Friday, 21 April 2017

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Valerie Kwok

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! 


Valerie is currently a JC1 student at Temasek Junior college. She joined the NUS Museum for three weeks as part of Temasek Junior College’s Work Attachment Programme. Valerie was attached to the Museum Outreach team during her time here where she assisted in various administrative works for the museum’s programmes. She will share with us more about her time here in NUS Museum and her experience in a programme she was involved in.

There are too many episodes of people coming here...

This exhibition, unlike the rest, has no theme, which ironically makes that the theme of the exhibition. It builds on previous exhibitions, and the curatorial idea is to try to form connections with each changing exhibitions from the past, albeit completely different in theme. It essentially just collects a certain artwork from a previous exhibition and then put them all together. This exhibition aims to get the visitors to make their own connections and interpretation, to stimulate their minds and thoughts. It has different themes, ranging from traditional art pieces, to contemporary works of artists.

As seen from the picture below, the exhibition has a very flat design, and from what I learnt from Michelle, it was intended so people can ‘bounce about exhibits easily in no particular order’ to corroborate with the theme. To add on, many of these exhibits have little to no description of what they are, and this is so that the visitors can interpret the artwork themselves.

Personally till now, my interpretation of this exhibition, is to show how art is malleable and ductile, it can come in so many different forms through so many time periods, yet, no matter how stark the difference, still belongs to one entity, - Art. From shadow puppets to a technological device, one may feel like there is absolutely no connection between them, whilst forgetting that these pieces are both hung on the wall, for the viewers to appreciate. Yes, the differences are more obvious, but their one similarity outweighs all their differences combined. Whilst typing this, I find that this can actually be drawn parallel to the entity known as the human race, where by throughout the times and space and races, etc, where we wage wars over our differences, we forget that  we are still the human entity, connected in one way or another, and yes perhaps we haven’t really made the connection yet or maybe we already have, but choose to hide it because we simply cannot accept the fact that our one big similarity outweighs whatever differences we have, but it is there, and it is real.

* * * *

  The opening of Radio Malaya on the 17th of January, was by far the busiest day of the WOW internship so far. We had so many things to do throughout the course of the entire day to prepare for the grand opening of the Radio Malaya: Abridged Conversations about Art. We were tasked with assisting Amanda Heng’s performance of ‘Let’s Chat’, where by it is a set-up with a table and 4kg worth of bean sprouts with tea, where visitors of the museum will sit there as and when they want to talk to her, all while drinking Chinese tea. For the TJC interns, we were tasked to wash the teacups as soon as one guest leaves, boil water, and making tea, ensuring that her performance was perfect.

As we were there the whole of the day we participated in the performance for a period of time, and it was rather interesting, plucking beansprouts in a museum. We sat with Amanda Heng, and another painter friend of hers and a NUS student who came.

I found out that the artists in the 1950s were considered outcasts due to many governmental controls and societal conforms. Amanda Heng was telling us about how many artists, including herself, run a risk of danger of going to jail for making pieces frowned upon by the government.

It made me realize that there was a thin, fine line for artists to hover around, one wrong move and they could land right in jail.  More often than not, what artists believe and stand for normally cross that line, and they always find ways and means of toning it down, some successful, while some go to jail.

It was a really eye-opening experience to be here at Radio Malaya’s opening and I think I learnt a lot from today’s experience.

All in all, this internship has really opened my eyes to a world I never thought existed and I am so grateful to be given this opportunity to do so.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Janessa Zheng

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! 


Janessa is currently a JC1 student at Temasek Junior college. She joined the NUS Museum for three weeks as part of Temasek Junior College’s Work Attachment Programme. During her time here, Janessa was attached to the Museum Outreach team and assisted in various administrative works for the museum’s programmes.  In this blogpost, Janessa will share with us her reflection on some of the exhibitions in NUS Museum and the various museums visited.

The drawn line is a powerful tool of communication: on one hand, it is a device the artist relies on to direct the sight and thoughts of the viewer to his objective. Yet it can also impart glimpses into the artist’s creative imagination, even in a time of belligerence.

My 3 weeks here at the NUS Museum was certainly meaningful. Our mentor, Michelle, brought us on a tour around the museum. We also got to join a tour of the Baba House, and visit several other museums. We were not only exposed to curatorial strategies and the exhibits, we also got to help out at many outreach events. I got to learn a lot more about Southeast Asian Art history and about the programmes at the museum.

After exploring the Archaeology Library, I was intrigued by the Pulau Saigon collection. Prior to this, I did not know Pulau Saigon existed and found this collection to be really interesting. It is really puzzling how there were little records of how Pulau Saigon disappeared but yet, these pieces were a testimony that it once existed, and gives us insights to life on the island. There was also an exhibit on another floor, including a catalogue of everyday objects found at Pulau Saigon. These objects were 3D-printed by the artist Debbie Ding, who was interested to re-produce these objects from their names. It is very interesting how archaeology, which is thought to be discovering our history using ancient objects, is recreated with the 3D printed objects.

I thought the Nanyang Style watercolour paintings were really special. The Nanyang style of watercolour is a combination of techniques from Chinese and Western watercolour painting, with Nanyang landscape. This is very unique to our nation, and paints familiar landscapes which we can relate to, which is certainly impressive.

The exhibition LINES on Vietnamese war consisted of sketches by Vietnamese artists during the Vietnam War. Having been to Vietnam on the school’s Humanities Trip, this was different from what museums in Vietnam presented. This showcased the Vietnamese perceptions through art, with a variety of different mediums.

Radio Malaya- Abridged conversations about art
Valerie and I were tasked to help out with artist Amanda Heng’s performance art piece “Lets Chat”, and occasionally join in the conversations. Let’s Chat (1996) was a performance piece by artist Amanda Heng during which she invited the audience to sit and chat with her at a table while drinking tea and cleaning bean sprouts. The aim was to encourage the audience to rediscover the simpler joys of kampong life and examine the costs of material progress in Singapore. We even got the opportunity to talk to the artist herself, who shared with us on her take on the arts scene in Singapore. This highlighted to me, the importance of the art scene in Singapore, and how vibrant it actually is. It is also interesting to explore history and politics through drawings, paintings, poetry and other forms of works.

We also went to visit some of the museums around Singapore, including National Gallery, National Museum, and Asian Civilisations Museum. At the Asian Civilisations Museum, there was a gallery on the Tang Shipwreck. As the NUS Museum is also displaying some objects from the Tang Cargo, it is interesting to see the different curatorial strategies different museums adopt.

I had a great time here and would like to thank Michelle, for being very nice and patient, guiding us in our work and giving us many opportunities to participate and help out in the various events. I would also like to thank Wardah, the other interns, and staff for being so warm and welcoming towards us, making our experience here a very enjoyable one!

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

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 student at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. As our Myanmar Archaeological Intern, Ignatius was tasked to carry out research of catalogs and articles on Myanmar Ceramics.

A One-Year Journey
After a summer school field trip to Myanmar in July 2015, I responded to a call for an NUS Museum internship in a project on Myanmar archaeological ceramics. Back then when I applied, I was already aware that this would be a long-term project, and that the Museum had hoped that the intern would stay for the entire project (beyond the initial contract of December 2015).

Now, one year later, as I look back I felt really glad that I managed to stay the entire project from its conceptualization in December 2015, to the opening of the exhibition From the Ashes: Reviving Myanmar Celadon Ceramics in February 2017. Being involved throughout the entire process enabled me to experience insights that short-term interns would not have been able to: How one needs to be flexible in making drastic changes to the initial plans due to unforeseen circumstances, how one is gradually given more responsibilities towards the end of the project, and so many other insights that only a one-year internship could provide.

Outside Tradistyle Ceramics, Twante

Learnt to Contribute… and to Listen
My main contribution to the project was the conceptualization and execution of a catalogue of newspaper articles to help visitors form a greater appreciation and awareness of ceramics and Myanmar as well as the ceramics town of Twante, where the ceramics artefacts come from. Scouring for articles from various online academic sources, websites and even physical newspapers, eventually we managed to accumulate a total of 73 articles over eight themes.

In the process, I certainly learnt a lot from the curator Ms Foo Su Ling on the importance of filtering: At the beginning, my research was nearly direction-less, as I sought for information on anything related to ceramics and Myanmar. However, Su Ling advised me that at one point we had to start grouping the articles into certain themes. For example, we had a theme on Pottery, which is the very object of the exhibit, as well as Twante Canal, a canal that links Twante to Myanmar’s capital city Yangon. With this advice in mind, I managed to find even more relevant articles that fit into the various themes that we had.

In fact, I managed to suggest a new theme that Su Ling eventually approved: A theme on the importance of animals whose motifs are found on the artefacts. These animals include the cow, the elephant, and the swan. The newspaper articles thus included news on how the swan is the symbol of Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party, as well as how the elephant is now suffering from deforestation in Myanmar. This experience taught me that when suggesting proposals, one has to think about how the proposal truly was relevant to the exhibit.

Discussion with U Thant Tin & Dr Cho

The Personal Touch
Another unforgettable memory for me is the warmth and friendliness of all the museum staff. I personally cherish all the personal interactions I had, as I got to speak with them not as between a permanent staff and an intern, but as equals who would like to know more about each other’s lives.

For instance, I frequently speak with curator Ms Chang Yueh Siang about religion, the Museum head Mr Ahmad Mashadi very kindly shares his adventures in Indonesia my home country, while in return I provide my insights on the country especially my hometown Jakarta. And last but certainly not the least, my project leader and internship supervisor Ms Foo Su Ling who was always open to sharing her insights on current affairs ranging from the 2016 US presidential election to Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to Singapore in December 2016. It is these interactions that truly made me feel welcome at the NUS Museum.

For Those Considering to Intern at NUS Museum…
… go for it. This is your opportunity to have a first-hand experience of working at a museum, especially if you also have a passion for history and visiting museums, just like I do. There are so many fields available for you to choose from, ranging from research and curatorial to outreach and marketing. The staff at the Museum is welcoming for you and willing to help you to learn by providing the channels to learn and giving honest feedback on your mistakes. I certainly did feel welcome and learned a lot about myself as a person and as a professional. I will always look back at my NUS Museum internship as the stint where I learnt a lot.Hope the next batches of interns will also have similarly enriching experience!

With Hui Tuan

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.

A post shared by 🌼Clarice Handoko🌳 (@fleurdeclareese) on
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.

A post shared by 🌼Clarice Handoko🌳 (@fleurdeclareese) on
That’s all folks it’s been great!

Monday, 27 February 2017

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Liana Gurung

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! 


Liana Gurung is a fourth-year English Literature at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. As our South & Southeast Asian Collection Curatorial Research Intern, Liana assisted with the research and organisation of information for upcoming Southeast Asian exhibition projects.

Even before my internship, NUS Museum was not a foreign name to me: I’d participated in a writing programme there in my first year, so it was somewhat nostalgic that I would return there in my last one.

Our little nook

Briefly, what our particular batch of interns had to do was very self-directed; we were to write – or curate, more accurately (curate? Accurate? Hmm) – a museum guide for the new permanent exhibit in the NUS Museum, Radio Malaya. I think all four of us were pretty daunted by the task initially (and even now, on hindsight) – how could we, four undergraduates only just beginning to scale the iceberg of all the knowledge we do not even know we do not know, even think to have the authority to frame any sort of historical narrative? But that was precisely the point. The idea of narrative and the implications of popular appeal and reception were driven home for us during that first briefing with Ahmad and in all our various conversations with the rest of the tight-knit museum staff. What I really like about NUS Museum is how it navigates that murky border between down-to-earth accessibility and academic rigour; the emphasis it places on personal lenses, the importance it accords various different viewpoints, and the respect it has for the individual’s gaze.

I visited the Central Library more times in December than I ever have in my entire undergraduate career (I’m not sure what this says about me – take it as you will). As a Literature major, this is some feat; and as a person not quite as well-versed in local literature and the history thereof as I perhaps should be (sorry Prof Holden!), it was a crash course. I spent hours reading in the soft afternoon light, alternately lamenting and praising the selection of local literature available in NUS (there are so, so many amazing plays out there that I didn’t know of before that is c r a z y – please do yourselves a favour and check out Details Cannot Body Wants by Chin Woon Ping, Singapore’s first R-rated theatre production and a beautifully, painfully written one-woman play).

Best Of, by Haresh Sharma – another one-woman play that I am so sad I missed

Those hours were perhaps more effective than any four years doing Social Studies might have been; parsing, yes, through stilted English, but learning so much about the fire that drove so many early poets and playwrights in Singapore. Understanding precisely the intersection between politics and poetry that was the first engine for Singaporean literature. If you take the time to go through Radio Malaya, that hope and fierceness is what I hope you will take away from it; how language was used as fissure and to fuse, and how weighty the word “Malaya” must have been for the people of that era. Wang Gung-wu, a name and poet I’d seen and studied, jumped off the page and into a batik shirt for the opening of the exhibit in January. If I may be so impertinent, he reminded me slightly of my late grandfather, holding himself in what I imagine to be the manner of the English-educated of that particular era; with a slight dry formality, a kind of quiet confidence. He was somewhat soft but clearly-spoken, talking to a room of nodding heads and attentive silence that rippled only during moments of his gentle good humour. He spoke of Malaya and, with a poet’s attenuation to language, of the word “Malaya”, what it had meant to him and his peers, crackling out on the static of the radio. That evening was warmly nostalgic, and a little sad. But often, that’s what my experiences of museums tend to be: my body is facing forward, but my head is turned behind. We must contend with an innate helplessness in the face of history, that perhaps the different branches of the museum deal with, in a way: we curate, to try and dredge new meaning; we catalog, to remember with knifelike precision; and we communicate, to share the former two, and to invite people in, through the threshold.

Lessons from the Museum: Documentation

Lessons from the Museum: The Importance of Framing I

Lessons from the Museum: The Importance of Framing II 

I mentioned to my supervisor Sidd, briefly, that the concept of curatorship appeals to me because of my slight hoarder mentality. Meaning via arrangement, via juxtaposition, also means that nothing – or few things – are ever truly useless or worth discarding; the impulse to reclaim, renew, repurpose is ever-present and ever-possible.

And as Chin Woon Ping writes in Details Cannot Body Wants,

How do you live with flatness? How do you live with plainness? How do you live with ugliness? How do you live with emptiness?

My own answer, which is one that I’m not sure is right, but who really is sure anyway: you don’t. Or you don’t have to. If you can change your perspective, if you can let yourself trust others’ perspectives, nothing need ever be dismissed or perhaps even should be. I’m thinking now of that Romantic/romantic idea of negative capability, or humanity’s ability to live in limbo and in liminality, to be able to grapple with uncertainties, even with all the various anxieties that come with the idea of curating (that a predecessor Mary Ann put so well): “on representation, on narrative, on authority, on the institution.” We leave marks, wherever we go, and on whatever we touch. There are a polyphony of voices, speaking out from any kind of arrangement, or exhibit, something I’ll listen harder for, now that December is done.

Hands I 

Hands II 

Thank you again to everyone at the museum, particularly Sidd, Wardah, Michelle, and my fellow interns Sheena, Jeremy and Clarice, for making my December as fulfilling as it was. All the best to all of you, and stay in touch!

Interns, signing out (our hands represent Clarice, stationed at the Baba House)

Monday, 20 February 2017

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Jeremy Wong

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! 


Jeremy Wong is a third-year Ancient World, Politics and International Studies student at the University of Melbourne. During his time as Collections Intern at the NUS Museum, Jeremy assisted the Collections team with organizing the collections data, art handling and research.

I knew I was in for an interesting ride as the Collections Intern at the NUS Museum. After all, I had to check approximately around 865 digital records of the museum’s collection, I was the only University of Melbourne student amongst my fellow interns and had to handle more artifacts and artworks than my whole semester load of ancient Egyptian subjects. So yes, a definite step up from the weekly tutorial discussions of touching and examining ancient Egyptian ceramics and funerary figures. I was tasked with vetting the digital records in the NUS Museum’s online collections database, checking for spelling, grammar, punctuation errors along with any presentation improvements I could suggest to help improve the online collections database records.

Naturally online dictionaries become one of my faithful companions during this quest of vetting the museum’s online collections database as I found my vocabulary expanding due to my constant checking for the definitions of words such as oeuvre and islets. Some records were reasonably easy to check as the only errors were minor spelling or grammar mistakes. However, there were some days where I would spend a good amount of time staring at the object’s record and attempting to decipher the original meaning of odd sentences like ‘by many said to be superior to the very best Penang’ to present a better rephrasing of these sentences for viewers. Due to the focus of my Ancient World Studies major in Melbourne University on ancient Roman, Greek, Egyptian and Near Eastern civilisations, I found myself learning more about the histories and material cultures of civilisations from different Chinese, Southeast and South Asian periods such as the longquan celadon wares and the meanings of different Buddha statue poses like varada mudra meaning compassion. And thanks to my checks of the digital records of the museum’s collection, I have been able to add interesting places like the Goa Gajah or Elephant Cave in Bali to my travel list, so who says careful evaluations cannot be rewarding?

One of the few documents containing my notes on all the spelling, punctuation, grammar and presentation errors for the museum’s online collection database. Will be working on making this presentable in a song and dance performance in the future.

Thanks to the other assignment given to all the interns to produce a gallery guide on the exhibition Radio Malaya: Abridged Conversations about Art, I found myself learning and being fascinated by the art, literary, political and social history of my home country. I must admit though, my work on the gallery guide started with plenty of confusion on my part, as Singaporean art history was a significant gap in my knowledge and therefore Singaporean artists like Ng Eng Teng and Chen Wen Hsi were like strangers to my mind. I am grateful to Michelle, Sidd and Ahmad for their openness to allow us interns to explore topics that are of interest to us and so starting me on a journey to learning more about how the independence period had a such profound impact on many aspects of Singaporean society, politics and history. I am also particularly grateful to Jonathan Tan who despite his responsibilities was willing to tell me interesting pieces of information about the various artworks in the exhibition and for giving me valuable suggestions and encouragement for my gallery guide project.    

Clearly our chairs were shedding tears every time we had to be away from the office

Soon I was to discover that such checks are only a small part of the Collections team’s responsibilities, as Donald brought me along to observe and participate in other collections management work. Physical handling of the various artifacts and artworks of the museum’s collection extended beyond just placing selected objects in the museum’s galleries for display, but also for condition checks and conservation examinations by the curators and conservators respectively. It was interesting to observe how Donald’s inputs and comments regarding the conditions of various artifacts and artworks were all considered by the curators and conservators, indicating that the Collections team are not just passive observers in the interpretation of the museum’s collection.

Donald and myself unpacking objects for From the Ashes: Reviving Myanmar Celadon Ceramics exhibition

As I participated in the various activities of Collections management from packing paintings that were on loan to the museum to be returned to their owners to helping unpack Myanmar ceramics for the upcoming exhibition From the Ashes: Reviving Myanmar Celadon Ceramics, I realised that many details must be considered in Collections management work. Whether it is properly placing paintings in a specific manner so that the wires of the back parts do not touch the actual artworks or using specific light lux levels for different types of artworks like Chinese scrolls, I found myself amazed at all these considerations that Donald, Devi and the exhibition’s curator Su Ling shared with me in their work so much so that the voice of Sherlock Holmes saying “Elementary, my dear Watson” popped into my head as I recognised that putting on gloves to handle artifacts in tutorials was only the first step in Collections management.

Lovingly handmade cardboard for the packing of paintings

This attention to detail is not only for the conservation of artifacts and artworks in the museum, but also extended to the presentation of the exhibitions as me and Donald channeled our inner Bob the Builder and went around touching up scuff marks, giving fresh coats of paint to exhibition display features like a pedestal and parts of a display case and placing in new acrylic holders to a newly hung up Chinese scroll painting. As I continued helping with From the Ashes: Reviving Myanmar Celadon Ceramics exhibition, I realised that visual presentation of the exhibition went beyond aesthetical considerations as Donald and Su Ling discussed potential issues such as whether placing some bowls or portions of a figurine on a raised platform could mislead people into thinking these objects are important. Even the texts on the exhibition’s walls are placed in a specific fashion to communicate to visitors what is important and peripheral information with regards to the exhibition, which served as a reminder to myself that everything a museum does creates meanings and interpretations to visitors whether intentional or not.

Myself (on the right) with fellow intern Clarice pretending to be spooked

Liana, Clarice, myself and Sheena embracing our love for the Arts and the occasional costume

This internship has been undoubtedly a wonderful and unforgettable experience, allowing me to learn and further appreciate the various works done in museums from the different methods to store various objects to considering the impact of how a museum’s presentation affects viewers’ interpretations. Despite learning of the various responsibilities and activities that need to be done in museum work, it has only increased my enthusiasm for museum work. I would like to thank Greg and Michelle for giving me a chance to be the Collections Intern for the past 7-8 weeks and for their ever-patient supervision and advice.  Also, I am very grateful to Donald and Devi for putting their trust in me and allowing me to participate in various Collections management activities and handle many precious artifacts. I would also like to extend my appreciation to the other various NUS Museum staff like Su Ling for her willingness to answer my various questions on curatorial work and Myanmar ceramics, Freda for reading and implementing my long list of corrections to the NUS Museum’s online collection, Wardah for her ever interesting conversations in the office, JJ for always kindly helping us to enter the office, the TJC interns Janessa, Valerie and Whitney for their help in doing preparation works for the Radio Malaya exhibition opening and for reminding me of my younger days along with everyone else at the NUS Museum! And finally, to my fellow interns Sheena, Liana and Clarice for the various fun conversations along with intriguing discussions we had about our gallery guides, for introducing me to good places to eat in NUS (I have learnt from the best) and for helping me to learn a little more about Singapore through their remarks or discussions about Singaporean artists and writers like Arthur Yap, Robert Yeo and Charlie Chan Hock Chye. As I said in the beginning, this internship was going to be an interesting ride, and what a ride it was for making me ever more passionate about museum work.  

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Sheena Koh

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! 


Sheena Koh is a third-year English Literature student at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. As an Education Outreach Intern, Sheena was tasked to conduct various researches and assist with the museum’s programmes which provided her with greater insight to the museum's outreach operations.

As I type this, the fact that it’s my last day as an intern at the Museum has just started to sink in. In a couple of hours, my desk will be pristine. I will squirrel away the stacks of books and papers that litter my desk, and it will be as though I had never been there. But if there’s one thing I learnt from my time here, it’s that meaning often resides in the space between, rather than merely within what is said. My eventual absence then only signifies the presence of experience, of learning, of having been. And even though I’ve only spent a month here, I think I’m all the better for it. 

Before I launch into an epic-length recitation of my time here, here’s the tl;dr for those of you who are reading this because you can’t decide if you should apply or not: this internship will challenge you, but you will also learn lots, so just fill in the application form already!

Also, internship perks: free tickets to the Biennale!

And here’s the long story long:

I came into this internship with some art history background and arts/education working experience. When I started, I was attached to the education outreach team. As an intern, I spent my time proofreading and editing copy, as well as compiling databases and conducting research into various organisations and ideas related to the art scene in NUS and Singapore. At the same time, I was involved in preparing materials for MUSES 2017, a future museum education resource and a gallery guide for the Radio Malaya exhibition (opens 17 Jan 2016).

Although these projects took up the bulk of my month here, I have to say that I really enjoyed working on them. I applied for this internship programme because I wanted to sustain my involvement in art theory and education, areas that I had touched on in my summer internship as well as the previous semester in school. These projects enabled me to do just that.

Of particular note is the gallery guide project. In my iteration of the internship, it just so happened that the Radio Malaya exhibition was slated to open in January 2017. In order to increase interdisciplinary engagement with the show, the other interns and I were tasked to create a gallery guide in accordance with our own research interests. Initially, I found this project daunting – I wasn’t sure where to begin, and if my ideas were of any good. This was disorientating to say the least, especially after years in goal-driven academic environments. Yet, working on this guide gave me the push I needed to discover, experiment and basically, to enjoy the process of learning and researching for its own sake. And this was how I spent my December reading volumes of poetry by Arthur Yap and Boey Kim Cheng, as well as papers on the particular complexities of multiculturalism and identity formation in Singapore.

As you can see, while there were guidelines for the projects, they were largely self-directed. I enjoyed the kind of hands-off learning that I went through at the museum, and I really appreciated and enjoyed the level of freedom that I was afforded in this internship. However, this is not to say that it was unstructured – rather, it was the opposite. Even though I independently conceptualised and designed my projects, Michelle, my supervisor and Outreach Manager of the Museum would often check in on my progress and offer valuable suggestions for improvement. I am grateful for the guidance extended to me by everyone in the office, and of course, my fellow interns.

On this note, I’d like to reassure those of you who are still reading (thanks!) that this internship isn’t
all about work, but also about the people you meet! I think my internship would have been a lot less enjoyable and thought-provoking had it not been for my fellow interns and colleagues at the Museum. Being heritage/arts/culture geeks, we’re like-minded in many ways, and in the course of our one short month together, we’ve explored exhibitions and museums, as well as food spots on campus, while talking about everything from the history of opium to TV shows. 

The Four Interns ™ hard at work listening to Georgina, a curator at NLB bringing us through the Script & Stage exhibition

Imbalanced height distribution aside, here we are with the Outreach Team and Georgina :-)


I could not ask for a more enriching experience in the field of the arts. I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to develop my interests in art, education and museology in this creative, vibrant and welcoming space.

Come Monday, I’ll be in an anonymous lecture theatre somewhere in school – so, not too different from the semester I just left. But in this month between, an intermediary space, I have found meaning, and much to be grateful for. 

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Xu Xi

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! 


Xu Xi is a third-year Political Science student at NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. As a Resource Library and Curatorial Intern, Xu Xi worked alongside her fellow intern Teen Zhen on the research of various approaches and strategies in organizing the museum’s library collection.

Much of my 10 weeks of internship is spent in the NUS Museum's resource library, where Teen Zhen and I assisted with the organization of the Chinese collection. We were tasked to work on introducing a system of classification for the books that can facilitate new encounters, such that they are not being constrained by the traditional method of the Dewey decimal system or the Library of Congress Classification which lumps books containing similar subject matter together.

Our search for the best strategy was an adventurous and arduous one – definitely not words one would usually associate with 'library classification'. It started out with a fieldtrip to various libraries to observe the different classification techniques and layouts of library space. We ventured from NUS Central library to the ADM library and Chinese library at NTU (TZ's homeland where she kindly gave me a short tour around her campus), and also to multiple public libraries around Singapore. Initially, the task to find the Best Classification Strategy seemed easy, and we were quick to identify several different ways of classifying the books. Little did we expect that there were actually many considerations to take note of, and we ended up taking quite a long time to decide on the most ideal strategy. We realise that whilst there may be many options available, we must make sure that the chosen option is able to accurately relay our intended message. It is essential to keep questioning ourselves 'why?' and 'how?' while testing out the various methods. Throughout the whole process, Kenneth gave us a lot of space and ideas to try out various methods and strategies, and provided us with reading materials that helped to frame our train of thought. Really am thankful to have him as our supervisor! 

Featuring a blurry TZ who photo-bombed my attempt to capture the layout of CLB Chinese Library. Glad to have TZ together with me as we endured through the cold and the dust!

Featuring stressed me as I stare at the endless pages of Excel file of Chinese book titles

The collection of books we dealt with the most are the Chinese collection, which TZ and I have grown to be really fond of (especially for TZ, the Chinese Studies major). It surprised me that almost the entire collection came from donations, and equally fascinating was the immense variety of books available. There are books that are dated from as far back as 1929, many of which were bounded by the traditional Chinese bookbinding technique.  The library also contain all sorts of periodicals, auction catalogues and compiled collection of paintings and stamps etc. The wide range of content available was especially impressive – these books cover many areas and forms of Chinese art, ranging from contemporary and ancient paintings to specific art forms such as Buddhist art. There were even books on Chinese weaponry! Avid fans of Chinese art or people interested in that discipline should definitely drop by and visit once the resource library is open to the public!

Antique-level books that can be found in NUS Resource Library :O

Our beloved Chinese collection.

A major part of the internship I found intriguing was the various fieldtrips to museums, which were arranged by Michelle. This internship provided me with wonderful opportunities to get in touch with Singapore's art scene and to understand them from the perspective of curators. Sidd and Kenneth often ask us questions after the tours to enhance our understanding of the exhibits and introduce alternative point-of-views, allowing us to explore beneath what's under the surface. This definitely changes the way I will be looking at museums and exhibitions in future. Moreover, visits to places such as the Substation forces one to reconsider the role of art institutions in Singapore amidst the increasingly vibrant art scene. 

NUS Baba House – one of my favourite trips which highlighted the importance of conservation in Singapore in preserving these rare cultural heritage sites.

Last but not least, the internship dialogues – it is a new initiative to ensure that the interns were able to maximise our learning here, whereby we were tasked to come up with our individual research topics and present the results of our findings to the rest during the bi-weekly sessions. It was a fulfilling and enriching experience to be involved in discussions with the fellow interns, who are an interesting mix of people from different majors – ranging from Chinese studies major, Philosophy to Global studies major. The dialogue was a great platform for a battle of wits, exposing us to the differing perspectives regarding issues dealing with museum and art, especially since each of us has different areas of research interest.

Wefie after staff outing – thanks for all the joy and laughter throughout the past 10 weeks! (Missing Chutong in this pic ): )

All in all, this internship had been a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience for me, that had allowed me to come in touch with the various behind-the-scenes of museum work and experience a small part of life as a curator. It has been such a great honour to have been given the chance to intern here, allowing me to discover this hidden cultural gem we have right here in NUS.