Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Chen Ziwei

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. Besides working hard and fast in their cubicles, our interns have travelled to Bandung and Malacca, organised symposiums, waded through tons of historical research and pitched in during exhibition installations. It was definitely no ordinary internship for them! If you would like to become our next intern, visit our internship page for more information!

Today's blog post is brought to you by our current curatorial intern Chen Ziwei who shares about her experience working in the curatorial department with words and her own quirky illustrations. An alumni of NUS FASS, Ziwei is currently pursuing her degree in Fine Art and History of Art at Goldsmiths College, University of London. It just goes to show that it is never too late to pursue your passion!

Sometimes, going into something that you least expect of it brings you more surprises. It has been about three weeks since I started my internship at the NUS Museum and the experience thus far has been a pretty eye-opening one. The first mistake (and the admittedly most embarrassing one) was my imagination of the job scope of a curator. In my initial (and over-simplified) impression of curatorial work, it was plainly just about assembling works, organizing them into different themes, and then presenting them as an exhibition. Big misunderstanding.

To begin with, I had missed out a bulk of important stages before the actual execution of an exhibition. Also, I was corrected that it was the curator’s role to select the works suitable for the exhibition rather than the exhibition being derived by the works collected together; hence, the distinction between a curated exhibition and a group show. Having left out the fundamental stages to curate an exhibition, it was opportune that the focus of my internship was on the preliminary research stages that placed me from stage one in the preparation of an exhibition about Singaporean artist Mr. Lim Mu Hue.

Since most of his materials were in traditional Han Chinese characters, there was a need to translate texts into simplified Han Chinese characters so that it would be easier for most to read them since most Chinese texts are documented in simplified Han these days. I could decipher some of the characters in traditional Han but for those that I had difficulties figuring out, I used my handy Chinese dictionary to help me out. Though seemingly tedious, the task actually pushed me to revise my Chinese language that I had lost touch with since junior college.

Moving on, I had to gather more resources about the artist from external sources. External sources comprised of chiefly literature written on him or by him in libraries and newspaper archives. Notably, I had the privilege of looking for clues within the artist’s possessions that were donated to the museum after he had passed away. This was quite special to me, as I had never encountered belongings of an artist so up close and personal before. As I gathered the resources, I drew up a mind-map, brainstorming themes and research directions that the exhibition on the artists could take.

On the whole, the investigation process in the curatorial research has been gratifying. At times I almost feel like a crime-scene investigator. Piecing together achievements and significant events of the artist also allows brings to light how his artistic journey was like. Moreover, the fuller picture enables one to appreciate the perseverance and skillfulness of the artist that he was lesser known for. I do hope by the end of my internship to be able to round up more information and material about his achievements that the artist was less recognized for and present them as significant contributions to the art history of Singapore. 


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