Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Ignatius Albert Wijaya

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! 


Ignatius Albert Wijaya is a third-year Political Science major at NUS' Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Having been to Myanmar before as part of the FASSTrack Asia Summer School, Ignatius joined the NUS Museum to further pursue his research interests in Myanmar and Southeast Asia as the Archaeology Ceramics Research Intern. In this blogpost, he reflects on his internship experience as well as his hopes for 2016.

Introduction: My “Affair” with the NUS Museum
As someone with a passion for museums, it has been my hobby to visit museums. Getting this internship was thus a wonderful opportunity for me to really explore my interest. I was looking forward to working with the museum staff and fellow interns – And the experience was indeed a fulfilling one.

My “affair” with the NUS Museum began more than 2 years ago. I was at the University Cultural Center to watch the NUANSA 2013 Cultural Productions, and saw that a museum was housed within the building. After visiting the NUS Museum several times and an unsuccessful application last year, I finally saw the 2015 call for interns. As one of the position was for a research intern on a project in Myanmar, the very country I had visited for a field trip during my summer school, I gave it a try. With the blessing of my lecturer Professor John Miksic and NUS Museum curator Ms Chang Yueh Siang whom I had met during my visit to the museum at the summer school local field trip, I eventually got the interview and the internship offer.

With the NUS Museum interns (Ignatius is third from the left).

Déjà vu
The internship at the NUS Museum was like reliving my summer school experience all over again. I had been at the FASSTrack Asia summer program, which involved students from countries and universities as diverse as the United States, Switzerland, Ukraine, South Korea and Vietnam. While the NUS Museum Internship Programme involved all local students, they come from diverse backgrounds: One is a Masters student, while another is a secondary school student. Having interns from such diverse backgrounds enabled us to provide our points of view, which combined to shape lively discussions and exchange of ideas. The reading sessions were full of interesting propositions from the interns and our mentors Ms Michelle, Ms Sidd and Mr Kenneth.

The visits to other museums were also highly eye-opening for me, thanks to the other interns. Prior to the internship I had been visiting museum mainly with family and friends, and largely strolled through the collection. This time, the interns spent more time scrutinizing things seemingly as trivial as the choice of wall color and frame, as well as the placement of the captions. These discussions helped us all understand the point of view of the museum curators better, on how they strive to send the message behind each exhibit.

Similar to the summer school experience, the internship also involved visits to museums and cultural places. For instance, I had my first-ever visit to both the NUS Baba House and the National Gallery. Personally, I found the Baba House to be a highly important companion to the Peranakan Museum, which I had visited several times. While the Peranakan Museum might have had a more grand collection, the Baba House had the more contextual and “lived-in” collection that provides a better idea of what it was like living as a Peranakan family back then in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

My favorite sight during the visits was at the National Gallery. Prior to my visit there, I had seen so many friends posting on Facebook photos of the building and the rooftop, but unfortunately very little on the collection itself. Hence, I tried to look out for interesting artworks at the Gallery… And my favorite work is "Chair" by Matthew Ngui (1997, remade for display 2015).

What looks like a chair from one point is actually a clutter of wooden pieces far apart from each other. The perfect embodiment that what looks perfect from one point of view, might look crooked and all over the place from another point of view.

The big question is: Are we willing to accept that our point of view is just one of many, and might not be the absolute truth? Or are we too consumed on feeding our selfish, self-righteous "I am right, and you are wrong" mindset?

Huge Learning Curve
Indeed, this NUS Museum internship challenged me to open my mind and be accepting of constructive criticism. Personally, the internship was undoubtedly a steep learning curve for me. It gave me first-hand experience of academic research, in which one has to take all the initiative. At FASS, I had been used to using lecture notes as the guide to researching for term papers. In this internship, I had very little starting block to begin with. My knowledge of Myanmar had been largely on its contemporary events and recent modern history, while the project revolves mainly around the kingdom-era Myanmar.

While the first 2 weeks had me feeling lost, when I look back now, I realised that such feeling of lost direction was probably a necessary evil at the start of the project. My research partner Hui Tuan shared that real research is done when we know not where to go. I am glad for this “adventure”, as it enables me to have a first-hand experience of persevering through difficulties and unfamiliarity. My gratitude also goes to our supervisor Ms Su Ling, who patiently listened to our feedback and gave suggestion on how to untangle the issues. Indeed, problem-solving is all about pushing on and asking the right people for help. This internship has allowed me to experience this, and I am grateful for it.

Moving Forward
At the end of this full-time internship, I hope to remain involved in the project all the way until the exhibition itself, which is slated to open in late 2016. It’s been a huge eye-opening experience for me, as I have learnt so much on research and exhibition preparation. And I hope to participate and learn even more from the museum staff, whom I now regards as my mentors.

“You cannot open a book without learning something.”
― Confucius


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