Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Nadira Aslam

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!

In December 2014, 8 interns joined us to work with the curatorial and outreach teams, conducting research for upcoming exhibitions and programmes in 2015 at the museum and the NUS Baba House. Besides those involving our collections and recent acquisitions, the interns prepared for upcoming exhibitions surrounding the work of alumni artists, the T.K. Sabapathy Collection, as well as SEABOOK. They also assisted with ongoing happenings at the museum, including exhibition installation and programme facilitation.

Nadira Aslam is in her third year at the Department of Southeast Asian Studies at NUS FASS. From November to December 2014, she was a curatorial intern attached to the SEABOOK project, a collaboration between NUS Museum, curator Shabbir Hussain Mustafa and artist Charles Lim. Over the course of two months, she worked with the curators and artist on the documentation and presentation of research materials that deal with Singapore’s waters as well as assisted with various research visits.

Applying for this internship was a natural result of an enduring eagerness to experience working in the heritage scene. These last eight weeks have gone beyond affirming my enthusiasm and broadening my perspectives on numerous levels.

I was the SEABOOK curatorial intern, tasked with the documentation and presentation of research materials that deals with Singapore’s waters. Part of the SEA STATE project chosen for the Singapore Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale, SEABOOK is a collaboration between NUS Museum, curator Shabbir Hussain Mustafa, and artist Charles Lim, with the aim of gathering “an anecdotal history of Singapore’s troubled relationship with its seas.”

I sifted through an extensive amount of materials (books, journals, newspaper articles) discussing a wide range of topics pertaining to the sea. Along the way, I inevitably picked up various tidbits of information pertaining to sailing, shipwrecks, reclamation, fishing, among countless other sea stories – stories about places near and familiar, but which I might have otherwise overlooked. Among my favourite anecdotes were those pertaining to the offshore islands which number over 60, and yet most Singaporeans would probably only ever have visited or known about a handful.

My off-site ‘office’ at the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library
Apart from documentation, there were many other aspects of the project that I was lucky enough to assist with. Perhaps an interesting difference about my job scope was that I ended up spending more time off-site than I did in the museum. I was invited to participate in meetings with various parties, such as with the artist and the programmers who were developing the accompanying websites for SEABOOK and SEA STATE. I also got to tag along for interviews with individuals such as Captain Wilson Chua, who shared his vast pool of knowledge and fascinating memories. These meetings offered an insightful blend of creativity, critical thinking, pragmatism, and meticulousness as my supervisor Kenneth, as well as Charles and Mustafa were always encouraging me to contribute ideas and opinions, for which I am infinitely grateful.

Charles Lim interviewing Captain Wilson Chua
The opportunity to be involved in these different components provided a diverse experience and new challenges at every point of the project, which definitely kept things interesting and dynamic. While I did find myself encountering hurdles in unfamiliar territory, guidance was made readily available and I learned a lot from pushing myself to conceptualise new terrains of thought.

Adding to our individually assigned responsibilities, the museum’s internship programme ensures interns receive proper exposure to the inner workings of a museum. We were treated to tours of the current exhibits and of the NUS Baba House. The curators themselves guided us through exhibits, explaining the process of curating collections and finding ways to make the separate exhibits come together in a coherent space.

Baba House tour with fellow interns and the Conservation Workshop
We also had a conservation workshop held by The Conservation Studio, where we got to see before-and-after examples and discussed the ethical debate over the nature of conservation. As I was working outside the museum a lot, these additional programmes provided me ample time to interact with the other interns and to familiarise myself with the exhibits.

At the end of the day, I feel that it was a well-rounded internship that provided both structured learning and leeway for creativity. I would really like to express my sincerest gratitude towards my supervisor Kenneth, and Mustafa and Charles for trusting me and teaching me. I would also like to thank Janice from NLB for all her help, and of course, NUS Museum for giving me this opportunity to take a step towards pursuing a passion of mine. 


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