Friday, 2 February 2018

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Hor Jen Yee

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! 


Hor Jen Yee is a third-year Psychology student at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. As our Museum Outreach Intern, Jen Yee assisted in Outreach administrative tasks, as well as assisting in the conceptualistion, research, and execution of upcoming Outreach programmes. 

5 weeks + 2 Saturdays, 11 interns, several edited videos, many photo albums and blog posts and even more stickers on brochures – that would be a brief numerical summary of the things that I had been involved in as an Outreach Intern for this December 2017 internship. However, as mundane as some of the work sounds, the insights that this experience has given me has been so much more. 

Although I was one of the few interns (in this mega-sized batch) that was not directly involved in research work, I still learnt a lot about the behind-the-scenes operations of a museum from seeing it in its stages of conceptualisation in research to organising programmes such as workshops, as well as liaising with future partners on collaborations. 

For instance, the research work of understanding an exhibition can never be completely distanced from museum work. As the first point of contact to some visitors, it is still crucial for outreach members to be armed with information on not only just one exhibition but also on all the materials that is in the museum at that time. I felt this first-hand of sorts during one of my first tasks of helping out with Sarkasi Said’s batik painting workshop, held across two Saturdays. During the second session, I was unexpectedly tasked to interpret a tour for the exhibition in Chinese to a special guest. Having only been to the exhibition twice before, it was definitely an interesting challenge, but the task also allowed me to really get to know the specific details behind the exhibition to be able to explain it well enough to another person. 

Going in, my understanding of the museum’s exhibitions before starting the internship was ironically very minimal. Hence I really enjoyed the internship activities that allowed us to get to know more about what NUS Museum does, as well as its perspective and mission. It was interesting to learn about how previous exhibitions related to one another, more about the concept of prep-rooms, and also the interesting combination of concepts from art, archaeology, history, and even some scientific aspects being brought into an exhibition. I also enjoyed other activities such as the tour of the Baba House and the Conservation and Handling Workshop. Both of which showcase some of the hidden science and challenges involved in museum works.

Same same but different. 

Being able to visit other galleries after learning all of this also gave me new perspectives with which to view exhibition spaces, especially after learning about the constraints and concerns involved in taking care of the artefacts and placing them. It was also good to experience some aspects of research by undertaking the research behind artworks in the museum’s collection that had little information. After all, I never would have thought that I would be reading through Chinese transcripts of oral interviews from the National Archives to learn more about Tan Tee Chie. 

When you realise that art photography is not easy with reflections being a thing.

In terms of day to day work, one of my tasks was to consolidate the postings across the various platforms of Facebook, Flickr, and the Museum blog. Organising and updating the Museum’s different social media platforms definitely allowed me to get to know more about the Museum’s exhibitions and events in an interesting way. After going through numerous photo albums, it almost felt like living vicariously to meet the guests and the key collaborators to the previous exhibitions and programmes. All of which, by the way, is completely accessible on NUS Museum’s little known Flickr page! 

I was also lucky enough to join Michelle, my supervisor, on some of her meetings to see how she does outreach with various partners and learn about NUS Museum’s perspective on the types of exhibitions and partnerships. For example, never would I have thought that a museum could be involved in reaching out to not only to Arts students but also to Architecture and external schools for teaching history and more. 

“What is the purpose of a museum?” – Although this conversation theme came up between Michelle (my supervisor) and me outside office hours, this question seemed to resonate throughout my experiences in these five weeks.  

As viewers walking into an exhibition, our role is simply to absorb and evaluate an exhibition for whatever we may have interpreted as its storyline/perspective. Viewers do not necessarily need any context in order to respond to it. However, as the organiser, the museum and its curators have to explore the stories behind the artworks and artefacts and create the experience from new and interesting perspectives. 

From these five weeks, I am glad to have been able to learn about the challenges and processes of research, searching for new perspectives, continuing partnerships, organising events, and networking that lie behind the surface of a clean and curated exhibition space.
Also, thank you to my supervisor Michelle for all the interesting conversations and organising the insightful activities at NUS Museum! 


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