Friday, 21 October 2016

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Mary Ann Lim

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! 


Mary Ann Lim is a third-year Philosophy student at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Soc.ial Sciences. Mary Ann was part of the planning and research for exhibitions associated with the Museum’s South & Southeast Asian Collection

And it hardly looked like a novel at all,
I hardly look like a hero at all
And I’m sorry, you didn’t publish this
And you were white as snow; I was white as a sheet
-          Hold Your Horses!

One often wonders, when wandering through the space of a museum, where the story leads. For as with any good story, there is a hero -- the best ones are often the ones who struggle incessantly, as the world(s) they belong to fail them -- and just as darkness is about to engulf the entire knowable cosmos, our good hero emerges triumphant: the final, desperate burst of light is all that is required to overcome a darkness which must definitely fail. Naturally, the stories that museums tell do not always depict an epic war between the forces of good and evil. Yet, the figure of a hero remains. Though subtle, though perceptibly unreliable, though unrecognizable; the hero exists only because the voice that speaks is necessarily built upon or around the one that is silenced. And such is, the narrative, which plots a coherent line of thought that must, inevitably, leave out.

In this manner then, leaving out is also forgetting. Here, the museum that acts in remembrance of, also acts in forgetting; for that which recalls, recalls what, or who it once forgot. Wandering through the space of a museum then, while one is reminded of the legacies of human triumphs scorched by fire in kilns, figures of men and machine etched on paper with charcoal, of men and women immortalized upon virtual foundations, one is also reminded of that which is forgotten: the museum is nestled in a history that no longer exists, as well as a future of other narratives that can no longer be. Similar to films and their negatives, it is within this presence that we can mark absence, and within absence that all that appears is in memory.

Attempting the performative with Zhi En (Double Vision)

Catching light at Siang's desk; or the office where I spent my days

Interestingly enough, if the same can be said about the archive (which names arkhe, the commandment and commencement, the guardian that chooses to admit and to not admit certain things as it so pleases), then this blog post which I write in now, is a mode of archival through the edition of memory. For what documents the existence of this internship experience is the admission of my writing into visual evidence. And what emerges at the forefront of memory, or what I permit myself and others to remember, are the various curating anxieties and questions that undergirded conversations and readings of the museum that manifested in the above: on representation, on narrative, on authority, on the institution. 

Excursion to the National Gallery

Shenanigans with fellow interns

This is perhaps, where I find myself, as a student of philosophy, caught in the schism that is the praxis of theory. It is apt then, at this juncture where the topic of documentation has been raised, to speak of the museum visually: where the question and answer are both already a framing of sorts, where the clarity of theory is met by my confusion of practice. Thus, in this space of re-appropriated documents that both the museum and I have interacted with, I attempt to highlight my inability to speak for the other who speaks for another, and with equal measure, my inability to speak at all; to articulate the questions, nuances and motifs about curating that throbs and overwhelms my world of memories and forgettings while barely managing a whisper in the world beyond. Yet, maybe, that is where the true beauty lies: in the wanderings between the garbled mess that is the connection from the voice within my head, to the voices that exist outside.

Or as my lovely curator, Sidd Perez, tells me, “there are illuminated things beneath the murky waters”. 

Curating Anxieties I

Curating Anxieties II

With many thanks and fondness to the NUS Museum team, especially Sidd Perez, my curator-supervisor who has been the voice of wisdom, clarity and patience through this internship, as well as to the ever-impeccable Michelle Kuek who has curated this gem of an internship programme. And never forgetting my insane bunch of fellow interns, if not for whom all the conversations, arguments, noise and hysterical laughter would not have permeated through my life otherwise. 

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Loo Zhi En

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! 


Loo Zhi En is a third-year European Studies student at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Zhi En was greatly involved in the exhibition ‘Who Wants to Remember A War?: War Drawings and Posters from the Ambassador Dato’ N. Parameswaran Colleciton’ where he assisted our curators in researching and compiling content descriptors for the artworks in the collection. 

There was always work to be done on my allotment – the museum’s collection of over 1200 works of war art from the Vietnam War(s). This work involved the compilation of content descriptors for each work and their subsequent entry into the appropriate spreadsheets. This compilation would facilitate the potential research queries made by researchers using the museum’s collection. You may think of this entire task as one of data entry combined with the opportunity to examine some rather interesting subject matter. Attention to detail was the day job.

A preliminary compilation done by going through each work individually showed a staggering array of descriptors that could be gleaned from the first few spreadsheets alone. Grand historical paintings furnished numerous details that required minute examination to tease out. However, even a simple portrait could come loaded with a dense backstory in the caption that would similarly inflate the number of possible of descriptors beyond any manageable number. My supervisor (Chang Yueh Siang) and I had already agreed that the range of descriptors ought to be as broad as possible so that researchers did not need to be tied down to a heavily curated selection. It nevertheless became rapidly clear that thickening the spreadsheets by going through the works one at a time would render the overall task of creating a usable database both unmanageable and unbearable. It seemed like a convenient cop-out at the time but I then decided that the first step in breaking the task down would be cataloguing the place-names that appeared on each work. I told myself that it was just as well that I didn’t know much about Vietnam anyway (I still find it strange that they let a European Studies major loose on the collection), so a sort of orientation was very much in order.

Preparing the videos for the exhibition was a welcome diversion, though.

Many place-names in the collection were easily traceable to real places, and Google Maps was an indispensable tool in this regard. Other place-names were harder; in many cases, old US Army topographical maps had to be consulted to look for place-names that would match those mentioned in the works. (Enough ink has been spilt elsewhere on the value systems behind cartography; it would be unwise to dwell on that matter.) These would often appear with a different spelling, raising the worrying possibility that the captions were ridden with transcription errors or the results of faulty memory. Phou Lennik in Laos turned up in the collection as ‘Phulonic’. Ngok Bơr Bêang in Kon Tum ended up being rendered as ‘Ngoc Bo Pieng’. In some cases, the provinces mentioned in some captions did not exist after 1975, having either been a province of the defeated government or having been amalgamated with other provinces. These difficulties had to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis so that the categorisation system of sets and subsets remained more or less coherent. After the place-name survey was completed half-way through the internship, frequency tallies of various topics of interest in the collection needed to be produced: tallies of works containing anything remotely related to aviation, the navy, women at war and many other topics. I had thought this would take far less time than it did, but things like small fishing boats were very easy to miss.

Back in the classroom for a wee while.

But what, you might ask, about the Museum? What about the big picture? To be honest, I can’t really answer that coherently just now. I had applied for the internship wanting to learn something about the craft of museology – how to begin thinking about the presentation of narratives and museum objects, and on how to link space and work in interesting ways. I have had glimpses of that sort of thinking in various places: the gallery visits, the tours, the never-ending internship dialogues that moved from the office into the Celadon room and back. On my front, however, the only ‘idea’ I could manage to ponder over in direct relation to my main work was that of trying to put the place-name survey to use in the gallery space. The locations depicted in the works displayed could have been mapped out; Vietnam could thereby not just be remembered as a war, but as a real place in the real world. Or something approaching it. Who would have known? Both lines of thought fizzled out as the necessity of hammering on with the descriptor compilation became more and more pressing as the end of the internship loomed ahead. I reckon there will be other times for the big questions. Perhaps they are of the sort that can only be answered after years of thought and experience at curatorial decision-making. For the beginner, I can only say that throughout this summer, I have found this to be true; that the trick is to pace yourself, and to carefully tend the plot.

oh, and never forget to curate the playlist.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Joshua Lim

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! 


Joshua is a third-year History student at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Science. As an Outreach intern, Joshua was instrumental in researching and sourcing for film and documentaries for upcoming exhibition programmes. He also assisted with education outreach activities.

“What did you expect a museum to be?”

Other than the standard “what have you learned” debrief, there was another question I found myself grappling with as my summer internship with NUS Museum drew to a close:

“What did you expect a museum to be?”

Several answers flooded my head when I first heard this question towards the end of the final Internship Dialogue (note: the Internship Dialogue is when each intern has to present and lead a discussion on a topic related to museums. Yes, even in the summer, there is no escape from readings, assignments, and *gasp* presentations). Was the museum supposed to be a fun place, or a serious one? Should they be grand palaces with state-of-the-art technology or small, simple galleries? Are they places of learning or glorified storerooms with curiosities for the public to gawk at? Perhaps they are some combination of the above and more?

Believe me, I’ve had an easier time setting up Double Vision (an ongoing exhibition) than contemplating this question.

The question was an unexpected end-of-internship debrief. As someone on a museum internship and as someone who visited museums frequently, this was something I should have considered and have a prepared response for. I didn’t and I don’t. It would seem that I had taken the idea of the museum for granted, and simply assumed that they existed. If I hadn’t considered this question as a layperson, I now have to think about it from the eyes of a museum’s showrunners.

It is also fitting that the question coincided with me spending my internship with the NUS Museum’s outreach team under Michelle. After all, these outreach programmes, often organised to raise awareness of a museum and its collections, do go some way in shaping one’s expectations of what a museum is.

So, after twelve weeks of research, (not so) heavy lifting, cataloguing, presentations, field trips, discussions, and shuttling between the museum and the office, what have I come to expect in a museum?   

One word: Fun! (Note: I’m on the extreme left)

As a student of history, I have come to see museums as windows to the past. This applies not just to the exhibits, but the institution as well. The way museums were organised and curated in the past says much about what people valued at the time. Looking back at  the research I did for my own Internship Dialogue presentation, which was a chronology of Singapore’s museums after 1965, I noticed a common thread linking the museums of the past and museums today. Sure, the values and methods differed, but they all exhibited things they believed were valuable. These institutions tapped onto the very human instinct of collecting and preserving valuable items for future generations. 

And it’s also the reason why I capture snapshots of museum events with the Outreach team’s camera – to record for the record.

The items that are selected for collection and display in a museum are, of course, carefully consolidated by the curators. I’ve had the privilege of helping Sidd, one of the museum’s curators, to set up Double Vision, an exhibition on Filipino experimental film that had been months in the making. This led me to ask: what was the difference between Double Vision, and the film series for the Vietnam War drawings and sketches exhibitions that I was working on?

There is a fine line between mere selecting and curating. On one hand, the films I selected for the film series brought together films that were tangential to the themes presented in the two ongoing Vietnam War exhibitions, LINES and Who Wants to Remember a War? These themes ranged from conflict to separation to memory, among many others. To curate an exhibition like Double Vision, with all its layered narratives and meanings and collaboration with the films’ makers, is a whole different ball game. Clearly, there was a method to the curator’s madness, and it was one that twelve weeks in a museum couldn’t fully impart to me. Whatever this fine line was, it was the difference between Double Vision and the extended film series I was working on.

So, what is the purpose of collecting and conserving these items? That they may be kept under lock and key in a climate-controlled storeroom, never to collect dust or the curious gaze of the public? That’s not the case, although the cataloguing work that I’ve done for a section of an ongoing exhibition at the museum’s Ng Eng Teng gallery shows that museums generally display a small handful of its collection at any one time.

Me when I realised the museum had more of this than it was showing. Also, me when cataloguing (feat. Ng Eng Teng. Anticipation II, date unknown, stoneware, 7 x 7.5 x 7.5cm)

I digress. The point is that these items have been collected and put on display, both to educate and to entertain. More often than not, these exhibits will convey a certain message or narrative that it wishes for visitors to take away. Either that, or it invites visitors to form their own opinions about what is being presented. One would thus expect the museum to be more than just a place where very valuable things are kept and displayed.

I’ve also come to expect a museum’s education efforts to extend beyond the artefacts and text of the exhibition galleries. It’s safe to say that almost all the education-related activities I’ve attended had something to do with the existing collections being exhibited. There were the talks and lectures, which occasionally featured local art scene heavyweights like local art historian T.K. Sabapathy and National Gallery curator Dr Phoebe Scott. And then there were the more fun, family-friendly things like the Chinese ink-painting workshops conducted over the June holidays. And finally, no museum calendar would ever be complete without the occasional field trip by schoolchildren. It is all these activities that contribute to what people would expect a museum to be.

If there was one thing about education in a museum that I did not expect, it would be how the museum building itself could be used to teach. I suppose the best way to learn about risk management is to actually plan a visit to a museum for a large group. The building did most of the work when several classes from Republic Polytechnic came over for exactly that purpose. All I did was merely introduce their teacher for the day (i.e. the museum itself).

“No, the dinosaurs aren’t here; they’re across the road. No Pokémon here either, but you’re not here for those, right?”

Ultimately, what is expected of a museum will vary from person to person. What I experienced in the twelve weeks with NUS Museum are mine and so, some of the points I put forth about what I expect a museum to be may not resonate so easily with others. Also, these expectations are subject to change over time. The definition of what a museum is offered by the International Council of Museums has changed over four times since 1946.

While expectations may vary and change, I sincerely believe that there are some things that make a museum a museum. I invite you, dear reader, to find out for yourself what these things are.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Diyanah Nasuha

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! 


Diyanah Nasuha is a third-year Global Studies student at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. As our Lee Kong Chian Collection Curatorial Intern, Diyanah was given the task to conduct research on mid-20th Century art from the Malay Archipelago. Apart from research, Diyanah also attended a conservation workshop where she learnt about the conservation and restoration of artworks. 

My interests in museology, curatorship and conservation only began recently when I had travelled to Egypt at the end of 2015. Ironically, it wasn’t the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo which  had struck me, but it was my visit to the Valley of the Kings in Luxor that had left an impact upon me. There and then, it dawned upon me that one would not be able understand anything, from the design of the tomb’s layout, hieroglyphs to the specific usage of colors, if he or she did not have any knowledge of Egyptology. Considering that not only photography was banned, and even tour guides were unable to follow us into the tombs… so if one had completely zero knowledge on the subject matter, honestly the site visit would be a highly probable waste of precious time (plus the sheer distance one needs to travel just to reach Luxor!!!!) and a devoid of meaning because the tombs were essentially preserved as it was originally built and the only ‘sprucing up’ done by its custodians was the construction of steep, rickety stairways that led into the underground chambers and wooden platforms for visitors to tread upon. More notably, there was a complete lack of signage within the tombs!

It got me thinking about what actually goes into the setup of a museum; of things we often take for granted - layouts, signage, trained docents etc which are more easily available in Singapore’s museums as compared to Egypt’s. Not only did I grapple with the language barriers, the lack of information and the lack of ease of obtaining answers to my endless amount of queries made me more aware, and most importantly appreciative of the ‘comforts’ of the museums here. Hence, all culminating to me becoming an NUS Museum intern.

Thus, for the past 10 weeks, I was the Lee Kong Chian Collection Curatorial Intern at the NUS Museum. During my stint as an intern, I was not only fortunate to see back-and-forth between the museum’s curators, Ahmad and Siang, over the Lines : War Drawings and Posters from the Ambassador DatoN. Parameswaran Collection exhibition’s prepatory stage which had allowed for me to gain insight on what are the considerations that curators keep in mind to their thought processes behind curating. All this while, I assumed that curators were simply custodians of their assigned collections but after interning at the museum, I’ve gained a more accurate perspective on the role that curators take on within a museum.

As the Lee Kong Chian Collection Curatorial Intern, I had worked with my supervisor Chang Yueh Siang, who is the curator of the Lee Kong Chian Chinese Collection, to research on an upcoming exhibition involving mid-20th century art from the Malay archipelago. Initially thinking that the research process would be a breeze since I had been instructed to focus on a particular Singaporean artist, Sarkasi Said, this quickly changed after a meeting with the head curator, Ahmad Mashadi, who shared his direction and vision on this upcoming exhibit. Eventually, for the purpose of producing a series of artists interviews for the upcoming exhibition. There and then, was only I made aware of the unique position of the NUS Museum, of the need to have an educational purpose behind their exhibits in order to not only reach to the general public, but also to serve a purpose in academic research and scholarship. Thus, avoiding grand, linear narratives that other museums may choose to adopt in relation to curating an exhibition.

In the Resource Library with fellow intern Teen Zhen

Hence, the research scope had been expanded to include regional developments of artistic styles, emergence of artists in response to the instabilities of post-WW2, with the rousing of nationalistic feelings and calls for independence by the colonies that were located in South-east Asia. My research was mainly focused on the emergence of abstract batik or ‘batik kontemporer’ during the 1960s to the 1980s within our region by Sarkasi Said, Yusman Aman and many Indonesian artists like Soelardjo, Soemihardjo, Bagong Kussudiarja and more. Thus, majority of the textual sources on these artists that I had worked with were either in Malay or Indonesian. One reason that I had to work with untranslated texts was because extensive coverage of such developments in this period were more-or-less confined to local Malay writers like A. Ghani Hamid as well as newspaper articles of the Berita Harian.

Not only was this personally challenging to me, because of my rusty second and third languages, but a lot of the resource materials were only available in the archives of the National Library Board and the National Gallery - which meant hours spent poring over the online catalogues, selecting useful resources and making copies of the microfilm and archival materials. This research topic was especially of particular interest to me because of my identities as a Singaporean Malay and being ethnically Javanese, the subject of batik is close to my heart and its movement into being considered as fine art through the development of abstract batik design had first emerged in Java, particularly in Jogjakarta and Jakarta. Thus, this essentially allowed me to delve into my own culture’s art and history!


Other than that, thanks to Michelle’s connections and planning, we were able to attend various curatorial tours, revelling together on the success of the NUS Museum for being the ‘first recipient of the University Museums and Collections (UMAC) Award for the most significant innovation or practice that has proved successful in a university museum or collection’ to attending a Conservation workshop, where we learnt what goes into the conservation or restoration of damaged artworks and more. The Internship Dialogues and curated tours of the NUS Museum’s own exhibits gave us a platform for us to establish discussion and bouncing back of ideas and views, which I found really enriching because we were able to garner new insights from both my fellow interns and curators. I had also really enjoyed the delicious food catered for the various museum events and the opportunity to spend time with the other interns while staying back to help out with the aforementioned events.

I am very grateful for this opportunity to spend my summer at NUS museum, I am especially thankful to my supervisor, Chang Yueh Siang, whom had patiently guided me even at times that I was completely lost due to the lack of direction of my research and trusted me enough to conduct independent research outside the office and university spaces, to the other curators like Kenneth, Sidd and Ahmad, for their deep insights on curatorship, museology to exhibition practice as well as the other friendly NUS Museum staff like Michelle, Trina, Greg, Donald, Devi, Flora, JJ, Philip, Jonathan, whom were all very welcoming and willing to answer my queries and help wherever and whenever they could. Last of all, to my fellow interns - Chu Tong, Joshua, Zhi En, Maryanne, Xu Xi and Teen Zhen for brightening up my otherwise often, mind-numbing days of stressful research and keeping up with my quirks!

My biggest takeaway from this experience though, is definitely the potential development of my ability to appreciate abstract and contemporary art as well as overall museum appreciation. I learnt that art may not necessarily be solely created for the purpose of beauty or aesthetics; but may be imbued with intangible meaning and value, from the purpose of the preservation of eroding cultures to being a medium to express popular sentiments and watershed developments of that time period, all striving to resonate a deeper purpose to us who view it; where it is highly possible that we ourselves are only scratching the surface when trying to understand its true messages and meanings and aided by curators, who contextualise such pieces through the construction of narratives for us to garner some sort of understanding despite seeing these pieces with untrained eyes.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Sherlyn Goh

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! 


Sherlyn Goh is a third-year Liberal Arts student at Yale-NUS College. As our Baba House Outreach intern, Sherlyn was involved in the research and development of upcoming public programmes in 2016, and the daily operations of maintaining the Baba House, a heritage home.

Being only 5-weeks long, this is the shortest yet one of the most hands-on internships I’ve embarked on. As an outreach intern at the NUS Baba House, I designed publicity materials, assisted in heritage tours and house operations and managed communications with the public. In-lieu with the house’s current 3-year exhibition Preserve/Conserve/Restore: Studies at 157 Neil Road, I researched on the history of Neil Road which the Baba House sits on and its surrounding neighbourhood. Despite the internship’s short duration, I learnt so much that I wouldn’t have if not for this internship. I gained a first hand insight into how the house is conserved and maintained on a day-to-day basis, how NUS Museum’s unique position as a non-profit university museum informs the way it curates its exhibitions and conducts its outreach and so much more about Peranakan culture by assisting the docents in the heritage tours.

Image 1: DIY session after a trip to IKEA to get stools to accommodate more guests during events.
Image 2: Third floor of the Baba House, converted into a gallery

Being over 100 years old, monitoring and maintenance work happens frequently at the Baba House. Conservation is an ongoing process, and through this internship, I learnt more about the technicalities of architectural conservation. During my last week here, my supervisor Poonam and I noticed black spots, presumably mould, staining the walls of the third level gallery. As a result, we have temporarily ceased using air conditioning in the gallery and started opening the windows to air the area instead. Its heart-warming to see how much Poonam and Fadhly care about the house: the attention they pay to the handling of the artefacts, their dedication to the maintenance of the house and the worries they have when problmes arise.

Part of my duties involved liaising with the public via email and phone to manage heritage tour bookings, and I often had to turn away visitors when tours are oversubscribed. Due to loading restrictions, the house can only hold a maximum of number of visitors at any point in time. This reminded me of the fragility of the Baba House, not merely a physical fragility, but also a cultural one. People tend to start paying more attention to cultural and heritage sites when these sites face a threat of being demolished or redeveloped. Bukit Brown is a case in point. Appreciation shouldn’t just stem from nostalgia, neither should conservation from impending loss. We have places rich in culture and heritage that exist in Singapore, and we have people who put in years to restore, conserve and maintain built heritage. Supporting existing cultural or heritage sites by visiting, volunteering and spreading the word sends a strong message to the powers that be (i.e. URA) how significant these places are to us, which is why I find outreach incredibly important. While managing tour bookings and assisting as warden during the tours, I noticed that most of the visitors  to the house are Caucasian tourists. I hope that in time, more people in Singapore would come to know of, appreciate and support the Baba House.

The brochure I designed for the Baba House and the upcoming Art Week.

Baba House brochures now up for grabs at the University Cultural Centre and NUS Museum.

As an outreach intern, I also assisted in developing public programmes for the ongoing exhibition Preserve/Conserve/Restore: Studies at 157 Neil Road in the Baba House gallery. This exhibition aims to explore the history and urban development of the neighbourhood the house is located in and engage with technical conservation of built heritage. When doing research on Neil Road, I learnt that it was originally called Silat Road, a slang usage of selat, meaning strait in Malay. It was renamed Neil Road in 1858 by the British Municipal Council in honour of Scottish military officer James George Smith Neill who died during the Indian Mutiny of 1857. The books and online articles I read described the officer as a one of the “heroes of the Indian Mutiny”, when he is actually infamous for indiscriminately humiliating and killing native Indians including innocent civilians during the uprising. Some of his forces even revolted when they saw his brutal massacres. Dubbed a hero for bringing ‘peace’ during mutinies, he was appointed a colonel and an aide-de-camp to his queen and subsequently had a road in Singapore named after him. British imperialism and colonialism was a recurring theme that popped up during my research, from street names and  architecture to land development policies and urbanisation.

A photograph of a rickshaw parked along Silat Road, now known as Neil Road.

While looking through journals in the library, I came across a quote that struck me: “But as most of the residents are aware, the names given by the Municipality to the various streets are only used by the European portion of the population, and the Chinese, Tamils and Malays have names for the streets very different from their Municipal titles.” — Haughton, H T (1889), ‘Notes on the names of places in the island of Singapore and its vicinity’, Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 20.

I am particularly interested in resistance, both conscious and unconscious resistance — the ways in which the colonised, the seemingly powerless resist. I never thought I would find resistance in the adoption of street names. A month of research has taught me so much, yet beyond learning, I also find myself more attuned to the urban spaces around me, curious about street names (what they mean, whether an English street name is named after a brutal war ‘hero’) and appreciative of the cultural influences on architecture that I’ve long taken for granted — the the shophouses near my best friend’s neighbourhood and the temples I pass by when I go to Chinatown.

Pictures of community life in post-war Tanjong Pagar. Left: five-foot way libraries beneath shophouses.

Five-foot way libraries beneath shophouses. Right: the popular Yan Kit Swimming Pool. How many girls and women can you spot in the photograph?

I’m also beginning to appreciate museums and curating more. Prior to this internship, I had found it difficult to appreciate museums, as art can sometimes be inaccessible to the untrained eye. Working in a museum, visiting other museums and reading about museums during this stint helped me develop a better understanding of the thought that goes behind each exhibition and a glimpse into the workings of a curator’s mind. The weekly reading discussions about Singapore’s art scene, the history of NUS Museum and the role of the curator as well as visits to galleries and exhibitions with Michelle and the other interns were helpful in providing a much-needed context to the actual work and research that I was doing. These sessions and visits gave additional structure to the internship, which I found incredibly important especially for an internship this short.

To end off, I would like to say a big thank you to my supervisors: Poonam for her guidance,
patience and understanding, and Fadhly for showing me the ropes and for the laughs we shared. It
is a privilege to be given an internship opportunity, and I’m incredibly grateful to Michelle, Poonam
and NUS Museum for taking me in this December.

At the National Gallery of Singapore.


Monday, 29 February 2016

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Richmond Tan

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! 


Richmond Tan is a first-year History student at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Richmond joined the Museum Outreach team, working to conceptualise programmes for the Museum's 2016 slate of events, in particular programmes for the current exhibition Vietnam 1954-1975.

I was involved in assisting with the planning of programmes for the exhibition Vietnam 1954 – 1975: War Drawings and Posters from the Ambassador Dato’ N. Parameswaran Collection, as well as planning for the upcoming Art on Campus Facebook series. In these brief but fulfilling five weeks of assisting with the Outreach programmes, I was able to better familiarise myself with the roles and responsibilities of outreach in the context of a university museum.

As students of history, the Vietnam War offers a case study that highlights the importance of contesting assumptions implied in terms like “Cold War” that are often accepted uncritically. In particular, the conflict that shaped and was shaped by the tensions between the American and Soviet blocs played out differently outside of the “West” – in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, the violence and turmoil that shaped its post-World War II realities were anything but “cold”. Hence, doing this research as preparation was a necessary and timely reminder to consider and be aware of the Western-centric lens we may adopt when studying the past.

To supplement the research I was doing, I read William J. Duiker’s book, “Sacred War: Nationalism and Revolution in A Divided Vietnam”. The book was comprehensive in covering the North Vietnamese perspective – not only the period of 1954-1975, but also tracing the roots of revolution, the formation of North Vietnamese state as well as the subsequent resistance against the French. With an understanding of the period leading up to 1954, I identified themes I considered important for this exhibition, such as the notions of loss and trauma in war. Hence, the films and topics I suggested sought to bring out this theme of loss through the narratives of individuals experiencing the conflict.

In addition to doing research and planning programmes, I also sat in an ARI Cultural Studies Seminar listening to Assoc. Prof Thy Phu’s presentation on “Revolutionary Vietnamese Women and Global Solidarity”. The talk and subsequent discussion was engaging and interesting as the representation of women in revolutionary contexts were discussed, both within the Vietnam War but also comparatively to other conflicts. This highlighted the theme of representation for the exhibited collection as well as the programmes, which I hope would be a recurring motif that those attending the programmes might recognise and discuss.

Minh Hai, Silence the American Cannons!, 1969, Mixed media hand-painted poster on paper, 39.5 x 57.3cm

I also assisted with planning the Art on Campus Facebook series, where the NUS and NUS Museum Facebook page would release a series of posts on the public art in NUS. In doing so, there might be a greater appreciation for the works presently located on campus, from the familiar I Was Here to other works that receive less attention. Interest in the series might generate greater awareness for the NUS Museum and its Facebook page, maximising the potential of the Facebook page in generating the feedback of and suggestions for the various museum activities.

Besides the tasks for our specific roles, all the interns were also involved in the reading programme organised by Michelle that was designed to complement our activities. We learnt more about the origins of the NUS Museum and its development, the history of art in Singapore as well as the curator and curatorial function. We also visited the Baba House and National Gallery Singapore, where both trips were made more meaningful and memorable thanks to the readings that we had to familiarise ourselves with the site and the works respectively. 

Interns (L-R): Sherlyn, Hui Tuan, Tinesh, Richmond, Han Siang, Austin, Geryl, Ignatius; Jeryl and Han Siang were interns at the NUS Centre For the Arts

Another important learning opportunity came through the curatorial tour given by Kenneth on Sheltered: Documents For Home and The Library of Pulau Saigon. We learned more about the strategies and considerations in the planning of an exhibition, while asking questions and clarifying doubts regarding curatorial work, such as working with artists and organisation of space when considering how the viewers might navigate and view and exhibition.

Curatorial tour on Sheltered: Documents For Home by Kenneth 

This internship has been a great experience and I enjoyed learning about the museum and assisting with its programmes. In addition, having written initially that I wanted to participate in this internship to “understand the general demands and constraints of museum work”, being able to witness the work behind-the-scenes ensured that I was able to do that and more.

On this note, I would like to thank my supervisors, Michelle and Trina, for their patience and guidance throughout the internship, the other members of the museum team as well as fellow interns – Austin, Hui Tuan, Ignatius, Sherlyn and Tinesh for their delightful company and discussions. 

Monday, 22 February 2016

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Chean Hui Tuan

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! 


Chean Hui Tuan is currently pursuing her Master of Art in Curating at the University of Sydney. She joined the NUS Museum in December 2015 as the Archaeology Ceramics Research Intern, focused on developing a bibliography of glazed ceramics production in Myanmar.

‘Research is formalised curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.’ – Zora Neale Hurston

The above quote is a simple yet precise understanding of the nature of research work and spells the motivation behind choosing a seemingly lonely and strenuous career path. It was this sense of curiosity that prompted me to take up an internship with the NUS Museum and the 5 weeks experience is truly rewarding. Under Su Ling’s supervision, I was tasked to research on the ceramic production of Lower Myanmar and to draft a bibliography on the subject.

Image 1. The Map of Myanmar - My local companion throughout the course of research. 

I have to confess that prior to starting the internship, my knowledge of Myanmar was minimal – the fact that I could not recall Myanmar’s geographical location was an acknowledgement of my ignorance. The research work proved to be a challenging task as I progressed and more often than not, I reached a bottleneck and had to search for a new entry point. The challenge could be attributed to a lack of research and academic resource on the subject matter, but I suspect that my inability to read the Burmese language contributed to the self-imposed limitation and did not do justice to the research outcome. Spending the majority of my time in the library flipping through books and browsing the online database, I realised that one has to take an adventurous approach when researching on an ‘unpopular’ topic. Half of the books and articles that I have read might not be immediately relevant, but at times I managed to chance upon snippets of information that turned out to be crucial. It is fascinating to observe the formation of something potentially useful from all the work that I have done, even if it might not make sense at the first glance.

Image 2. My daily life. Reading and writing...more reading and writing.

I would like to thank Su Ling for her guidance throughout the internship and for patiently answering my questions and doubts during our weekly meetings. I was given the freedom to explore and to work at my own pace, but whenever I bumped into a hurdle or felt completely lost in the midst of research, it was comforting to know that she would be there to give great advices and help me move forward. I am also grateful to my fellow intern and partner in crime, Ignatius, for being so patient with me and listening to my endless grumbles. He had his fair share of difficulties in the Myanmar research and often I felt guilty of not helping him as much as he did for me.

I would also like to thank Michelle for arranging curatorial tours and reading programmes to enrich my internship experience and provide the platform for all interns to interact, which was really important for me since I was basically ‘absent’ and rarely had the chance to chat with them.  I find the reading programmes and discussions very helpful in terms of relating back to my own studies but in a local context. I am truly delighted to be acquainted with this fabulous group of people at the NUS Museum who are passionate with what they are doing and trying to make a difference to the Singapore art scene in their unique way.