Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Ignatius Albert Wijaya

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! 

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Ignatius Albert Wijaya is a third-year Political Science student at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. As our Myanmar Archaeological Intern, Ignatius was tasked to carry out research of catalogs and articles on Myanmar Ceramics.


A One-Year Journey
After a summer school field trip to Myanmar in July 2015, I responded to a call for an NUS Museum internship in a project on Myanmar archaeological ceramics. Back then when I applied, I was already aware that this would be a long-term project, and that the Museum had hoped that the intern would stay for the entire project (beyond the initial contract of December 2015).

Now, one year later, as I look back I felt really glad that I managed to stay the entire project from its conceptualization in December 2015, to the opening of the exhibition From the Ashes: Reviving Myanmar Celadon Ceramics in February 2017. Being involved throughout the entire process enabled me to experience insights that short-term interns would not have been able to: How one needs to be flexible in making drastic changes to the initial plans due to unforeseen circumstances, how one is gradually given more responsibilities towards the end of the project, and so many other insights that only a one-year internship could provide.


Outside Tradistyle Ceramics, Twante

Learnt to Contribute… and to Listen
My main contribution to the project was the conceptualization and execution of a catalogue of newspaper articles to help visitors form a greater appreciation and awareness of ceramics and Myanmar as well as the ceramics town of Twante, where the ceramics artefacts come from. Scouring for articles from various online academic sources, websites and even physical newspapers, eventually we managed to accumulate a total of 73 articles over eight themes.

In the process, I certainly learnt a lot from the curator Ms Foo Su Ling on the importance of filtering: At the beginning, my research was nearly direction-less, as I sought for information on anything related to ceramics and Myanmar. However, Su Ling advised me that at one point we had to start grouping the articles into certain themes. For example, we had a theme on Pottery, which is the very object of the exhibit, as well as Twante Canal, a canal that links Twante to Myanmar’s capital city Yangon. With this advice in mind, I managed to find even more relevant articles that fit into the various themes that we had.

In fact, I managed to suggest a new theme that Su Ling eventually approved: A theme on the importance of animals whose motifs are found on the artefacts. These animals include the cow, the elephant, and the swan. The newspaper articles thus included news on how the swan is the symbol of Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party, as well as how the elephant is now suffering from deforestation in Myanmar. This experience taught me that when suggesting proposals, one has to think about how the proposal truly was relevant to the exhibit.


Discussion with U Thant Tin & Dr Cho

The Personal Touch
Another unforgettable memory for me is the warmth and friendliness of all the museum staff. I personally cherish all the personal interactions I had, as I got to speak with them not as between a permanent staff and an intern, but as equals who would like to know more about each other’s lives.

For instance, I frequently speak with curator Ms Chang Yueh Siang about religion, the Museum head Mr Ahmad Mashadi very kindly shares his adventures in Indonesia my home country, while in return I provide my insights on the country especially my hometown Jakarta. And last but certainly not the least, my project leader and internship supervisor Ms Foo Su Ling who was always open to sharing her insights on current affairs ranging from the 2016 US presidential election to Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to Singapore in December 2016. It is these interactions that truly made me feel welcome at the NUS Museum.

For Those Considering to Intern at NUS Museum…
… go for it. This is your opportunity to have a first-hand experience of working at a museum, especially if you also have a passion for history and visiting museums, just like I do. There are so many fields available for you to choose from, ranging from research and curatorial to outreach and marketing. The staff at the Museum is welcoming for you and willing to help you to learn by providing the channels to learn and giving honest feedback on your mistakes. I certainly did feel welcome and learned a lot about myself as a person and as a professional. I will always look back at my NUS Museum internship as the stint where I learnt a lot.Hope the next batches of interns will also have similarly enriching experience!

With Hui Tuan

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