Friday, 16 March 2018

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Shen Yunni

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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Shen Yunni is a third-year Political Science student at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. As our  Baba House Outreach Intern, Yunni assisted in the research, planning, and marketing of the Baba House Docent Training Programme and other Outreach programmes, as well as assisting with the Baba House tour logistics and house operations.

Straits Chinese, also known as the Peranakan Chinese, has always been a familiar yet faraway community for me. Why would someone like me, neither from a Peranakan descent nor with an Art History minor, be doing interning at the NUS Baba House? Thankfully I have found my answers after a brief 5-week stint at the NUS Museum. Apart from the rich culture which the Straits Chinese possesses, evident from a brief walk in the ornate Baba House where many artefacts or furniture seem to speak stories, I had an opportunity to look past the Baba House and research upon the Neil Road neighborhood as well.

 

As I headed off to the NLB (the flexible work stations & working hours were a huge plus point of this internship), I was happy to be greeted with a myriad of sources that relayed information on my topic of interest. Situated at the end of Neil Road, Baba House was once part of the old streets of Chinatown where culture and heritage converge. Tracing back to the 1800s, Neil Road was formerly known as Salat Road, the Malay term for “Straits” and part of a nutmeg plantation that flourished on Duxton Hill till the late 1850s. Till today, the preservation of different Straits Chinese-style shophouses in the neighborhood was not due to coincidence but rather, attributed to careful conservation by authorities such as the Urban Redevelopment Authority. This has allowed me to reflect and question the tradeoff between conservation and development of Singapore where hard choices often had to be made to progress as a nation, yet preserve our heritage in a place where we call Home. What were some of criterion and how were these decisions made with different stakeholders?

Apart from engaging in research for the Baba House Docent Training programme, I was also involved in the daily operations and logistics of the house. Coincidentally, this period of time was also the period where renovation works were done at the house; as I experienced the daily beeping of the intercom where we let various workers and parties in, the realization of the difficulty of maintaining a heritage house neatly struck me deeply in the midst of my daily work.

In another aspect of the internship, weekly museum visits and workshops at the NUS Museum were highlights for me. I especially relish in the guided introductions given by curators in places such as the National Gallery when we made a visit there; I had the chance to broaden my understanding of pioneer artists of Singapore such as Koeh Sia Yong and Chen Wen Hsi, where different art techniques and motives were pointed out to reflect the tumultuous Singapore landscape then where social problems were prevalent. Struggles and adaptations made by these local artists were palpable, reflected in different art styles over time, from pre-colonial to contemporary. Workshops at the NUS Museum have also exposed the relations and dilemmas taken to establish exhibitions; the tripartite relationship of the curators, collections officers, and conservators is intriguing where a fine line has to be treaded to adhere to the wishes of all three parties.


As the internship draws to a close, I have to thank Poonam and Jenica at the Baba House for their patience and guidance. This journey has been a steep but enriching learning curve and it has indeed shone a light on the various parts of museum work. Much thanks to Michelle for organizing these trips and being so welcoming and all the other interns at the main office for letting me feel included whenever I’m back as well!

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