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!

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Grace Adam

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! 


Grace Adam is a year 4 Political Science student at the Singapore Management University. As our Baba House Outreach intern, Grace conducted research for Baba House programmes and assisted with public programmes and the daily operations of the Baba House.

The Peranakan community’s link to Singapore has been outstanding for quite some time, not in the least that our Singapore Airlines cabin crew uniform is inspired by the sarong kebaya or that the Singapore Tourism Board logo is derived from an architectural detail found in Peranakan shophouses. How can one speak of Singapore without accrediting the Peranakan community? It is this question that led me, a Political Science major, to pursue a museum internship at the NUS Baba House where a prominent Peranakan family once resided. 

To give a picture, atop a gentle slope from the main street at 157 Neil Road, a bright blue house sits tucked in the middle of a row of shophouses. Remote from the actual university campus, the NUS Baba House houses the NUS Museum’s Straits Chinese collection. It is one of the last surviving Straits Chinese townhouses in Singapore; its architecture and interior conserved as how it once was in the 1920s. Its unique cultural influence can be observed even in the tiniest details of building architecture, e.g. jian nian, and furniture artefacts, e.g. brown-and-gold wardrobes. Beyond the solipsism of display, as the Baba House intern, I tagged along on guided tours. Responsibilities included preparing the three-storeyed house for our local and international visitors and explaining the house rules. This allowed me to interact with people across different social strata and physical borders where, during the tours, they sometimes discovered they too practice variations of the traditions peculiar to the Peranakan community. Despite the absence of didactic placards, the museum is curated in such a way that visitors leave with a better understanding of the socio-cultural impact that the Peranakans might have had in their heyday in the early 20th century on the local community, and vice versa. 

Explore NUS Baba House’ invites people to experience the house at their own pace

To people who prefer wandering off the beaten path, the freshly-minted Explore NUS Baba House series is an alternative way to appreciate the house at one’s own pace. As the designated photographer, the visitors’ expressions and body language told tales, and it was wonderful to see people across generations, races and nationalities share the same look of curiosity and wonder as they navigated through the house. Following the diaspora of the Peranakans’ Chinese ancestors and their intermarriage with local populations, which led to the eventual development of the Peranakan community in Singapore, the common man today is still witness to the sweeping changes of international migration in a globalised world. There is much we can learn from the diversity in Peranakan culture, its absorption and assimilation of other cultures. Whoever said that interest in the arts and heritage in Singapore is irrelevant?

NUS Museum intern at “Yayoi Kusama: Prints” solo exhibition at Ota Fine Arts Singapore, Gillman Barracks

Speaking of which, once a week, I headed off to a different museum or art institution as part of the NUS Museum interns’ added learning – ticking off a summer bucket list to uncover all that Singapore’s art and cultural sector has to offer; an interest sparked by my exposure to SMU’s Arts and Culture Management modules. The interns were able, and encouraged, to pick the curators’ brains as they gave personal tours of their exhibitions. I especially enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look into the sperm whale exhibition at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum with Kate Pocklington. The bones on display barely hold a candle to the candid recount of finding the whale’s corpse washed ashore (“oh, the smell!”) and the days after of hardwork to strip the whale’s blubber. Take a peek at the video reel playing on the second floor of the exhibition! Apart from curator tours, I was happy to get a chance to see Let’s Chat: With Amanda Heng live at the NUS Museum. Through her art, Amanda allowed participants to enter into a safe conversation space, where we talked about anything from personal dreams for our future to women’s role in contemporary society. Wholly unflustered by the ebb and flow of participants, Amanda spoke with gravitas and paid every individual attention. It was inspiring.

I have seen new shows at museums make newspaper headlines (for better or worse; Yayoi Kusama at National Gallery of Singapore or the renamed Syonan Gallery, anyone?), but not only in the local context. The Culture section in the New York Times International Edition regularly features exhibitions at art galleries or museums. The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun also carries a tickling ‘Let’s go to the museum’ series featuring small museums in lesser-known prefectures. But y’know, it is one thing to read about a museum and another thing entirely to work in a museum. I strongly encourage anyone contemplating if they need be on par with industry experts on the latest trends or upcoming events, to know who’s who, to be able to critically analyse an artwork, artefact or curatorial decision – to stop thinking so much and submit that application form already.

NUS Museum interns, signing out

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Roundtable | Singapore in Crocodiles

Date: Wednesday, November 29, 2017
Time: 4.30pm - 6.00PM
Venue: NUS Museum


Roundtable: Singapore in Crocodiles gathers practitioners in the field of natural heritage and culture, visual arts and academia around the notion of crocodiles in the Singapore psyche. Prompted by Buaya: The Making of a Non-myth, an ongoing prep-room project by Kate Pocklington, the roundtable examines how themes from the research display can be extended through the ongoing conversations and interests of the crocodile as a juncture in historic, scientific and cultural perceptions. This is part of the continuum of prep-room activities that constructs itself as a dialogic space for audiences to problematize propositional aspects of curatorial work and to bring their own cultural perspectives to bear on its inquiry. Roundtable: Singapore in Crocodiles situates itself in developing further collaborations around the iterations of display of this particular research on the crocodile in Singapore.

The event also launches the Zine produced by NUS Museum summer interns Natalie Lie and David Low.

About the prep-room project
Buaya: The Making of a Non-myth is an evolving bodies of works around ideas on the saltwater crocodile in Singapore. It holds a space that welcomes the working presentations of parallel research projects and interpretations done by professionals in fields of natural history, arts, cultural studies as well as organising projects done by students from the NUS. The prep-room currently holds the ongoing research by restorer Kate Pocklington, contributions by museum interns Liana Gurung, Natalie Lie and David Low in response to the pool of resource materials of the project, and an iteration of Lucy Davis’ Migrant Ecologies Project. Buaya: The Making Of A Non-Myth is about the juncture in which the eclipsed histories of crocodiles recover a mapping of conversations, systems of belief and ultimately the connections and projections between humans and the natural world. These parallels and collisions of the perpetuating dichotomy of predator and prey cross paths of co-existence in this prep-room project.

Image : Buaya 384, Stone 73. 24 October 2017.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Chua Pei Wen

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! 


Chua Pei Wen is a year 4 History student at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. She was involved in research and documentation of curatorial projects related to photography during her time here as our Photographic Projects intern.

“Ding” – the sound of a new email. It was the NUS museum internship application form. I had always been interested in visiting museums but never understood how a museum works so I thought having an internship at a museum would allow me to understand the groundwork of a museum better. 

“Ding” – the sound of an email sent. I sent the email to the NUS museum, which contained my application form.  

In the blink of an eye, my internship at the NUS museum came to an end. It seems like it was only yesterday when I first stepped into the office on the first day of my internship. For the past thirteen weeks, I was a photographic curatorial research intern helping my supervisor, Chang Yueh Siang, with her projects. Throughout this journey, I’ve learnt new skills, gained new knowledge and had a lot of fun. Now, the journey of my internship has come to an end. It is just a few more days before I return to school for my final year. As I sit on my chair typing this blog post, I am reflecting on my journey. Memories and memories flash through my mind, and as dramatic as it may sound, it is like watching a film – a short film. 

 Last day of internship

This journey was meaningful and enriching, one that provided me with a wonderful opportunity to learn. I decided to pen my journey of the internship with a verse/poem, something I occasionally do whenever I feel stressed or bored.

The Journey

Today, my last day,
as I clear my desk filled with books;
memories cross my mind.

Back then, I made a decision,
to learn about the back scenes of the museum
which I discovered with curiosity.

I remember the days,
as I sat in the office researching and collating information.
Opening tab after tab,
reading article after article,
researching for my projects.
That battle might be hard,
but the end is fruitful.

I remember the days,
as I sat in the library battling the dusty old archival materials.
Flipping through book after book,
reading line after line,
extracting crucial information.
Learning all about curatorial research,
which is meaningful.

I remember the days,
as I crafted my response essay for an exhibition’s proposal, titled “Searching for Jules”.
Analysing picture after picture,
typing line after line,
Penning down my thoughts
I was never afraid, as my supervisor,
deconstructed and reconstructed my essay.

I remember the days,
as I walked around the different museums in Singapore.
Looking at artwork after artwork,
walking through exhibit after exhibit,
appreciating other curators’ shows.
I learnt that to
curate a show is never easy.

I remember the days,
as we had our fortnightly discussions after the museum trips.
Sitting in the meeting room with my fellow interns,
discussing showafter show,
presenting perspective after perspective.
As we exchanged our views,
I learnt to see things from a different angle.

Now, as I walk through an exhibition
appreciating the roles of the curators,
their voices sing behind the show.

This, my last task,
as I submitthe blogpost,
this chapter comes to an end.

 Final product of my response essay

 One of our museum trips – Lee Kong Chian Natural History museum

Before I end this post, I would like to sincerely thank Siang, Michelle and the rest of the NUS Museum team who were so warm and welcoming towards us. Lastly, I also wish to extend my gratitude to my fellow intern friends who made my experience here a very enjoyable one!

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Conservation & Its Pedagogy - Impact And Relevance To Tangible And Intangible Heritage Today

Date: Saturday, November 11, 2017
Time: 9.30am
Venue: The URA Centre, Function Hall, Level 5 Singapore
An Architectural Heritage Season highlight event, this symposium brings together conservation practitioners, architects and scholars to offer diverse perspectives on heritage, conservation practices and its pedagogy. Viewed through the lens of Singapore and Melaka, the rich urban history of these port cities can be traced back to their intertwined maritime origins which predate colonial presence.
By treating the city as text, aspects of tangible and intangible heritage are brought to the fore to offer insights into the lived conditions and how these have evolved over time. At the same time, critical reflections on conservation practices and education programmes are reviewed through two specific resource centres – NUS Baba House in Singapore and Tun Tan Cheng Lock Centre for Asian Architectural and Urban Heritage in Melaka – and their long-term contribution to heritage awareness and pedagogy.
To conclude the day’s proceedings, participants have the option to join one of two guided tours – a historic stroll along Neil Road or a private house tour of Baba House. These are free but registration is required.
Housing Ancestral Altars: The Rumah Abu and the Integration of Ancestral Shrines in Peranakan Residences of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia 
- Peter LEE, Scholar 
Morphology of Cosmopolitan Cities: Melaka and Singapore 
- Johannes WIDODO, NUS Department of Architecture
Malaccan Voices – Documenting and Restoring Place, Identity and Memory 
- LIM Huck Chin, Architect and Scholar 
What Does a Focus on Conservation Reveal and Conceal in Complex Historical Sites? Some Parallel Issues on Forgotten Diversity in Singapore and Melaka 
- Imran bin Tajudeen, NUS Department of Architecture
Navigating between Heritage and Community – Where is the Middle Ground? 
- Kelvin ANG, URA Conservation Department 
54 & 56 Heeren Street: Building on Pedagogical Affordance 
- CHEAH Kok Ming, NUS Department of Architecture 
Conservation Practicums at NUS Baba House 
- FOO Su Ling, NUS Museum
Introduction: Pedagogical Intentions and Workshop Outcomes 
- Simone Shu-Yeng CHUNG, NUS Department of Architecture 
Reflections on Workshop Activities 
- Victor CHIN, TTCL Artist-in-Residence
This seminar is organised by NUS Baba House, NUS Department of Architecture and URA Conservation Department.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: David Low

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! 


David Low is a first year Master's by Research student at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social SciencesAs our Exhibition Management and Editorial intern, David was tasked to assist in various research and exhibition processes, in particular for Prep-Room | 'BUAYA: The Making of a Non-Myth' .

One is curious when interning at the museum as to where might the afterlife of exhibitions be? For with the idea of an afterlife comes the conjuration of multiple imageries – the most popular of which revolves round two concepts. One, the binary outcomes of absolute respite or eternal damnation, and the other, a karmic cycle of transference from one state to the next. Physically, the museum is no such conduit or place. Yet the spectre of the afterlife remains. Though haunting, though elusive, though incognizant with reality; the afterlife exist only because of man’s unwillingness to come to terms with the impermanence of his or her world(s).  And such is, the nature of exhibitions, which happens once in time and never again and yet whose audible voices are ontologically anxious. 

When objects return to their respective collections after an exhibition closes, where do these disembodied voices find their resting place- their proverbial heaven? Do they find respite and resolute solace in the outcomes of accompanying publications that must ultimately return to the dust of the shelves or in programmes that would soon be forgotten? If so, why then the incessant cry to be heard? And if heaven- a place where desire and want is fulfilled, is in this case a realm for these voices to be appreciated, remembered, recognised, and celebrated under the academic limelight, do then their voices speaks over the silence of others?

It maybe that what constitutes as heaven for an exhibition could also well be hell for others. In this manner, hell is for those whose cherished worlds are muted, violently erased, crushed under, and eaten up by institutional ones. The legendary destroyer of worlds is oftentimes not a divine being or even Chronos but more so the earthly museological institutions who subsumed the live worlds of people, cultures, and histories in the name of collective progress through the process of cultural and social instrumentation. 

Attempting to hear different voices at the National Museum.

In speaking of the earthly, it is then apt at this junction to see how might I, a student of Southeast Asian Studies who is interested in museology, navigate through the proliferation of angsty spectral voices disembodied by erasures. We live in interesting times. Cultural witch hunts occur almost daily to castigate the elusive bigot as the ferocious cry of those to be heard assail on incessantly. Even as the praxis of museology and museum has evolved away from the intrinsically racist, taxonomical and categorical display of the modernist, colonialist era to the now more post-modern, less assumptive less essentialist way of knowing, witch hunts intensify. Gone are the days where museums could pretend to fulfil fully the mandate of the universal, the border-defined, the subaltern, and their histories. Nevertheless as what artist Ang Song Ming courageously uttered: “We all stand accused, but will we confess our sins?”  

Will one confess that there is no heaven without hell; no remembrance without forgetting; no speaking without the silencing of others? Will one confess that while encumbered by its collection, its history, and its present, the museum’s aspirations could no longer be an absolute declaration to commitment? And instead, through the confession will one admit the utter impracticality to view the afterlife of exhibitions as linear binary outcomes of good or bad and/or even attaining to some impossible goal of perfect ethical representation, (re)-interpretation or re-engagement? 

In this sense then perhaps there isn’t a resolute ‘heaven’ or ‘hell’ for exhibitions, but with every death comes strange beginnings and departures. When an exhibition end, voices either remembered or forgotten do not stay in constant states of the glorified or dammed but are translated into spectres that haunt and colour new exhibitions. Just as one could not call something not being into being so every exhibition are not true beginnings but strange originary middles. Yet new middles nonetheless. For example, the voices deemed banal but contemporaneous with the opening exhibition of the long gone Raffles Museum in 1887, were reincarnated a century later and manifested as art when the interiors of its exhibits were unearthed.  Which then took on a whole new persona that allows artists and intellectuals alike to appreciate the conversations and imbrications between competing narratives of the colonial, national, local folk histories of Singapore, effusing from the spectral consciousness of that 1887 crocodile exhibit.  Equally in this afterlife of transmigration from one state to the other, previously labelled ‘exotic’ documentaries of a certain white male could now be glorified as post-colonial nostalgia when exhibited at the museum.  

Entering a different consciousness while creating a zine.

Consequently to recognise these beginnings and departures demands one to break free from pedagogical thinking; from the thinking of linear outcomes.  To break free – a cry from the spectres of violent erasures and equally as from those who unwittingly erase. To break free requires a new kind of consciousness. One that is not found in the building of exhibitions upon discourse; nor in the strategies of insisting cultural difference; nor is it narrowly through inhabiting and representing the references of others. It is a consciousness as what artist Erica Tan describes, ‘less a question of whose shoulders can I stand on than how we are mutually contaminated.’ It is a consciousness found in the unending process of becoming, of mutual contamination, of death and rebirth, of the afterlife. 

Death and afterlife.

So as one inhabiting this contested region of Southeast Asia and also who is interested in museology, this internship has given me an introduction to this consciousness found between death and the afterlife. I have learned to be interested in the details, from where the spectres are crying for rebirth and whose voices often lead one to creative accidents.  My duty then, as with the biblical exile John, is to turn and look at the voices of parallel realities; those who call from behind the stuffy veil of reality. 

Or as what my mentor curator Siddharta Perez had said to me, ‘the magic of curatorial work lies on the detours and the things that fall in the cracks.’ 


With a grateful heart to these cherished memories I like to thank Siddharta for her guidance in editorial work and the for the opportunity at ideation, theory building and conceptualising. I would like to thank Donald for imparting his experience in exhibition management. I would also like to thank Michelle for making this internship happen. Their fortitude and wisdom has taught me that working in a museum requires not merely the logistical aptitude in putting up an exhibition or publishing a book but also the creative rigour in conceptualizing, mediating cultural narratives and bridging politicized divides in meaning-making.

I would also like to thank Natalie, Caroline, Shiau Yu, Chu Qiao, Pei Wen, Vannessa, and Grace, my fellow interns, for their intermittent thought-provoking discussions.  

Just another day at the museum.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Caroline Ang

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! 


Caroline Ang is a third-year History student at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Nanyang Technological UniversityAs our Archaeology Research & Programmes intern, Caroline conducted research on techniques and technologies used in archaeology, analysis of ceramics as well as further research on the Dragon kilns in Singapore

As a NTU student, it had been a foreign experience for the past three months as I headed to NUS for the period of the internship - although admittedly, the NUS campus is located much closer to home. However, now that the internship has come to an end, I find myself reluctant to part from this experience. 

Trying to understand the various connections to the dragon kilns

I had initially decided to apply for the NUS museum internship because of the archaeological programme position that was available, due to my personal interest in historic ceramics and the study of it. However, despite the original scope of the position - researching the various techniques and technologies used in the archaeology and analysis of ceramic sherds – the direction I took in my research shifted when I decided to focus on kilns, and then specifically, the dragon kilns in Singapore. Thankfully, my supervisor Su Ling was very open to let me head the direction of my research. Thus, as I ventured further into the process, I moved on to look at the commercial pottery industry in Singapore as a whole.  

Goofing off on the last day of work (or maybe everyday?)

It was through this process of investigating this history of the dragon kilns, brick kilns, and pottery industry in Singapore that made me realised some of the underlying assumptions that I have been making so far.  By holding onto the assumption that pottery only includes cups, pots, jars, but not other wares made of clay such as bricks, clay pipes, or even tiles, I had already ignored a large part of material and information that was available to me. Furthermore, whenever I think about ceramics in Southeast Asia, I would automatically limit the time period to one before the 15th or 16th century, and that had automatically excluded the pottery industry in 20th century Singapore. 

But this exclusion, both in terms of wares and time period, does not only seem to be limited to myself. With an awareness of my assumptions, I tried to do a search on this 20th/21st century pottery industry. But beyond finding a few exhibitions and articles that mentioned the dragons kilns involved in the industry in a manner that was more focussed on preservation and nostalgia, there appears to be a dearth of research into this industry that is simultaneously modern, in comparison to the historic artefacts, and yet rapidly disappearing into the recesses of history.

Perhaps 30-40 years ago, knowledge of the pottery industry would have been commonplace, an everyday industry that no one thinks twice about. Today, with the expired land lease threatening the existence of the last two dragon kilns in Singapore, public interest has spiked as those involved in the preservation have sought to spread information about the significance of a pottery industry that no longer has any current day relevance. But 20, 30, or even 50 years down the road… would the knowledge of this industry even survive? Or would the insignificance of this knowledge, in the face of the larger ‘Singapore Story’, simply vanish into the dark spots of time?

In an attempt to find out more, I spent the past few months digging deeper into the archival sources available online. Old newspapers were my predominant source, as I went through the database searching for any mentions of kilns, bricks, pottery, ceramics, etc. Other sources that I had to look at also included the oral histories recorded by the National Archives, along with its repository of old maps, building plans, pictures, and even business records. I tried to look for possible connections, with Su Ling pointing out various directions that I could approach the topic from. Looking beyond simply mentions of the kilns and the wares, I also looked at the supporting industries – rubber plantations, nurseries, public works and the labourers, etc., to try to see how various factors had affected the rise and decline of the industry.

It was interesting to see how everything was related, how the rapid redevelopment of the economy and the land dealt a swift blow to the numerous smaller industries that we now dub ‘vanishing trades’. The usage of words like ‘heritage’ and ‘nostalgia’ today – a topic that my fellow interns and I had debated extensively about during our post-field trips discussions (and random breaks dispersed throughout the day), to fight for the continual existence of these fast disappearing industries, buildings, customs, etc. appears to be flung around almost carelessly. But to what end would the preservation of these trades and practices bring about beyond ultimately being transformed into a spectacle and performance, away from its original purposes?

Work desk mess?

Now that the internship has come to an end, the sources that had been collated from my research still remains without a perspective or means to mould it into a more comprehensible ‘lump’. The question remains – how can we present this knowledge of the pottery industry in Singapore without resorting to the similar narratives of heritage and nostalgia? Could we look at it from the materials’ perspective, where we focus upon the objects – such as the bricks, cups, pots, and jars – to tell this story? Or perhaps from the kilns’ perspective, one that is simultaneously over-explored and overlooked, to understand how these cornerstones of the industries had came about, and transformed over time, rather than continually circling around the histories of just one or two dragon kilns?

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Exhibition Opening | 17 Volcanoes

[Exhibition Opening] 17 Volcanoes

Date: Thursday, October 5, 2017
Time: 7.00pm - 8.30pm

Venue: NUS Museum, NX1


Future Cities Laboratory and NUS Museum, present 17 Volcanoes as part of the research project "Tourism and Cultural Heritage: A Case Study on the Explorer Franz Junghuhn". The contour of this project is shaped around a series of expeditions from Singapore to Java that track the itinerary of Junghuhn to 17 of his favourite volcanoes.

It aims at developing new methods and narratives of research and contemporary exploration. The expeditions are made by a small group of artists, scholars and professionals operating within the fields of humanities, science, urbanism and architecture. The expeditions pass through densely populated areas and volcanic areas, questioning the traditional opposition between the urban and the land. 17 Volcanoes performs this multi-disciplinary lens that confronts and reconfigures methods of knowledge exchange and research experience.

The exhibition includes works of art by Armin Linke, Bas Princen, Deni Sugandi, U5, and Wermke/Leinkauf and contributions by Elisabeth Bronfen, Adrianne Joergensen, Alexander Lehnerer, Sebastian Linsin, Clive Oppenheimer, and Philip Ursprung. It runs from 5 October- 31 December 2017 in the NUS Museum.

Future Cities Laboratory (FCL) is the first programme of the Singapore-ETH Centre, established by ETH Zurich and Singapore's National Research Foundation. FCL seeks to shape sustainable future cities through science, by design, and in place, with an Asian perspective.

Image Credit: Deni Sugandi, 'Gunung Paruhpuyan'.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Exhibition Opening | "Always Moving" The Batik Art of Sarkasi Said

[Exhibition Opening] "Always Moving": The Batik Art of Sarkasi Said 
Date: Thursday, September 21, 2017
Time: 7.00pm - 8.30pm
Venue: NUS Museum

Free with registration at

Opening address by:

Adjunct Assoc. Professor T.K. Sabapathy
Department of Architecture, School of Design & Environment, NUS

An exhibition of batik works by Sarkasi Said from the 1990s to the present, this exhibition follows the personal development of Sarkasi’s style and traces the history of his practice, from his days as itinerant street artist, to becoming a prominent batik artist.

Through video interviews with the artist, the exhibition revisits Sarkasi’s earliest reminiscences of batik as a central component of his Javanese heritage, within the context of multicultural and modernising Singapore. The presentation explores the artist’s regard for the batik as a cultural object, and the identity batik confers on users (and consumers) of the textile. As national development gains momentum, Sarkasi’s experimentation with an abstract style also implicates his personal responses to the evolving cosmopolitan landscape, and the tensions that lie between traditional symbols and the loss of their transmission.

Sarkasi continues to uphold the foundational principles of the resist technique in batik even as he holds in tension conceptual perspectives between craft and contemporary practice. Eleven works are included in the exhibition, collectively demonstrating shifting interests from discipline to the expressive, from allusions to tradition and nature, to the imagined space, in his words, “always moving”.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Natalie Lie

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! 


Natalie Lie is a third-year History student at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. As our Curatorial Programming Intern, Natalie was involved in research and execution for a number of exhibitions and its programmes.

Since I was young, I had always been interested in museums and art, and that gave me the impetus to apply for the NUS museum internship. Needless to say, as someone with little experience in curating or museum work, I was thrilled and daunted, when I had the opportunity to work with the NUS museum over the summer as the Curatorial Programming intern.

Perhaps what really drew my interest to the position was the idea of putting together an exhibition. It always fascinated me how things were put together in a way that could be so coherent and cogent, and that became the anchor to what I was trying to learn and understand through the internship. In the summer I spent here, I had the opportunity to take on multiple roles and tasks that all added to a holistic experience of museum work, and that expanded my depth and understanding not only of curating but of the museum as an institution.

Because 3 heads are better than one

Though I never quite realised at the time, my first lesson in curating came in the form of a zine for the prep-room exhibition Buaya: The Making of a Non-Myth, one of the two prep-room projects that we were focusing on. Both David (my partner-in-internship) and I, were tasked with putting together a zine that would not only draw from the project but also be an extension and exploration of its discursive possibilities. In all honesty, the project seemed completely intimidating initially, considering I had never made something of the kind before. All the possibilities, questions, and worries came at once: Where do we begin? What materials should we use? How do we balance discourse and narrative? To be informative, but also not dictatorial? How should it even look? Thankfully, we had the guidance of our mentor-supervisor, Sidd, who was there for us, always encouraging and assuring us that it was okay if things were a little rough around the edges. It was all in the spirit of the prep-room after all!

Laying it all out  

The whole process however, really brought these questions to the fore, shifting them from the thoughts of an outsider, a viewer, a reader, to that of a researcher, a selector, and an arranger, all of which make the curator. Many a day was spent sieving through mounds of research material, and brainstorming different ways in which things could fit together. Never had I realised how much thought and consideration goes into putting a thing together, whether it be a zine, an event, or an exhibition. Someone had all these to consider first, so that we may enjoy and consider them later, and we had the wonderful opportunity to experience things right from the conception.

Beyond the zine, my foray into the world of curation and exhibition planning was extended and explored in all other parts of my internship, from planning the programming to our museum discussions and excursions. It was eye-opening to see the work behind planning and setting up exhibitions, and we were even given the chance to help with the set-up. I got to see how space was being considered, and how its use could shape the experience for the visitor. We even had the chance to help with setting up the exhibition, from cling-wrapping and drilling, to the actual hanging and handling the artwork. It was certainly an experience one rarely gets to be a part of, and an opportunity for hands-on learning beyond the office. At other times, we would be hosts and ushers as the front-of-house, getting to understand the on-the-ground shenanigans, and getting to interact with museum-goers, guests, and students and hearing their thoughts. All these roles and individuals come together as different cogs and gears of the finely-tuned museum machine, working together to keep things running smoothly.

 Just your average museum event…

The internship opened my eyes to different aspects of museum work, allowing me to build up a repertoire of knowledge of museums and curation, while also honing the practical and technical skills behind exhibition set-ups. I can only be thankful to the museum team for having me over the summer, and for the opportunity to experience these things. With my parting words, I would just like say my biggest thanks to Michelle for planning the internship and for the thought-provoking museum conversations, and especially to my supervisor Sidd whose wisdom, patience, and kindness I find invaluable. Thank you both for your guidance. Last, but not least, to my fellow interns, thank you for the wonderful company both in, and out of work. I look forward to seeing you all around!