Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern | Chua Chen Wei

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! 


Chua Chen Wei is a 1st year NUS student at the Faculty of Arts and Social Science. In May 2015, she joined the NUS Baba House team as an Outreach intern, assisting in the conceptualisation and execution of Baba House Outreach programmes, and learning how to conduct heritage tours for the Baba House. In this blog post, she reflects about her internship experience over the past summer.

Starting a post like this is always difficult, how does one even begin to summarize as amazing an experience as this internship? Having been given the opportunity to meet so many interesting (and by interesting, I mean crazy) interns, the chance to work alongside the most patient and thoughtful colleagues, as well as the chance to be involved in so many enriching activities, I have truly enjoyed and grown so much from being the Outreach Intern for the NUS Baba House.

This internship has not only opened my eyes to how a heritage house is run behind the scenes, but it has also given me a fresh look into the curatorial process adopted by the museum.  But on top of that, one of the most fun things about this internship was conducting heritage tours for the Baba House. Being both a warden and a guide gave me a look into what goes into the day-to-day upkeep of a heritage house. From the smaller artefacts, to the big pieces of furniture and even the very walls of the house, every little detail was treated with the utmost care and respect. And a house such as the Baba House, not only requires such treatment, but deserves it as well.  

In preparation for the tours, not only was I able to dig deeper into Peranakan culture, and discover more about this unique facet of Singapore’s history, but I was able to share my knowledge with people from all over the world as well. Seeing the looks of wonder on the faces of our visitors always reminds me to treasure the rich history and heritage we have locally, and to not take any of it for granted. To learn to look at the familiar with the curiosity and interest of someone seeing it for the first time was one of the most rewarding takeaways from this whole journey with NUS Museum.

In addition to the tours, I was also involved in the various events held at Baba House, such as the book launch for the two new publications Inherited and Salvaged, as well as Peranakan Communities in the Era of Decolonization and Globalization (available for sale at the NUS Museum). For the book launch, there was an exhibition set up in Baba House displaying the portraits that were used in the book, and being involved in the setting up of the exhibition really opened my eyes to what the preparation process is like for a small exhibition.

The amount of detail and care the curator, Su Ling, put into setting up the whole space just goes to show how much effort and thought is needed to see an exhibition like this come to fruition. From the placements of the portraits, to the pasting of the wall text, to the lighting and logistics, every detail was thoroughly planned and executed. Many a time, Su Ling would not hesitate to request something be redone if it was even just slightly below her standards, and to me, this sort of perfectionism and attention to detail is very inspiring; it shows an earnest pride and a fierce commitment to one’s work that moves me to want to apply this same work ethic in any project I take on in the future.

This internship was rewarding in so many more ways than just the job scope, the people I got to meet and the conversations I had with them broadened my horizons in understanding what museology means to different people. The Reading Programme was particularly meaningful, as not only were the discussions with the fellow interns and Michelle really intriguing as we explored the history and the role of a university museum, but we also got to meet and talk to different curators with different scopes of interest.

Though I was not directly involved into any of the curatorial processes in NUS Museum, meeting these curators allowed me a glimpse into their artistic thought process as they conceptualize and set up the exhibitions. This opportunity was invaluable to me as I feel that this curatorial spirit is not just applicable in the museum setting, but also in many other aspects of life. The interpretation of material that they are presented with, as well as the presentation of that material to a certain audience, are essential skills that are useful in both one’s personal and work life. Having the chance to talk to so many creative minds, I realize how one-dimensional my previous impression of the curatorial process was, and while I can’t say I am an expert now, this internship has really opened my eyes to the nitty-gritty that goes on throughout the whole process.

In addition to this, I also had the chance to participate in the execution of other events under NUS Museum, such as the Children’s Season. For the Children’s Season, though it was tiring, with all the setting up and subsequent cleaning up, it was really delightful seeing children and parents coming together to do something together. It is particularly rewarding when you get to see the kids not only have fun doing the activities, but also learn to appreciate the art they are learning about. It was awesome being able to witness first hand the results of what museum outreach is supposed to achieve: a greater awareness and appreciation of the arts.

I was fortunate enough to get the chance to participate a little bit in one of the activities, and though my final artwork was no masterpiece, it was an enjoyable and meaningful experience nonetheless. Here I am looking like a proud parent, showing off my mediocre calligraphy; I was obviously oblivious to the teachings of the calligraphy master who was leading the class. 

All in all, this internship has been hugely rewarding in so many ways. And it would not have been nearly as great without the people whom I have had the honour of meeting through these 3 months. Poonam and Fadhly, if you guys read this, you guys have been my heroes. Thank you both for being so patient with me, and basically being the best supervisors anyone could ask for. Su Ling, your dedication to your work and your generosity to those around you never ceases to amaze me. Michelle, thank you for arranging so many interesting activities for us interns, they really helped to broaden our horizons and get greater exposure to the Singaporean art scene. And of course, this internship would not have been the same without my fellow interns, Emma, Jeanette, Jiayi, Jean-Pierre, and not forgetting Yeeting, Venessa and Linh. Lame jokes and delirious crying aside, you guys are seriously the best. As clichéd as it sounds, this internship passed in a blink of an eye, and I could not have wished for a better experience anywhere else. Baba House, I’ll be back!

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