Monday, 29 February 2016

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Richmond Tan

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! 

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Richmond Tan is a first-year History student at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Richmond joined the Museum Outreach team, working to conceptualise programmes for the Museum's 2016 slate of events, in particular programmes for the current exhibition Vietnam 1954-1975.

I was involved in assisting with the planning of programmes for the exhibition Vietnam 1954 – 1975: War Drawings and Posters from the Ambassador Dato’ N. Parameswaran Collection, as well as planning for the upcoming Art on Campus Facebook series. In these brief but fulfilling five weeks of assisting with the Outreach programmes, I was able to better familiarise myself with the roles and responsibilities of outreach in the context of a university museum.

As students of history, the Vietnam War offers a case study that highlights the importance of contesting assumptions implied in terms like “Cold War” that are often accepted uncritically. In particular, the conflict that shaped and was shaped by the tensions between the American and Soviet blocs played out differently outside of the “West” – in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, the violence and turmoil that shaped its post-World War II realities were anything but “cold”. Hence, doing this research as preparation was a necessary and timely reminder to consider and be aware of the Western-centric lens we may adopt when studying the past.

To supplement the research I was doing, I read William J. Duiker’s book, “Sacred War: Nationalism and Revolution in A Divided Vietnam”. The book was comprehensive in covering the North Vietnamese perspective – not only the period of 1954-1975, but also tracing the roots of revolution, the formation of North Vietnamese state as well as the subsequent resistance against the French. With an understanding of the period leading up to 1954, I identified themes I considered important for this exhibition, such as the notions of loss and trauma in war. Hence, the films and topics I suggested sought to bring out this theme of loss through the narratives of individuals experiencing the conflict.

In addition to doing research and planning programmes, I also sat in an ARI Cultural Studies Seminar listening to Assoc. Prof Thy Phu’s presentation on “Revolutionary Vietnamese Women and Global Solidarity”. The talk and subsequent discussion was engaging and interesting as the representation of women in revolutionary contexts were discussed, both within the Vietnam War but also comparatively to other conflicts. This highlighted the theme of representation for the exhibited collection as well as the programmes, which I hope would be a recurring motif that those attending the programmes might recognise and discuss.

Minh Hai, Silence the American Cannons!, 1969, Mixed media hand-painted poster on paper, 39.5 x 57.3cm

I also assisted with planning the Art on Campus Facebook series, where the NUS and NUS Museum Facebook page would release a series of posts on the public art in NUS. In doing so, there might be a greater appreciation for the works presently located on campus, from the familiar I Was Here to other works that receive less attention. Interest in the series might generate greater awareness for the NUS Museum and its Facebook page, maximising the potential of the Facebook page in generating the feedback of and suggestions for the various museum activities.

Besides the tasks for our specific roles, all the interns were also involved in the reading programme organised by Michelle that was designed to complement our activities. We learnt more about the origins of the NUS Museum and its development, the history of art in Singapore as well as the curator and curatorial function. We also visited the Baba House and National Gallery Singapore, where both trips were made more meaningful and memorable thanks to the readings that we had to familiarise ourselves with the site and the works respectively. 

Interns (L-R): Sherlyn, Hui Tuan, Tinesh, Richmond, Han Siang, Austin, Geryl, Ignatius; Jeryl and Han Siang were interns at the NUS Centre For the Arts

Another important learning opportunity came through the curatorial tour given by Kenneth on Sheltered: Documents For Home and The Library of Pulau Saigon. We learned more about the strategies and considerations in the planning of an exhibition, while asking questions and clarifying doubts regarding curatorial work, such as working with artists and organisation of space when considering how the viewers might navigate and view and exhibition.

Curatorial tour on Sheltered: Documents For Home by Kenneth 

This internship has been a great experience and I enjoyed learning about the museum and assisting with its programmes. In addition, having written initially that I wanted to participate in this internship to “understand the general demands and constraints of museum work”, being able to witness the work behind-the-scenes ensured that I was able to do that and more.

On this note, I would like to thank my supervisors, Michelle and Trina, for their patience and guidance throughout the internship, the other members of the museum team as well as fellow interns – Austin, Hui Tuan, Ignatius, Sherlyn and Tinesh for their delightful company and discussions. 

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