Friday, 7 June 2013

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Sandy Yeo

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. If you would like to become our next intern, visit our internship page for more information!

For the summer of 2013, we have a total of 9 interns at the museum! Each intern will be taking it in turns to contribute an article to the Museum Blog every other week. For daily (or even hourly!) sneak peeks at what they are doing, visit the Museum's Twitter account (@nusmuseum). 


Sandy Yeo is a first-year History major from the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. She is a South & Southeast Asian Collection Curatorial Intern and is working on the upcoming exhibition In Search of Raffles' Light.

During my first visit to the NUS Museum, I found myself staring silently into the various animal specimens contained within glass jars. I was particularly impressed by the curator’s (who I later learn would be my supervisor) decision to utilize the subject of indigenous traditions and Western scientific knowledge to illustrate the nature of the relationship shared between the colonized and colonizers. This contributed to my first impression of curatorial work as being artistic and conceptual.  However, within a month into my internship, I found many of my perceptions greatly altered. 

The first week into my internship, I was tasked to visit Dr Tan Swee Hee at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research. During the trip, I was to find out more about the various specimens that would be on display in the upcoming exhibition. These specimens dated as far back as 1890s! For example, the swallow in the center of the photo collage, was first discovered near the Raffles Lighthouse in 1930.   

With Dr Tan’s guidance, I learnt to note down the physical attributes of the specimens. These details are crucial information that guides a curator to make decisions regarding space and resource allocation. While working, it dawned upon me that behind every, seemingly effortless, exhibition - there is a huge amount of meticulous effort and work put in by many people.

It would be naive to assume that the preparatory work ends here. Equally important is the (long and tedious!) process of making references to various written and oral sources. Often, I find myself flipping through the pages of various books and newspaper articles to familiarize myself with the narratives of the lighthouses of Singapore. Last week, I had the chance to make a trip to the National Archives of Singapore (NAS) with my supervisor, Mr Mustafa. At NAS, we listened to the oral recording of an interview featuring Mr Cyril Spencer, a Lighthouse keeper from 1947 to 1985. The trip to the NAS was an interesting and highly informative one for me as I learnt how one can access historical records and eventually, effectively utilize and incorporate them into the exhibition.

While I gained many valuable insights into the technicalities involved in curatorial work, what I find most gratifying in my internship experience is the opportunity to meet new people and forge meaningful relationships. As a result of my close partnership with Mr Mustafa, I learnt much from him. He shared with me many things ranging from artistic works, literature, to his fond memories in NUS.  He would also often pass me books to read. I am both fascinated by his knowledge and deeply impressed by his passion for his work. It is under his mentorship that I became painfully aware of my ignorance. This realization spurred me to acquire more knowledge and I find myself becoming a more curious soul.

The impression that many people have of museums is that it is a dull and quiet place.  However, for me, there has never been a dull moment as I embraced the company of my fellow interns and other staff at the museum. To sum up, without doubt, the museum is a place brimming with history, heritage and culture. It is also a space where there are no walls to confine the way one thinks and expresses himself. However, in reality, there is nothing “natural” about this. Every brilliant exhibition is the product of the hard work put in by myriad of individuals!

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