Saturday, 2 June 2018

Children's Workshop | Our Story Through Poetry!

Date: 2 June 2018 (Repeat Session)
Time: 2 - 5pm
Venue: NUS Museum
Age Group: 7 years - 12 years
Fee: $25/per parent-child pair. Limited to 15 pairs of parent and child per session. (Minimum of 7 pairs to proceed.)
How was Singapore like 50 years, 200 years or even 1000 years ago? This Children’s Season, let’s investigate and reimagine our past through poetry. Led by poet and performer Deborah Emmanuel, we will start the workshop with simple poetry approaches and ideas in the setting of NUS Museum’s Radio Malaya: Abridged Conversations About Art exhibition. Participants will then get a chance to write their very own poem and interpret them in their own unique ways through some crafts!
About the Poet
Deborah Emmanuel (b.1988) is a Singaporean poet, performer, and four-time TEDx speaker. She has featured at festivals including the Makassar International Writers Festival and the Queensland Poetry Festival. Her work has shown in places like New York City, Berlin, Kathmandu, London and Melbourne.
Deborah’s first collection, When I Giggle In My Sleep, was published by Red Wheelbarrow Books early 2015. Her foray into creative non-fiction, Rebel Rites, launched in 2016. When not making poems, Deborah makes music with Wobology, The Ditha Project, Mantravine and Kiat, performs on stage and screen and facilitates workshops. Her most recent work experiments with moving poetry into the physical body and the practice of intuitive illustration.
Children’s Season Singapore is jointly presented by National Heritage Board and Museum Roundtable.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Prep-room DRILLS| Things That May Or May Not Happen

Prep-room DRILLS | Fyerool Darma, Kate Pocklington & Charles Lim in conversation with Siddharta Perez
31 May 2018, Thursday
Time: 7pm
Venue: NUS Museum
Sited within NUS Museum, the prep-room is envisioned as a curatorial stage where the artefactual, the archival and the exhibitionary converge to contribute towards and challenge the institution’s rigour and aspirations. “things that may or may not happen” inscribes the principle of the prep-room as a fluid, temporary and dialogic space.
This prep-room DRILLS session brings together current collaborators Fyerool Darma (After Ballads) and Kate Pocklington (Buaya: The Making of a Non-Myth) with Charles Lim, who worked on the first prep-room Raffles Light in 2011. Fyerool and Pocklington will discuss their particular methodologies and ambitions within the interstices of the prep-room as a fertile and activated site in a museum, while Lim will offer his reflections on routing a prep-room project into an exhibition, consequently positing it as a significant encounter in his growing body of works. Through these measures, the prep-room locates its contrary and propositional nature, constructing its direction according to the curatorial hope of each particular collaboration.
This session will also present the video interview series on Fyerool Darma and Kate Pocklington, produced by NUS Museum interns Sara Lau and Harith Redzuan.
prep-room DRILLS is a series of public presentations of ongoing research and studio works by invited practitioners and researchers. Invited to work around the open-ended framework of NUS Museum’s prep-room, the collaborators engage with the framework of the prep-room and its features to interpose objects within the permanent collection or research trajectories of NUS Museum. DRILLS introduces many explicit and tacit modes of working by the artists and researchers within the context of a University Museum.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Anniversary Lecture | William Willets And The Practice of Asian Art History

Date: 25 April 2018, Wednesday
Time: 7pm
Venue: UCC Theatre
In 1963, William Willetts was appointed by the University of Singapore to succeed Dr Michael Sullivan as lecturer in the History of Art course and Curator of the Art Museum, the predecessor institution of the NUS Museum. He oversaw the division of the Art Museum’s collection following the 1962 separation of the University of Malaya between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. He pioneered scholarships into Southeast Asian architecture, textiles and ceramics, and was influential beyond the Art Museum as the founder of the Southeast Asian Ceramic Society. Following the discontinuation of the History of Art course and the closure of the Art Museum in 1972, he continued his teaching career at the University of Malaya (Kuala Lumpur).
As part of the NUS Museum Anniversary Lecture Series, Kwa Chong Guan will deliver a lecture on William Willetts, his contributions to scholarship, museum practice and the broader regard for cultures in Southeast Asia in Singapore, through which perspectives into the roles of the museum and the curator lodged within a university institution may be drawn, and prospected across periods and contexts.
Image: Willetts at Angkor, Cambodia, 1968. Courtesy of Southeast Asian Ceramic Society.
About the speakersKwa Chong Guan recently co-edited with Dawn Rooney a long lost guide to Angkor by William Willetts for the Southeast Asian Ceramic Society. He was the last Director of the National Museum, leading it through a strategic planning process to transform it into three museums under a National Heritage Board in 1994. He continues to advise NHB’s museums, and was consulted in the formation of the Singapore Discovery Centre, the Army Museum of Singapore, and the Malay Heritage Centre. He also reorganised the Oral History Department, and was the Chairman of the National Archives Advisory Committee. He is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at the Nanyang Technological University, where he works on a range of regional security issues, Adjunct Associate Professor (Honorary) at the History Department at the National University of Singapore and an Associate Fellow of the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.
Peter Schoppert began his career writing on the visual arts, and has written for newspapers, magazines and journals like Far Eastern Economic Review, The Straits Times, Art Asia Pacific, and Inter-Asian Cultural Studies. He has worked in book and internet publishing in Singapore since the 1980s, for Times Publishing, Editions Didier Millet and now NUS Press. He did a stint with McKinsey & Company, and is currently President of the Singapore Book Publishers Association. He recently served a three-year term as Chair of Singapore’s Public Art Appraisal Committee. He was on the Board of the Substation, Singapore's first independent arts centre, from 2006 to 2014. He was one of four editors for the recently released Writing the Modern: Selected Texts on Art & Art History in Singapore, Malaysia & Southeast Asia, by T.K. Sabapathy.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Tour | Conservation Works at NUS Baba House

Tour | Conservation Works at NUS Baba House
12 April 2018, Thursday
Time: 5.30pm
Venue: NUS Baba House
Fees: - Entry is free for all Singaporean Citizens and Permanent Residents, all students holding a valid student pass, NUS staff and alumni and ICOM and Museum Roundtable members. 
- To enjoy free entry, please key in "CONC" under discount code when purchasing your ticket. 
- You may need to present a valid proof of identity such as an identity card, Driving License, NUS Staff Card, Student Card or an ICOM or Museum Roundtable Card to enjoy free entry. 
- A $10 fee (incl GST) is applicable for all other visitors. GST Registration No: 200604346E
An architectural heritage monument in the historic Blair Plain Conservation Area, the NUS Baba House has undergone various conservation studies since its acquisition by the university in 2006. Projects include the technical analysis of architectural paint and conservation of the various murals and relief panels. Recent research has focused on the technology and use of lime as a binding material for the walls of the Baba House.
As part of this special conservation-focused tour, see the Baba House in a new light as we take you into the midst of the wall plastering works currently taking place at the front hall this April. The tour will showcase the progress of the current works and discuss the research and prior experiments in the use of the lime material. The tour will also introduce the bas-reliefs in the air-well that are subject to weathering elements and the challenges they present to conservation efforts.
Tour leadersDr Nikhil Joshi is a Postdoctoral Fellow with NUS Department of Architecture. He has research and practical experience in historic building conservation and community development. Dr Joshi has provided consultancy to organizations in Australia, Malaysia, and India. Prior to joining NUS, he worked and taught in India, UK and Malaysia. In 2007, Dr Joshi became the only Indian to date to be awarded the prestigious Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings Lethaby Scholarship.
Foo Su Ling is a curator at the National University of Singapore Museum. Her research interests are in Southeast Asian arts and the social and cultural history of the region. Her curatorial projects include From the Ashes: Reviving Myanmar Celadon Ceramics (2017); Preserve/Conserve/Restore: Studies at 157 Neil Road (2015) and Archaeology Library (2015). She is a co-writer of the book NUS Baba House: Architecture and Artefacts of a Straits Chinese Home (2016).
Limited to 16 pax and suitable for adults and children aged 12 and above, advanced booking is required.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Workshop | The Technology And Use Of Lime In Buildings

Workshop | The Technology and Use of Lime in Buildings
10 - 13 April 2018. Tuesday - Friday

Venue: NUS Baba House 
Fees: $1,177 (inclusive of lunch)

The course has been designed with the objective to introduce the key aspects of lime, and specifying and using it in practical repair and conservation work on historic buildings. This is a hands-on programme where participants have the opportunity to work on conserving the walls at NUS Baba House, a late 19th century townhouse. The following practical sessions will be held - Lime slaking, Lime mortars, Scratch coat, Float coat, Fine lime skim plaster & Lime wash.
For each session, there is a demonstration after which participants are encouraged to have a go at the work with guidance at hand. All necessary tools, materials, and protective equipment will be provided but participants must use their own outdoor clothing and appropriate footwear. Learning will take place in a relaxed environment with ample opportunity for discussion.
The programme is conducted by Dr Nikhil Joshi who is a Postdoctoral Fellow with NUS Department of Architecture. Dr Joshi has research and practical experience in historic buildings conservation and community development. He has provided consultancy to organizations in Australia, Malaysia, and India. Prior to joining NUS, Dr Joshi worked and taught in India, UK and Malaysia. In 2007, he became the only Indian to date to be awarded the prestigious Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings Lethaby Scholarship.
Participants who complete the course will receive a certificate of attendance. Participants qualify for five Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points awarded by Board of Architects/Singapore Institute of Architects. Do note that architects must attend all days in order to qualify for the CPD points.
Who should attend 
Architects, surveyors, planners, conservators, home owners, and craftsperson in various fields, who wish to advance their skills and professional training. 
Participants are strongly advised to apply at least 1 month in advance.
NUS Baba House
NUS Department of Architecture, School of Design & Environment
Urban Redevelopment Authority
Held in conjunction with Singapore Heritage Festival

Monday, 9 April 2018

Talk | Material Matters: Use Of Lime In Historic Buildings

Talk | Material Matters: Use of Lime in Historic BuildingsDate: 9 April 2018Time: 5pmVenue: The URA Centre, Function Hall, Level 5
The origin of the word ‘lime’ is from Old English lim meaning ‘sticky substance.’ Lime was used as a binder for most historic buildings in most part of the world. It is a vapour permeable material that let the traditional buildings to breathe. Lime reduces the risk of trapped moisture and consequent damage to the building fabric. For this reason, it is essential to use lime to repair and maintain old buildings to match or copy qualities of the surviving original materials closely. It is necessary for anyone working on historic buildings to be thoroughly familiar with different forms of lime (lime mortars, plasters, lime-wash, etc.) as it is vital for the conservation of historic buildings.
Singapore's rich and varied heritage consists of many National Monuments, Conserved Buildings and marked historic sites. These sites are located island-wide and serve as tangible reminders of the nation’s shared heritage. For them to remain meaningful and useful for the study to the future generations, the present generation must take care of them in a way that they tell past stories through their various layers of building fabric. Any repair or change done to a historic building should be done in an ‘honest' way and by using compatible traditional building materials and techniques.
In this lecture, the speaker, Nikhil Joshi will highlight the need for old buildings to ‘breathe' and explain the different forms of lime and their principal characteristics and uses. This lecture will appeal to architects, students of architecture, surveyors, planners, conservators, and practising craftsmen in various fields, who wish to gain introductory knowledge about building limes.
Following this lecture, there will be a 4-day workshop at the NUS Baba House in which participants will enjoy practical hands-on sessions covering traditional techniques to use lime in historic buildings.
Dr Nikhil Joshi is Postdoctoral Fellow with Department of Architecture, NUS with research and practice in historic buildings conservation and community development. Besides conducting research and producing lime products at NUS-TTCL Centre for Asian Architectural and Urban Heritage in Melaka (Malaysia), Dr Joshi has provided consultancy to organizations in Australia, Malaysia, and India. In 2016, he successfully conducted lime-plastering workshop in Singapore.
Prior to joining NUS, Dr Joshi worked and taught in India, UK and Malaysia for over a decade. He is the only Indian till date to be awarded the prestigious Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings – Lethaby Scholarship in 2007 by the oldest amenity society in the United Kingdom.
BOA/SIA CPD POINTS ACCREDIDATION This lecture has been awarded with 2 CPD points under the BOA/SIA CPD. Do note that in order to be eligible for the points, architects will have to sign in at both the start and the end of the lecture.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Harith Redzuan

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! 


Harith Redzuan is a second-year Southeast Asian Studies student at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. As our  Programming and Exhibition Management Intern, Harith assisted his supervisor, Siddharta Perez, in exhibitions and curatorial projects. 

I Love Prep-rooms and I want to be a Prep-room. 

There’s a Harith Redzuan but too much posing as Rafaat Hamzah
Written on December 2017 during the flash floods that hit Singapore.
There’s a flood but too much internet memes.
There are old people but too much remembering of “during my time”.
There are MRT breakdowns but too much pointing fingers.
There is a COE increase but too much company claims.

There is an art exhibition, but too much batik shirts (worn).
There are (malay) ladies who are into musik but too much Yuna-style hijabs (worn).
There are (malay) rockers but too much kapak.
There is Sam Willows but too much City Harvest followers.

I cannot help but be distracted by Rafaat Hamzah’s reading of his poem “Pulau Melebih” located at the end of the exhibition, Radio Malaya. I recalled in late December as well, Fyerool Darma played an ambient soundscape to cuddle, or maybe even choke by the neck, his audience? Or his prep room. Fyerool and I were so proud to introduce that sound. It also managed to complement, maybe even juxtapose Hamzah’s voice reading his poem. Just like Hamzah’s rant of how excessive Singapore is, its citizens, its politics (or maybe just one political party) I can imagine his voice in that same ambient soundscape that Fyerool played the other day. Fyerool mentions that it is a secret what the sound was, but he did whisper a clue to my ear about it. He said, “I think only you know what it is, I think you can understand.” Things that may or may not happen. Things that may or may not be told. A prep-room, and I want to be a prep-room. 

Fyerool tosses and turns his fabrics like picking perfect flowers out of a pile of… many types of flowers. Except that he does not always pick perfect ones, but he picks the flowers only to perfect them. Soon. “Soon I hope.” “This is a painting!” Fyerool exclaimed to me as I asked him what do the fabrics, (and sarongs, and maybe bandanas) mean? 

 Perhaps Kate Pocklington would describe her rocks as paintings too, but she was rather clear in describing it as “Singapore in the eyes of a crocodile.” Let us take a sneak peek into the Buaya Prep-room. Here everything is… in perfect line. In the Buaya Prep room you would need to be disciplined, cautious and careful, only to be playful for a tad while when you read the zine prepared by former interns Natalie Lie and David Low, or one of Kate’s crocodile paperweights she used to mark important documents. 

I told myself, I needed to be like Kate to film Kate. I needed to have everything laid out flat, perpendicular, 90 degrees, no lens distortions, no artsy perspectives, flat and rigid centres and off-centres and always use the RULE OF THIRDS! “The very science-y, data-type thing,” as Kate would call it in describing her two Singapore maps – one for humans and one for crocodiles, but actually... they are both for humans. Humans who need to realize that Singapore’s landscape has changed so dramatically in the 70s that crocodiles decided to convert their dollars to ringgit across the border for a few years and then come back. Fast forward today, suddenly, there are so many of them! So, it is for our dear humans that I, as an intern must introduce to them, who is Kate Pocklington? How does she work? What kind of person is she? And why is her prep-room that way? 

Enter After Ballads. Fyerool and I sat on the couch at the museum lobby just outside the entrance to Kate Pocklington’s Prep-room, and we stared at Buaya through the glass door. “I can never be like her,” he said. 

 After Ballads is not like Buaya at all. When you enter the room you will want to scream to someone from the museum and ask, why is this shelf here? Who arranged it this way? You mean to say it is not a shelf! WHY IS THE HYGROMETER INVOLVED!? 

Do not be angry. 

“It… is a painting…” 

 Fyerool describes it as cool as how Munshi Abdullah stands in his halved portrait. 

Someone would wish Fyerool to always be there to describe what is going on in his mind when he “paints,” and what is going on in his world, and ours when he describes his paintings to us. A re-imagining of a dear social critic, an admirer to Sir Stamford Raffles, an admired scholar, and a burning town in Singapore. An Allegory for the weight of our souls. After Ballads is about wreaking havoc to history, to the unnamed artefacts in the museum - soon to be given some name and repertoire, to the arts and to painting and to some group of individuals in society who claim they have yet to discover themselves. I somehow feel that that is basically everyone including me. 

Maybe Fyerool and Kate have answers to a society who claim they have yet to discover themselves. They have not yet met the halved Munshi and they have not yet met the Buaya. They have not yet met their ancestors, nor have they met the animal which skin still makes Singapore’s GDP look good. Still I hear Rafaat Hamzah’s, “Ini Pulau Melebih.” The excessive island. I am also writing excessively. I am part of a country and a people that is claimed to behave and function excessively. Yet it is a country and a people who have yet to discover themselves (I mean, look at John Miksic’s collection at the first floor of the museum!) I am in it too. “I think only you know what it is, I think you can understand.” Things that may or may not happen. Things that may or may not be told. A prep-room, and I want to be a prep-room. Maybe I already am. Maybe we already are. 

Life as an intern documenting the things that may or may not happen, in a country that may or may not happen. “Memang betul, ini pulau melebih!”  

Friday, 23 March 2018

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Sara Lau

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! 


Sara Lau is a third-year Sociology student at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, with a second major in Southeast Asia Studies. As our  Programming and Exhibition Management Intern, Sara assisted her supervisor, Siddharta Perez, in exhibitions and curatorial projects. 

Venturing into the NUS Museum and this internship, I sought to reconfigure my modes of understanding and obtaining knowledge, giving attention to phenomenological experiences alongside the readings of text. I wanted to build visual and spatial literacy, to learn how space can work with objects and text to create different textures in an exhibition, and the dynamism that comes with the dialogue between different mediums. The NUS Museum was the perfect space for these encounters, considering how the museum plays heavily on the absence and presence of text in the construction of exhibitions and prep-rooms. 

Radio Malaya: Abridged Conversations about Art

My first encounter with the museum was through this exhibition. The first thing that struck me was how heavy the whole exhibition felt, packed with artworks and artefacts with few explanatory texts to act as guides or buffers. I initially found this exhibition to be intimidating and overwhelming, and up to now, it is still challenging to talk about. There is meaning to be found in the eschewing of explanatory wall text in favour of allowing other kinds of text into the space. 

The exhibition as a whole is structured around the histories that can be propagated using art and artefacts. Rather than providing a fixed and directed narrative, not including wall text allows the viewer to piece together their own version of history, while the texts on the walls and in the guides act as suggestions and possibilities, non-authoritative texts that allow the artworks and artefacts to speak for themselves, and to each other.  

17 Volcanoes

Visual mapping through light and lines

My interaction with this exhibition was rather fleeting, but what was memorable was being able to be present while the layout for the space was being discussed between the curator, Siddharta Perez, and one of the collaborators and artists, Adrienne Joergensen. Working mostly with light, rather than physical objects and artworks, provided a whole different set of challenges. I was able to witness a small part of the curatorial process, observing how Sidd and Adrienne sought to configure the projection and television displays to fill up the vast, cavernous space, while also considering the specific aesthetic of each artwork and how they would work together as a whole. 

Much like Radio Malaya, extracts from Alexander von Humboldt’s Views of Nature were used in placed of wall text, providing insights into the conceptual framing for the exhibition rather than strict dictation and explanation of each individual work. These extracts also serve to act as a thread that runs through each artwork, and perhaps help the viewer to consider the individual artworks in relation to one another, and in the larger context of the expedition project. 

Buaya: The Making of a Non-Myth


Consolidations and configurations

The prep-room projects I worked on allowed for more tactile experiences in handling objects and putting displays together, working alongside the artists. For Buaya, I was able to work with Kate Pocklington, an artist and conservator, in how to display various installations in her prep-room. Having to configure physical objects and also treat text as object was quite new to me, but also a healthy challenge and exercise that I believe allowed me to be more attuned to space and the aesthetics on an exhibition/artistic project. Not only did I have to think about how to best present it logistically (considering the public nature of the museum), but also conceptually, in figuring out the ways we could convey the history and the metaphorical weight of the crocodile in Singapore. 

After Ballads 

In the process of painting a space

The project that prompted me to think and write about this relationship between text and images in the museum would be artist Fyerool Darma’s After Ballads. This prep-room is both poetry and painting, a colourful confrontation of the spectres of colonial past that still haunt us. The space as a whole is visually sparse, but the individual vignettes are dense, filled with different textiles, iconography and images. Texts however, still play an integral role here, considering that the pre-cursor to the space is an extract from an autobiography by Munshi Abdullah. 

The artist, Fyerool Darma, refers to a variety of literature and text in his practice, which translates in the methods in which he weaves words and text into the different assemblages that make up the prep-room. The words are there and they are essential, but ultimately what speaks are the portraits and the installations themselves. It is a reconfiguration, distortion and representation of text and its forms. His work, along with our various conversations, helped me to rethink the way in which I read art and texts, along with the complex ways they can be presented and distorted. 

a personal note 

Working in the museum has also challenged me to question how and where I position myself while working in the physical and psychological museum space. As an intern, I have working responsibilities and obligations, yet at the same time I am also a student with my own intellectual pursuits, and also a friend to peers, artists and curators. How do these layers of the self overlap, and often conflict? What do I owe to art, to the museum, to knowledge, to history, to people, to myself? Where do I take my stances and stake my claims, and what are the consequences in doing so? The past few months have been a whirlwind for me to navigate between these aspects and locate myself in the complex cosmology of artistic practice (and arguably of life itself). While I still am a bit lost, I am hopeful that I will one day find stable ground to walk on, no matter how uncertain the path. 

I confess that coming into this internship, I was apprehensive about my contributions to the museum, considering my lack of experience. I am thankful that the experience was fulfilling and enjoyable despite my own shortcomings, and for that I am especially grateful to my most supportive and accommodating mentor, Sidd, as well to Michelle and Wardah, who provided me with insights, respite, and much-needed effervescence. I would also like to thank artists Kate Pocklington and Fyerool Darma, as well as all of the museum staff I had the pleasure to interact with. I look forward to the next few months of collaboration - thank you all for your friendship.

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!