Friday, 16 March 2018

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Shen Yunni

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! 


Shen Yunni is a third-year Political Science student at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. As our  Baba House Outreach Intern, Yunni assisted in the research, planning, and marketing of the Baba House Docent Training Programme and other Outreach programmes, as well as assisting with the Baba House tour logistics and house operations.

Straits Chinese, also known as the Peranakan Chinese, has always been a familiar yet faraway community for me. Why would someone like me, neither from a Peranakan descent nor with an Art History minor, be doing interning at the NUS Baba House? Thankfully I have found my answers after a brief 5-week stint at the NUS Museum. Apart from the rich culture which the Straits Chinese possesses, evident from a brief walk in the ornate Baba House where many artefacts or furniture seem to speak stories, I had an opportunity to look past the Baba House and research upon the Neil Road neighborhood as well.


As I headed off to the NLB (the flexible work stations & working hours were a huge plus point of this internship), I was happy to be greeted with a myriad of sources that relayed information on my topic of interest. Situated at the end of Neil Road, Baba House was once part of the old streets of Chinatown where culture and heritage converge. Tracing back to the 1800s, Neil Road was formerly known as Salat Road, the Malay term for “Straits” and part of a nutmeg plantation that flourished on Duxton Hill till the late 1850s. Till today, the preservation of different Straits Chinese-style shophouses in the neighborhood was not due to coincidence but rather, attributed to careful conservation by authorities such as the Urban Redevelopment Authority. This has allowed me to reflect and question the tradeoff between conservation and development of Singapore where hard choices often had to be made to progress as a nation, yet preserve our heritage in a place where we call Home. What were some of criterion and how were these decisions made with different stakeholders?

Apart from engaging in research for the Baba House Docent Training programme, I was also involved in the daily operations and logistics of the house. Coincidentally, this period of time was also the period where renovation works were done at the house; as I experienced the daily beeping of the intercom where we let various workers and parties in, the realization of the difficulty of maintaining a heritage house neatly struck me deeply in the midst of my daily work.

In another aspect of the internship, weekly museum visits and workshops at the NUS Museum were highlights for me. I especially relish in the guided introductions given by curators in places such as the National Gallery when we made a visit there; I had the chance to broaden my understanding of pioneer artists of Singapore such as Koeh Sia Yong and Chen Wen Hsi, where different art techniques and motives were pointed out to reflect the tumultuous Singapore landscape then where social problems were prevalent. Struggles and adaptations made by these local artists were palpable, reflected in different art styles over time, from pre-colonial to contemporary. Workshops at the NUS Museum have also exposed the relations and dilemmas taken to establish exhibitions; the tripartite relationship of the curators, collections officers, and conservators is intriguing where a fine line has to be treaded to adhere to the wishes of all three parties.

As the internship draws to a close, I have to thank Poonam and Jenica at the Baba House for their patience and guidance. This journey has been a steep but enriching learning curve and it has indeed shone a light on the various parts of museum work. Much thanks to Michelle for organizing these trips and being so welcoming and all the other interns at the main office for letting me feel included whenever I’m back as well!

Friday, 9 March 2018

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Michelle Lee

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! 


Michelle Lee is a third-year Anthropology student at the Yale-NUS College. As our  Radio Malaya Exhibition Research Intern, Michelle built on existing research generated for the exhibition Radio Malaya: Abridged Conversations about Art, as well as conceptualizing video interviews with personalities featured in the exhibition.

As one of the research interns for Radio Malaya, I organised the exhibition bibliography and carried out research on performance art in Singapore. As someone with limited art history background before this, and who have had relatively little exposure to the art world, this truly gave me a crash course on the history of art in Singapore. When reading sources written at different points in history, what truly fascinated me was how intently people have been thinking and writing about art and its role in contemporary society at every given point in time. By reading critical essays, I came to appreciate how Singaporean art has influenced and been influenced by society and politics throughout the decades, and how it sheds light on history.

Reading up on the Trimurti artists

A research interest that I had the chance to develop further during this internship was performance art in Singapore. Performance art has always intrigued me because of its elusiveness and the impossibility of preserving it. With the guidance of my supervisor, Sidd, I tried to untangle the relationships between alternative art and the state, art, and funding, international and local, and performance and not-performance. The end result of this task was a literature review, which really challenged me as I had to read through lots of sources, find and select the most useful, read through them and try to understand the dense language, and then summarize each one concisely. It really impressed upon me how much research and thought goes into every single exhibition, and gave me a taste of what it would be like to be a researcher or art historian.

Using a microfiche machine for the first time!

One highlight of the internship was the conservation workshop. I was completely fascinated by all the small nuances and details that have to be holistically taken into account when preserving an artwork, such as historical origin, materials used, museum environment, and artist’s intent. We got to interact with the artwork in a very hands-on manner, including using UV and infrared light and handling actual porcelain artifacts. Throughout the workshop Lawrence, one of the conservators, would ask us to figure out why an artwork appeared a certain way, or had to be preserved in a certain way, thus getting us to participate in the half-forensic science, half-art criticism puzzle of conservation.

Interns at the Baba House

Another highlight was the field trips. We visited NUS Baba House, the National Gallery, and had a more in-depth tour of the NUS Museum itself. Not only did these trips expand the scope of my exposure beyond the immediate area of art history I was researching (e.g. by teaching me about Peranakan culture), this also helped me think more critically about how different museums curate exhibits, create narratives, and utilize space.

I came away from this internship with a newfound interest in museums and potentially working in one. I also greatly appreciate the friendships I formed with the other interns, as well as the support and encouragement from the museum staff, especially Sidd and Michelle. Thank you NUS Museum for a wonderful December filled with art and nice people, and you can be sure I'll be back!  

Friday, 2 March 2018

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Kwok Jia Yang

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! 


Kwok Jia Yang is a first-year student at the Yale-NUS College. As our  Radio Malaya Exhibition Research Intern, Jia Yang researched on and compiled a bibliography of writings related to Jimmy Ong, a Singaporean artist, assisted in the accessioning of the Jimmy Ong "Shoebox Photographs", and researched on and conceived of an interview project of the Dragon Court period. 

I began the internship wanting to experience an institutional perspective towards the arts. Each institution has a particular slant towards the conceptualization of exhibitions and shows. In particular, I sought to understand more about NUS Museum’s own curatorial approaches and processes. Additionally, I was interested in how institutions negotiated with practical real-life considerations and limitations.

Something that stood out for me in the first few days was reading an introductory essay by my supervisor, Ahmad Mashadi, on the identity and practices of NUS Museum. One aspect that intrigued me about the Museum in my prior visits was the presence of the permanent collections in relation to the other temporary exhibitions. To me, there seemed to be only a tenuous link between each show, making it a seemingly disparate experience. The essay, however, defined and framed the institution’s position in today’s context as an “interlocutor of disciplines and knowledge”. Commenting on how the selectivity in curation could sometimes construct definitive narratives that marginalized other perspectives, the dynamics of power between the institution and viewer could be characterized as almost authoritative. In this manner, the institution acknowledged the agency of viewers in conceiving independent ideas, setting itself out as a “point of reference” to provoke discourse between the public, the artists, and curatorial themes and foster an “indeterminate set of readings”. For me, this intentional fluid approach fascinated me as works from the permanent collection could be read/presented in a multitude of ways in the context of a new topic, making the institution an exciting space for experimentation. 

Comparing and Cataloguing photos

My task during the stint was to research on Jimmy Ong, one of Singapore’s foremost contemporary artists, and conceptualize potential new approaches towards the Radio Malaya Exhibition. Alongside a collection of charcoal drawings, Ong had donated a shoebox of close to a thousand photographs that he took from 1984-1997. Thus, I spent my 5 weeks constantly looking and re-looking at the photographs. This process saw me attempt to inhabit Ong’s lens and mind to understand his possible intentions in taking each photograph. At the same time, I was researching about Ong’s practice and his life, finding links between the photographs and Ong’s history, works, and concerns. Contrary to popular belief, photographs are not an objective record of reality but rather one refracted through particular sensibilities. In this manner, even if Ong was being casual about his intentions, an underlying idea still existed as to why the photographs were being taken. This whole process made me more conscious in seeing potential links between the subject matter and external concerns, forming possible entry points for further exploration. 

For example, a seemingly purely descriptive photograph of one individual waving the Singapore flag could potentially take on a completely new meaning in the context of one’s political concerns. With the prevalence of photography nowadays, people can be unaware of the potential underlying meanings of the images they take. My meetings with Ahmad were also helpful in discussing different perspectives and anchoring particular themes to focus on. At the end of the stint, we decided to focus on Jimmy Ong’s identities and the tension in belonging. For me, the negotiation of identity was fascinating with respect to self-discovery and normative social influences. In particular, the various personas one portrayed externally for group acceptance and conformity as opposed to one’s internal psyche.

Conservation Studio and Baba House

Another aspect I really enjoyed was the range of activities we underwent beyond our assigned tasks. Besides being given a tour of the NUS Museum and the Baba House at Neil Road, we also attended a conservation workshop by Donald and Lawrence. This gave insights into a practical process which is often not emphasized enough in the execution of curatorial ideas. In particular, a casual encounter with Claire, Donald, and Lawrence stood out as they were fitting and re-sizing photographic prints into store-bought frames from IKEA for a future exhibition. This allowed me to see a more physical side towards curating exhibitions beyond its mere, more lauded theoretical conceptualizations. This definitely presented a more realistic, down to earth perspective towards museology and curation.

Another activity that stood out particularly was a tour of National Gallery’s “Between Declarations and Dreams: Art of Southeast Asia since the 19th Century” exhibition by curator, Melinda Susanto. Explaining the curatorial approaches toward the selection of works, her tour allowed me to see the coherence behind a well-researched and considered approach and the links between each time period, art movement, and work, making the exhibition an enjoyable viewing experience. In the background of the recent Yayoi Kusama show, one question I was debating was the notion of consumption, access, and exclusivity. Levels of complexity exist as to the accessibility of works. Hence, should the selection of works be intentionally tailored and made simpler? Or should the process be less calculative and more genuine to the explored topic, choosing works based on its merits and yet at the same time exclude certain denominators of society? On a more realistic level, I believe the answer resides in the grey space between the black and whites. It is a constant struggle between both aspirations, ultimately decided based on the balance between practical needs and wants.

I’d like to thank Ahmad for providing key directions in our few meetings, allowing me to glean into the nuances and considerations of curatorial research. I would also like to thank Michelle for always being there for us, planning the programs and ensuring everything runs smoothly. Donald is another figure that I cannot thank enough, providing access to the Museum’s materials and giving opinions in casual conversations. A last thank you goes to Wardah, Sidd, Lawrence, Claire, the museum team, and all interns for making the past five weeks an enjoyable time.  

Friday, 23 February 2018

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Jolene Teo

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! 


Jolene Teo is a third-year History student at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. As our  Museum Archival Research Intern, Jolene researched on and compiled a bibliography of writings related to William Willetts, the second curator of the Art Museum in the University of Malaya, researching and compiling materials on the University of Malaya, as well as researching and compiling a bibliography of writings related to Roxanna Brown and Constance Sheares.  

Despite knowing close to nothing about William Willetts, the second curator of the Art Museum in the University of Malaya, I decided to challenge myself and applied to be a Research Assistant Intern for an upcoming lecture about him under NUS Museum to find out more about this figure. Being a History student, I wanted to try applying the skills I learnt in school to museum work and learning new things as well. As I was always interested in the arts, I wanted to explore the various roles played by the museum staff from curating an exhibit to the day to day running of a museum. Therefore, this internship was the best of both worlds for me and I applied for it without hesitation. 

I remember being completely lost on the first day and hitting several dead ends along the way, but it was certainly a fruitful journey of growth and perseverance. I started off reading several materials provided by the museum staff to get a brief overview of Willetts. Slowly, I started to branch off on my own and dug around NewspaperSG, National Archives, and visiting various libraries to find out more information. The museum staff have all been very friendly and helpful in answering our questions and letting us know what they do even if it was not related to what the interns were doing, so we were able to explore other areas as well. We also got a break from what we are doing by going on field trips or workshops to learn more about the museum itself and what they do. 

Picture of Baba House taken during the field trip.

Besides gathering information, I have to compile and reorganise it. I was constantly shifting around the organisation to view the various angles I could approach Willetts. I can now confidently say I am (almost) an expert in scanning and photocopying books and documents of various sizes with the photocopy machine. 

Hard at work trying to figure out the photocopy machine.

After gathering and organising information, I would have to present it to Ahmad, the Head of the Museum, which always made me slightly nervous because he was very strict. However, meetings with him were always very helpful, as he was always able to assess my work and prod me towards a new direction to progress in my research, look at other sources, or to expand on certain parts further. 

Finally, together with Ahmad and Michelle, I met Mr Kwa, who will be delivering the lecture. As a History student, I have read some of the things he has written and attended 2 of his guest lectures. Being an important and well-known figure, I was very worried my research was not up to Mr Kwa’s standards. After the initial nervous stammering however, we had a productive discussion about the lecture and how my research would slowly take shape. I was really relieved to be working under such supportive mentors and being able to voice my opinions despite being just an intern. 

Lastly, we wrapped up the internship by having presentations on object write-ups for some of the works in the museum we have written. This allowed us to contribute to the museum in some way, and try out visually analysing and writing about art works.

Picture of Wee Kong Chai’s painting Mother and Child, I had to do an object write-up for.

I am very excited to continue this project and see what else I can find out about Willetts, and how the lecture would turn out. It will be a challenge, but this experience has made me enjoy doing research and the excitement whenever I discover something new, making this process an enjoyable and enriching one for me. I would also like to thank Michelle, Ahmad, Mr Kwa, and the rest of NUS Museum staff for helping me throughout this winter internship and the upcoming months. 

Friday, 16 February 2018

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Johann Yamin

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! 


Johann Yamin is a third-year Communications and New Media student at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, with a minor in Film Production and Art History. As our  Radio Malaya Exhibition Research Intern, Johann assisted with curatorial research and exhibition development for Radio Malaya: Abridged Conversations About Art, as well as consolidating research materials from the Vietnam War Art collection.

No neat beginnings, no neat endings. 

I come here to rearrange florets of information. Imagine knowledge being categorised, synthesised, consolidated, coagulated. Reified into physical stacks, neatly lined along a conference table in a fluorescent-lit room, scattered with the touch of a hand. I look for knowledge that has come before me, traces deposited: There are citations to be generated, bibliographies to be indexed, indexes to be bibliographed. Associations multiply meiotically while meanings unravel inconspicuously. 

I come here to propose more and more, as in, there will always be more, but what this is depends on what you want, so just go for it and don’t worry too much about it. More is needed still. Reach out for things you’ve not yet seen, searches combing wide swathes – time is spent over shelves, under the covers of books, scampering across categories in classification systems. You prise yourself between the leading of sentences and meander through spaces dividing words, cram through the kerning of letters.  

Look at pdfs and docxs accumulated, pay attention to their megabytes of information, how odd for the pdf to be neither image nor text. Consider their visuality: Information frozen in relative position on document, everything in its right place always and exactly. Push in on the document. Edges become jagged, indistinct, abstract. Pixels happily leap off into low resolution.

~ ~ ~ 

Each day, I push my palms against the textures of aged webpages, charting out urban sprawls of abandoned geocities, raptly tracing fingers along html frame dividers. As web browser histories grow lengthier and more intricate, discover how highres images of an artwork nosedive into lowres, splintering across the internet from the force of impact. Jpegs of art find themselves crawled over, scooped up, plastered to a website for interior design inspiration. “As it accelerates, it deteriorates.” 

Knowledge coquettishly prances just out of reach, arriving as a pulsating, glowing figure from beyond the screen. Sometimes it’s better to see things through a screen. Violent rectangles of light. Generate new threads, ideas unspooling, conceptualise skeins, tangle warp and weft. Everything falls through the fingers, and there is no need for a firm grasp. Again and again, note this happening. I allow my mind to be splayed open, and it begs to be interfaced.


I hover over a scanner, turning physical page to digital particulate. I marvel at how images transmute into text, made searchable by machine. Optical Character Recognition is a built-in function that occurs with the scanning of a document, the process wherein images of text, handwritten or otherwise, are identified and converted into machine-encoded text. Jagged pixellate edges coalesce into legible unicode forms, meaning sublimated from black etchings, saturating the air with a dark, pungent smell.  

As with many systems, it is not perfect. Recognition does not occur flawlessly, and errors emerge with impish regularity, a mischievous child scrawling with crayon on the wall behind the sofa. During Optical Character Recognition, the characters occasionally blur, melding into each other or fading into the grain of paper, numbers becoming letters, letters becoming other letters, and then becoming nonsense punctuation. The text becomes an abstracted version of its former self, an endearing attempt at coherence. Ins1ead ,','e f:nd oursclvcs lcf- vv:th t000 ,','ays :n vvh:ch a scntcncc ma) losc :ts or:g:nal-mcan:ng} 

Optical Character Recognition is the attempt to identify potential markers of meaning, hypostasising these signs into coherent and accessible systems of representation. I softly apply pressure as documents sensuously smoothen against the glass flatbed of the scanner, bodies of knowledge spread across a lustrous surface, anticipating permeation by shards of light. I feel like I may be falling in love with a ghost in a machine. 


17 Volcanoes

I want to tell you how things will go, I want to tell you how things will be. But we leave expectations and potential futures on an expired cloud storage subscription, forgetting they ever existed at all. Still, we celebrate the forgotten scraps of knowledge that dance in cached versions of obsolete webpages. We celebrate the tentacular reach of research to be done, of ideas to be generated. We celebrate that there are no neat beginnings, no neat endings. 

(A javascript music player begins to play lixianglan_xinqu_李香兰_心曲_1957.mp3) 
 (An embedded video montage entitled Memories begins to unfold in your head) 

(This blog post slips away into a swamp of hypertext links, disappearing from sight) 

Friday, 9 February 2018

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Ho See Wah

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! 


Ho See Wah is a fourth-year Global Studies student at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. As our  Programmes Research Intern, See Wah assisted in the conceptualisation and research of upcoming programmes related to the Museum's Vietnam War Art collection

I’ve always loved art. 

Reading literature, watching a theatre show, visiting art exhibitions – I love it all, so I was immensely nervous and excited when applying for the NUS Museum December internship. And I was positively thrilled when I got a position (preliminary research for a Cold War art symposium, in conjunction with the collection of Vietnam War art materials that the Museum has). 

It was scary at first, though. Visual arts was a terrain that I’ve never actually studied before, so I was quite apprehensive about how I was going to go about with my job. The first few days were basically me figuring out what the Museum has done thus far – I trawled through videos of past talks, I read through the materials that were amassed previously, and I did a lot of Googling. 

One of the days where I went down to the Museum to study collected resources.

The next step for me was to build on these resources by doing my own research. Now, this is where it got tough: with the whole world of Cold War art before me, and with this being a rather independent project, I had to figure out an action plan for what I should focus on, and how I should go about my research (at this point, I would like to thank NUS Libraries and the Museum’s Resource Library for being absolute sweethearts! I couldn’t have done this without you guys.) 

Eventually, I managed to come up with a rough sketch of what I envisioned the symposium could be like – a Southeast Asia-focused look at the nuances and trajectories of Cold War art and culture. I was pretty excited, since I love to learn about the dynamics of Southeast Asia during this post-colonial period, and it was also closely related to what I was studying in school (Global Studies). However, when I met with my supervisor, Michelle, to go through what I had done the past two weeks, I realized that I still had much to learn. Michelle rightly pointed out that my research had been too politically focused, with a thin focus on the art and culture itself. In my head, I had been too caught up with the idea that politics influenced art heavily, and that translated into my research (politics to art). After this realization came another one: I really, really, really wanted to learn, to absorb, and to create a new headspace where I could think and grasp visual arts from the art perspective – art to politics, art to society, art for art’s sake, et cetera (I’m born one year too early for NUS FASS’ Art History minor… sian.) 

Thereafter, I delved into my work with a clearer direction, and I am glad to say that, after a few weeks of recalibrating and reorganizing the way I carried out my research, I have indeed picked up a new way of viewing and researching about the visual arts, and am excited to explore this way of seeing even more (I’ll be taking Reading Visual Images as one of my modules next semester, yay!!). In this aspect, I’m really grateful towards the Museum for providing this opportunity for me to learn more about the art world, despite me having little background in it, other than my interest in arts. Also, I’m glad that I managed to churn out different materials for the Museum as well, despite my fears that my research might have ended up producing a scant amount of usable resources, and I hope that the Museum will find these useful!

On another note, I’d like to thank Michelle for planning such a wonderful ‘curriculum’ for us interns – despite the short duration of this internship, it was nevertheless jam-packed with activities: from visiting the National Gallery of Singapore with a mini-tour by one of the curators, to having a Collections & Conservation Workshop, there was always something planned to look forward to every week. 

Cool conservation workshop.

I’m really grateful that this internship offered so much learning, and I am truly and sincerely glad that I was able to spend a month with NUS Museum such that I was able to immerse myself into a field that I have never really experienced before in an educational/working capacity. 

Ho Tzu Nyen’s One or Several Tigers multimedia installation at National Gallery .

Lastly, I’d like to thank the people at NUS Museum – to Michelle, for the aforementioned and her guidance, to Sid, for her help and resources when I was starting out my research, to Wardah, for being really friendly and treating us to Starbucks on our last day, to everyone who has been welcoming and helpful in one way or the other, and last but not least, to the interns who are all super knowledgeable in their own ways (I enjoyed listening and talking to you guys about your experiences and interests!). 

Visit to the Baba House.

Till then for now!!

Friday, 2 February 2018

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Hor Jen Yee

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! 


Hor Jen Yee is a third-year Psychology student at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. As our Museum Outreach Intern, Jen Yee assisted in Outreach administrative tasks, as well as assisting in the conceptualistion, research, and execution of upcoming Outreach programmes. 

5 weeks + 2 Saturdays, 11 interns, several edited videos, many photo albums and blog posts and even more stickers on brochures – that would be a brief numerical summary of the things that I had been involved in as an Outreach Intern for this December 2017 internship. However, as mundane as some of the work sounds, the insights that this experience has given me has been so much more. 

Although I was one of the few interns (in this mega-sized batch) that was not directly involved in research work, I still learnt a lot about the behind-the-scenes operations of a museum from seeing it in its stages of conceptualisation in research to organising programmes such as workshops, as well as liaising with future partners on collaborations. 

For instance, the research work of understanding an exhibition can never be completely distanced from museum work. As the first point of contact to some visitors, it is still crucial for outreach members to be armed with information on not only just one exhibition but also on all the materials that is in the museum at that time. I felt this first-hand of sorts during one of my first tasks of helping out with Sarkasi Said’s batik painting workshop, held across two Saturdays. During the second session, I was unexpectedly tasked to interpret a tour for the exhibition in Chinese to a special guest. Having only been to the exhibition twice before, it was definitely an interesting challenge, but the task also allowed me to really get to know the specific details behind the exhibition to be able to explain it well enough to another person. 

Going in, my understanding of the museum’s exhibitions before starting the internship was ironically very minimal. Hence I really enjoyed the internship activities that allowed us to get to know more about what NUS Museum does, as well as its perspective and mission. It was interesting to learn about how previous exhibitions related to one another, more about the concept of prep-rooms, and also the interesting combination of concepts from art, archaeology, history, and even some scientific aspects being brought into an exhibition. I also enjoyed other activities such as the tour of the Baba House and the Conservation and Handling Workshop. Both of which showcase some of the hidden science and challenges involved in museum works.

Same same but different. 

Being able to visit other galleries after learning all of this also gave me new perspectives with which to view exhibition spaces, especially after learning about the constraints and concerns involved in taking care of the artefacts and placing them. It was also good to experience some aspects of research by undertaking the research behind artworks in the museum’s collection that had little information. After all, I never would have thought that I would be reading through Chinese transcripts of oral interviews from the National Archives to learn more about Tan Tee Chie. 

When you realise that art photography is not easy with reflections being a thing.

In terms of day to day work, one of my tasks was to consolidate the postings across the various platforms of Facebook, Flickr, and the Museum blog. Organising and updating the Museum’s different social media platforms definitely allowed me to get to know more about the Museum’s exhibitions and events in an interesting way. After going through numerous photo albums, it almost felt like living vicariously to meet the guests and the key collaborators to the previous exhibitions and programmes. All of which, by the way, is completely accessible on NUS Museum’s little known Flickr page! 

I was also lucky enough to join Michelle, my supervisor, on some of her meetings to see how she does outreach with various partners and learn about NUS Museum’s perspective on the types of exhibitions and partnerships. For example, never would I have thought that a museum could be involved in reaching out to not only to Arts students but also to Architecture and external schools for teaching history and more. 

“What is the purpose of a museum?” – Although this conversation theme came up between Michelle (my supervisor) and me outside office hours, this question seemed to resonate throughout my experiences in these five weeks.  

As viewers walking into an exhibition, our role is simply to absorb and evaluate an exhibition for whatever we may have interpreted as its storyline/perspective. Viewers do not necessarily need any context in order to respond to it. However, as the organiser, the museum and its curators have to explore the stories behind the artworks and artefacts and create the experience from new and interesting perspectives. 

From these five weeks, I am glad to have been able to learn about the challenges and processes of research, searching for new perspectives, continuing partnerships, organising events, and networking that lie behind the surface of a clean and curated exhibition space.
Also, thank you to my supervisor Michelle for all the interesting conversations and organising the insightful activities at NUS Museum! 

Friday, 26 January 2018

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Guo Xiu Jin

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! 


Guo Xiu Jin is a third-year Architecture student at the NUS School of Design & Environment. As our Collections Intern, Jin worked on exploring possible improvements to Collections Online, which is NUS Museum's online database of artefacts. 

Five weeks of questions, that is how I’d describe my internship at NUS Museum.  

It all began with the question ‘what is a museum?’. What happens in a museum? What should happen in a museum? As an architecture student, I’ve been challenged to design museums before. My research came with the realisation that they housed all these wonderful exhibitions, but I had no idea how they came to be. The inner workings of a museum were opaque to me, someone on the outside. So, I applied.

My very first task was to attend Digital Conversations, a series of talks by the National Museum of Singapore on the topic of Virtual Reality (VR). I cannot underscore how much of an eye-opening experience it was. This was my first taste of VR and without trying it yourself, I cannot sufficiently describe the experience. It was a new medium that artists were exploring - were museums of today equipped to exhibit their works? 

Visiting the ruins of Palmyra, Syria - VR experience by Iconem, it recreates various Syrian heritage sites damaged by war. 

Imagine if, in the future, you could rebuild it yourself, brick by brick. This could help build national identity, reconnect with people with their heritage. Isn’t that the role of a museum? 

Later, we would visit NUS Museum. Despite its smaller size, there are uniquely fascinating spaces that I have never seen before in another museum. The prep-rooms are experimental spaces for artists and curators to explore different ideas and are actually open to public. Not only do they pull back the curtain on their thoughts and work, the public can even contribute and interact with the works. 

 What is a canvas? What is a painting? 

This prep-room features various explorations by artist Fyerool Darma. It highlights how the thoughts and creative energies that artists have goes beyond simply providing a backdrop for a painting. It might be a fabric from the ceiling, or spilling onto the walls. 

We also had a behind-the-scenes introduction to the work by conservators at NUS Museum. I could make an entire blog post about this. Their workspaces, their work in restoration, the ethical dilemmas that they have to be considerate of - there are so many things to talk about, such as how do you preserve temporary artworks? What if, by exhibiting the artwork, it decayed? They navigate these delicate issues which, when done well, are invisible to the audience at an exhibition. 

An exercise showing how different materials look under UV light.

Depending on the make-up of the paint, white paint to the naked eye will look different under UV light. This helps conservators identify the type of paint used, and possibly the period when the painting was made. 

NUS Museum is staffed by a group of dedicated and passionate people. One meeting with the curator Su Ling sticks in my mind. A petite woman, it was not her stature but her use of language that impresses. Simple and direct. I remember a quiet realisation at how much it revealed the organised and insightful mind behind it. I gained a newfound respect at the scope that the staff at NUS Museum considers. The order of exhibits, the logic, spatial arrangement, humidity, lighting, pests. The tangible and intangible. Each one brimming with questions.  

Donald running a short exercise on handling artefacts. 

This exercise let us handle some artefacts in person. The inside of my gloves were slick with sweat. If I dropped and broke one, that was it. They were genuine artefacts. Fun fact: The museum stripped out a section of floor tiles because they were too bumpy for trolleys.

Every intern were given artworks to research and write about. As a ‘non-art person’, writing about art is not something I had ever done before. It wasn’t uncommon to get lost in jargon while reading texts, or in conversations, prompting more research. Yet, I was surprised to find a small pleasure in the research. Why did he do this? What was the inspiration? Is he alive? From a stranger, the artist turns into someone you have a connection with. There was a weird excitement when I found out that the artist was indeed alive and in touch with NUS Museum. 

Me, in central library. Expect to spend some time here. Research in progress.

So, what is a museum? I’ve come to build my own ideas about it. Every museum is ever so slightly different. For example, NUS Museum, with its affiliation NUS, has an educational and academic slant to it. There are all kinds of activities and functions, both in and out of the public eye. A successful museum needs so many types of people. A museum is a container for all this life to mix and interact to create something new and memorable. Life begets Art. 

Now, how do I translate this online? 

I’m surprised by how much I was able to write for this post. I think that speaks to the depth of the experiences offered by an internship at NUS Museum, even at a short 5 weeks. The other interns you meet are unique and the conversations are gems. I definitely recommend anyone, who even slightly thinks that this might be interesting, to apply.  

I’d like to thank Michelle and NUS Museum for the opportunity, Greg for his guidance, and Wardah for her boundless energy.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Shiau Yu

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! 


Shiau Yu is a second year student at the School of Art, Design & Media, NTU. As our Chinese Art intern, Shiau Yu was tasked to organise documentations, conduct research and assist with the development of exhibitions related to the NUS Museum's Chinese Ink collection.

As an art student, a museum goer, a part-time gallery sitter and a volunteering Chinese docent at museum, I’ve always been interested in the dynamics within the museum, between the viewers, between artworks, between viewer and artwork. So, I was pretty excited for the behind-the-scenes when I got the opportunity to intern at nus museum, more excited when I see a position in relation to my topic of interest: Chinese ink art. 

Team work! Helping each other to document

If you are passionate for art and museum, and are considering taking up the internship, get ready to be hit in the face by reality. Working alongside the museum staffs allows a sneak peek into the real work that goes on behind each exhibition, the managing of artworks, the handling of publicity, the planning and execution of exhibition down to every single detail. You get a taste of the bitter side of the job: It is not always passion-driven, it doesn’t always work, and as much as we care about art and museum, some people just don’t. 

And if you made it to this paragraph, just know that those dry and harsh reality is a necessary exposure, they end up as helpful experience for me and only developed my interest in art and museum more by showing me how meaningful the job is. 

Cracking our brains for the work

While walking through the exhibition, "Who Wants to Remember a War?", curated by my supervisor, Siang, I overheard a comment which says that “the exhibition is no longer about the artworks themselves, the group of works are placed together only to deliver the concept or intent of the curator.”

The tone of displeasure probably came from a viewpoint that exhibitions are supposed to be like documentaries, it should serve to exhibit the genuine intention of the artist and the true form of the work, thus the work should be presented in an objective context without any external narrative highlighting or downplaying any aspect of the work. 

I understand the worry that when curators chose to group a collection of works under the same title, certain aspects of the work might be overshadowed by the curator’s concept or the genre of art that the work is being chose to portray. It is possible that the open-ended ways to appreciate the works are being narrowed down by the decision of the curator within the particular exhibition. Like when the aesthetic quality of the sketches being overshadowed by their historical value as war art.

And I would agree with the comment that exhibitions today are always biased, but only because it is almost impossible to be objective. Curators select the works and arrange the placement like how a photographer choose to frame the shot and highlight certain subject. And even with the most genuine intention to stay truthful to the subject or stay objective with the selection of artworks, the moment we look into the viewfinder, the moment we start to consciously make a choice, we deviate from that objective viewpoint. 

And comments like that got me wondering: why is it important to have a curator to choose for us what to look at and plan for us which to look at first? Is there a need to even try to be objective in the museum? (no, I am not attempting to answer these questions)

Museum trips!

Working under Siang, I was impressed by the amount of research that goes on behind the scene, as well as the difference these researches made in the exhibition. A huge part of my job as a research intern is really static. I sit at the table, goes through page after page after page. Absorbing the text that may or may not be useful, evaluating the information. Most of them are not related to art, but provides me with the contextual knowledge, and some helps to embed more meaning to the work in the museum. The viewers today are looking not only at the conventional artistic value such as aesthetic and craftsmanship, they also take into consideration the conceptual value, the historical value of artworks.  One of the intricate job that curators do at NUS Museum is to carefully select the information and text to be presented at the exhibition alongside the artworks. By doing so, bringing out the meaning of the work. But at the same time, finding a balance such that the text does not over shadow the work itself or overwhelm the audience. More often than not, an artwork is not just a piece on its own but attached to the artist, the intention and the social context, it carries the entire background narrative with it. Selecting and arranging these works, then becomes a tactful duty and can almost get political at times. I marvel at the amount of thoughts put into each exhibition by the curators in order to make the show meaningful and thought provoking for the visitors. 

Discussions during lunchbreaks

The thoughts above are as result from not just my work at the office, but also discussions with the other interns, these paragraphs are in fact examples of what we sometimes end up discussing during our lunchbreak. The trips to different museums provides insightful exposure and bring out many interesting topics. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity which would not be possible without Michelle who curated this program, and for the kindness of the wonderful individuals in the office. My supervisor Siang describe herself as a bad mother when she gets too busy to talk to me or my partner at work, when in fact she is really kind and patient with us. Discussion with her doesn’t feel like work but always got me thinking and researching deeper into the topic, and I definitely learnt more than I bargained for.

Good times!