Thursday, 29 August 2013

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Nicole de Silva

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). 

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Nicole de Silva is currently a second-year History of Art major at University College London. She interned with the Outreach department, conducting research on the Ng Eng Teng Collection, creating educational resources and assisting in organising and execution of Outreach events.

I have been blessed to come from a family that values visits to museums and other cultural sites over stops at the local factory outlet during our trips overseas. It is not surprisingly then that I chose to spend eleven weeks of my summer holiday here at NUS Museum.


Some time in March earlier this year, I had quite the conversation with a new friend I made, on the topic of art education in Singapore. Our discussion brought to my attention a few shortcomings of the visual art syllabus in Singapore. To put it briefly, we found that many of our peers agreed that their lack of interest in the arts stemmed from an underlying belief that their perceived lack of talent in crafts at a younger age, say in primary school, meant that they did not have the capacity to appreciate the arts. Shortly after, I received an email informing me of the internship vacancies at the museum for this summer, with one of them being under Education Outreach. This opportunity couldn’t have presented itself at a more perfect time, as it was right at the moment that I was keen to find out more about what museums in Singapore were doing to fill this knowledge gap. NUS Museum certainly did not disappoint in this respect.

On the first week, I was briefed on what I was to accomplish within the short span of my internship. Most of my work was centred on the material from the Ng Eng Teng collection, as the prominent Singapore sculptor is an important figure within the visual art education syllabus at ‘A’ and ‘O’ Level. For the last 10 weeks, I have been working on putting together study packs of sorts, to provide art teachers with content to deliver their classes on Ng Eng Teng. The process behind creating the packs has been, honestly speaking, nothing short of tedious and was not without numerous technological difficulties arising. That said I am hopeful that the packs will be of use to the teachers and students who come across it, and will aid in their understanding of the artist and his works.


Mid-way through my internship, I had the opportunity to interact with some students from a secondary school when they came by one afternoon for their guided art tour. I took the time to have a chat with a few of them while they were completing their worksheets and tried to understand their relationship with art. The result was a lengthy blog post published on my personal blog, reflecting on the encounter. It really got me thinking about how arts education in Singapore has placed too much of an emphasis on the crafting as opposed to the appreciating, creating a generation of kids who shrink away from the arts just because they “don’t understand”. Some ways that the Museum used in getting kids involved in the arts include their Mosaic Workshop, which I had the pleasure to facilitate at the beginning of my internship, and their activity booth at the Istana Art Event this year, of which I had a part to play in the writing of the artwork descriptions. Children aside, there’s also something for the “older kids” with their Malaya Black & White Film Series screening every few Wednesdays. So really, they have something for everyone!

Not only does the Outreach team organize events and activities with the public in mind, a great deal of effort is put in to educate the interns as well. The internship programme aims to both widen our knowledge on the workings of a museum, while helping us realize our potential in different areas of interest. Over the course of my internship, I have had the opportunity to take part in a very informative conservation workshop arranged exclusively for the interns, as well as several guided tours by the curators of the exhibitions themselves.

When it comes to realizing our potential, our respective supervisors are quick to assign work according to our specified interests and talents where possible. As an art history student interested in art education, it was interesting for me to get to write the blurbs for the artworks used for the activity sheets during the Istana Art Event. Some research was required to link the flora and fauna in the artworks with those in the Istana Domain, and then to present all the information in an exciting way without being too difficult for children of different ages to comprehend.


Also, with some background in public speaking during my secondary school and JC years, I was asked to be the master-of-ceremony for the opening of Between Here and Nanyang: Marco Hsu’s Brief History of Malayan Art alongside fellow intern Mizrahi, and again for the museum’s Open House events last week. It had been quite awhile since the last time I got to host an event, and being given the opportunity to do so really rekindled my love for public speaking.


I think it is safe to conclude here that the museum has covered most of the grounds when it comes to museum education. Now the question left for me to answer as I end my internship with NUS Museum and begin my second year at university is, “What more can I do for art education in Singapore?”. Meanwhile, I urge you all to come visit this hidden gem at the corner of NUS UCC, and learn a thing or two from the amazing people I work with, whether by joining in a special guided tour, or even applying for the internship program yourself. You will be surprised at how much they have to offer.

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