curators explained their exhibitions to us, or when we get lucky, the artists themselves would tell us the story of their art, the level and sense of appreciation walking through the exhibit was as if we now had the creator’s vantage itself.

Ongoing work on sketches for the annual Istana Art Event

Me with the other interns at the Baba House.

The internship allowed me to understand the museum through its groundwork, through participating in the concrete preparations, before the final grand product that we normally see as the eye-catching exhibition can become a reality. It also granted me the opportunity to converse with many inspiring curators, and learn from their way of work, especially from their intense demand for creating comprehensive displays of humanity and social concerns in their exhibits. Last and definitely not least, the 10 weeks working with the NUS museum team has left me thoroughly enamoured by, what I’d call, the museum culture — that all work and effort is ultimately crystallised in the core of the pedagogical museum itself. My final words would be to express my sincere thanks to the Baba House team, Poonam, Fadhly and Suling, and also the NUS Museum team who have been so compassionate and accepting of an amateur intern like me.