Thursday, 9 March 2017

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Clarice Handoko

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! 


Clarice Handoko is a third-year Sociology student at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. As a NUS Baba House Outreach Intern, Clarice was tasked to carry out research for Baba House programmes, and assist with the daily operations and maintenance of Baba House.

As an outreach intern at the NUS Baba House, my main job scope for the 1 month internship programme was to research on forms of music and entertainment in 19th and 20th century Singapore for a possible series of public programmes related to the 1920s His Master’s Voice (HMV) Gramophone and Vinyl LPs in the house. If I may add, when Michelle and Poonam mentioned the Gramophone during the interview, the thought of ‘working with’ an actual gramophone, and a HMV one at that was highly intriguing! Perhaps this was sparked by my interest in the local arts scene and ongoing stint as a freelance vocalist. Moreover, in some papers I have written for some modules, I have sought to understand the return of gramophones and the vinyl trade a couple of semesters back. The research work was thus in some ways related to my personal inquiry regarding the vacuum occupying the vinyl record industry’s past and its present return as a vintage commodity. Being a part of the post-scarcity culture that most of us are living in, the research was also in a sense my attempt to navigate the blindspots in music history that have been created out of advancements in technology.

Possibly my most interesting find: A combination of a librarian’s skills in systematic cataloguing and an apparent passion for jazz, who would have thought such a guidebook would have existed in the past?

My time was spent mostly in the libraries, but also trawling through archival material, to get a sense of not just Singapore’s music history but also people’s personal recounts of music. In my conversations with Poonam, I learnt that preparing for a public programme involved negotiating that delicate balance between the objectivity of official histories and the humanizing touch that personal narratives can offer.

Preparations for a public programme thus requires the pulling together of resources, be it archival material or people with specialized knowledge of a certain topic. Programming work, in other words, meant making meaningful connections that could keep our culture alive in a society where people are highly specialized skills and lives are significantly fragmented. A highlight of the research work for me was having a chat with a fellow NUS FASS student, Chin Siang, who is an avid collector of old local music records. Detailed information on singers and record companies from the 1920s, their origins, influences and impact on the local music scene was right at his fingertips, it was hard to believe we’re in the same year in school! A really heartening chat, you don’t see many youth actively searching for the past, so many of us are too easily satisfied with the neatly packaged official narratives.

Being ‘based’ at the Baba House, I also had to learn how to open and close and the house. Some might think it’s rather trivial, and even ‘leh chey’, but I beg to differ! The daily routine makes the house and all its antique charms grow on you, and the necessity of carrying out the little tasks to keep the house aired and in its best possible condition reflects the amount of meticulous attention to the conservation of the house. Such good work does not go unnoticed either: Many tour participants would express their thanks and appreciation for the insights they had gotten with regards to the Peranakan heritage and life in the 1920s.

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Lunchtime walkabouts around the Baba House’s vicinity was an aesthetic feast for the eyes!

Also packed into the 1 month internship agenda was the curator’s talk for the National Library’s current exhibition, Script and Stage: Theatre in Singapore From the 50s to 80s. My biggest takeaway was the curatorial process undertaken by the exhibition’s curator. This included considerations for the tangible set-up and the thematic content of the exhibition. Dealing with a multi-ethnic theatre scene, the preparation for the exhibition had to deal with the plurality of perspectives on theatre as an art form as each ethnicity dealt with different subject matters that could not be drawn into a single overarching theme easily. Ultimately, the process and product successfully retained and exhibited the diversity of Singapore’s theatre culture, by paying close attention to the nuances of each ethnic group’s theatrical style.

The other interns and I were also tasked with putting together a gallery guide for the upcoming exhibition, Radio Malaya: Abridged Conversations About Art. This was an interesting assignment as we were encouraged to understand and create a guide based on our own interests, even if that meant going beyond art history. Personally, my interests lie in visual culture and more recently, the issue of social memory, so I attempted to take the opportunity to find materials from the vernacular past and present that could complement the issue of nation formation addressed by the exhibition. It was wonderful to have a role to play in making the exhibition open to multiple perspectives, because it is so rare to see the museum-making process so grounded in a subjective and democratized goal.

Spent quite a bit of quality time with the exhibition to get some inspiration for the gallery guide

The one month internship was indubitably a great way to spend the short December break, I’ve learnt so much in just a span of 5 weeks! I would like to thank Poonam, Fadhly and Michelle for all their help and guidance along the way that made the experience a truly enriching one. Last but not least, my fellow interns for sharing their knowledge from their different field of studies and being great company over the 1 month stint.

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That’s all folks it’s been great!

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