Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Caroline Ang

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! 

-

Caroline Ang is a third-year History student at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Nanyang Technological UniversityAs our Archaeology Research & Programmes intern, Caroline conducted research on techniques and technologies used in archaeology, analysis of ceramics as well as further research on the Dragon kilns in Singapore


As a NTU student, it had been a foreign experience for the past three months as I headed to NUS for the period of the internship - although admittedly, the NUS campus is located much closer to home. However, now that the internship has come to an end, I find myself reluctant to part from this experience. 



Trying to understand the various connections to the dragon kilns

I had initially decided to apply for the NUS museum internship because of the archaeological programme position that was available, due to my personal interest in historic ceramics and the study of it. However, despite the original scope of the position - researching the various techniques and technologies used in the archaeology and analysis of ceramic sherds – the direction I took in my research shifted when I decided to focus on kilns, and then specifically, the dragon kilns in Singapore. Thankfully, my supervisor Su Ling was very open to let me head the direction of my research. Thus, as I ventured further into the process, I moved on to look at the commercial pottery industry in Singapore as a whole.  




Goofing off on the last day of work (or maybe everyday?)

It was through this process of investigating this history of the dragon kilns, brick kilns, and pottery industry in Singapore that made me realised some of the underlying assumptions that I have been making so far.  By holding onto the assumption that pottery only includes cups, pots, jars, but not other wares made of clay such as bricks, clay pipes, or even tiles, I had already ignored a large part of material and information that was available to me. Furthermore, whenever I think about ceramics in Southeast Asia, I would automatically limit the time period to one before the 15th or 16th century, and that had automatically excluded the pottery industry in 20th century Singapore. 

But this exclusion, both in terms of wares and time period, does not only seem to be limited to myself. With an awareness of my assumptions, I tried to do a search on this 20th/21st century pottery industry. But beyond finding a few exhibitions and articles that mentioned the dragons kilns involved in the industry in a manner that was more focussed on preservation and nostalgia, there appears to be a dearth of research into this industry that is simultaneously modern, in comparison to the historic artefacts, and yet rapidly disappearing into the recesses of history.

Perhaps 30-40 years ago, knowledge of the pottery industry would have been commonplace, an everyday industry that no one thinks twice about. Today, with the expired land lease threatening the existence of the last two dragon kilns in Singapore, public interest has spiked as those involved in the preservation have sought to spread information about the significance of a pottery industry that no longer has any current day relevance. But 20, 30, or even 50 years down the road… would the knowledge of this industry even survive? Or would the insignificance of this knowledge, in the face of the larger ‘Singapore Story’, simply vanish into the dark spots of time?

In an attempt to find out more, I spent the past few months digging deeper into the archival sources available online. Old newspapers were my predominant source, as I went through the database searching for any mentions of kilns, bricks, pottery, ceramics, etc. Other sources that I had to look at also included the oral histories recorded by the National Archives, along with its repository of old maps, building plans, pictures, and even business records. I tried to look for possible connections, with Su Ling pointing out various directions that I could approach the topic from. Looking beyond simply mentions of the kilns and the wares, I also looked at the supporting industries – rubber plantations, nurseries, public works and the labourers, etc., to try to see how various factors had affected the rise and decline of the industry.

It was interesting to see how everything was related, how the rapid redevelopment of the economy and the land dealt a swift blow to the numerous smaller industries that we now dub ‘vanishing trades’. The usage of words like ‘heritage’ and ‘nostalgia’ today – a topic that my fellow interns and I had debated extensively about during our post-field trips discussions (and random breaks dispersed throughout the day), to fight for the continual existence of these fast disappearing industries, buildings, customs, etc. appears to be flung around almost carelessly. But to what end would the preservation of these trades and practices bring about beyond ultimately being transformed into a spectacle and performance, away from its original purposes?


Work desk mess?

Now that the internship has come to an end, the sources that had been collated from my research still remains without a perspective or means to mould it into a more comprehensible ‘lump’. The question remains – how can we present this knowledge of the pottery industry in Singapore without resorting to the similar narratives of heritage and nostalgia? Could we look at it from the materials’ perspective, where we focus upon the objects – such as the bricks, cups, pots, and jars – to tell this story? Or perhaps from the kilns’ perspective, one that is simultaneously over-explored and overlooked, to understand how these cornerstones of the industries had came about, and transformed over time, rather than continually circling around the histories of just one or two dragon kilns?

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Natalie Lie

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! 

-

Natalie Lie is a third-year History student at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. As our Curatorial Programming Intern, Natalie was involved in research and execution for a number of exhibitions and its programmes.

Since I was young, I had always been interested in museums and art, and that gave me the impetus to apply for the NUS museum internship. Needless to say, as someone with little experience in curating or museum work, I was thrilled and daunted, when I had the opportunity to work with the NUS museum over the summer as the Curatorial Programming intern.

Perhaps what really drew my interest to the position was the idea of putting together an exhibition. It always fascinated me how things were put together in a way that could be so coherent and cogent, and that became the anchor to what I was trying to learn and understand through the internship. In the summer I spent here, I had the opportunity to take on multiple roles and tasks that all added to a holistic experience of museum work, and that expanded my depth and understanding not only of curating but of the museum as an institution.


Because 3 heads are better than one

Though I never quite realised at the time, my first lesson in curating came in the form of a zine for the prep-room exhibition Buaya: The Making of a Non-Myth, one of the two prep-room projects that we were focusing on. Both David (my partner-in-internship) and I, were tasked with putting together a zine that would not only draw from the project but also be an extension and exploration of its discursive possibilities. In all honesty, the project seemed completely intimidating initially, considering I had never made something of the kind before. All the possibilities, questions, and worries came at once: Where do we begin? What materials should we use? How do we balance discourse and narrative? To be informative, but also not dictatorial? How should it even look? Thankfully, we had the guidance of our mentor-supervisor, Sidd, who was there for us, always encouraging and assuring us that it was okay if things were a little rough around the edges. It was all in the spirit of the prep-room after all!



Laying it all out  

The whole process however, really brought these questions to the fore, shifting them from the thoughts of an outsider, a viewer, a reader, to that of a researcher, a selector, and an arranger, all of which make the curator. Many a day was spent sieving through mounds of research material, and brainstorming different ways in which things could fit together. Never had I realised how much thought and consideration goes into putting a thing together, whether it be a zine, an event, or an exhibition. Someone had all these to consider first, so that we may enjoy and consider them later, and we had the wonderful opportunity to experience things right from the conception.

Beyond the zine, my foray into the world of curation and exhibition planning was extended and explored in all other parts of my internship, from planning the programming to our museum discussions and excursions. It was eye-opening to see the work behind planning and setting up exhibitions, and we were even given the chance to help with the set-up. I got to see how space was being considered, and how its use could shape the experience for the visitor. We even had the chance to help with setting up the exhibition, from cling-wrapping and drilling, to the actual hanging and handling the artwork. It was certainly an experience one rarely gets to be a part of, and an opportunity for hands-on learning beyond the office. At other times, we would be hosts and ushers as the front-of-house, getting to understand the on-the-ground shenanigans, and getting to interact with museum-goers, guests, and students and hearing their thoughts. All these roles and individuals come together as different cogs and gears of the finely-tuned museum machine, working together to keep things running smoothly.


 Just your average museum event…

The internship opened my eyes to different aspects of museum work, allowing me to build up a repertoire of knowledge of museums and curation, while also honing the practical and technical skills behind exhibition set-ups. I can only be thankful to the museum team for having me over the summer, and for the opportunity to experience these things. With my parting words, I would just like say my biggest thanks to Michelle for planning the internship and for the thought-provoking museum conversations, and especially to my supervisor Sidd whose wisdom, patience, and kindness I find invaluable. Thank you both for your guidance. Last, but not least, to my fellow interns, thank you for the wonderful company both in, and out of work. I look forward to seeing you all around!

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Whitney Goh

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! 

-

Whitney 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 as an intern, Whitney worked closely with the Museum Outreach by assisting in various administrative works for the museum’s programmes. In this post, she reflects on her experience with the programmes and the exhibitions of the museum.


In my short 4 weeks interning at NUS Museum, I’ve learnt new skills, gained new knowledge and had a lot of fun. Event planning was one of the main aspects of this internship and I now know the tremendous amount of time and work that goes into planning and executing just one event. I merely helped out with one event: the Musem Education Symposium (MUSES) workshop but that alone already involved a lot of preparation of materials, slides and even prepping the event space. One of the biggest takeaways from this internship is my new sense of appreciation for the arts and culture, especially in Singapore.

My favourite exhibition of the museum was Radio Malaya: Abridged Conversations about Art. Radio Malaya is like a debate on the culture and heritage of Singapore. Is Singapore a cultural desert? Do we have a rich sense of history and culture hidden within our roots? All the pieces in this exhibit allowed for one to connect them in context of the exhibit’s theme: Singapore’s culture and heritage. The way the exhibit flowed and how each piece’s story was connected to another was really impressive and intriguing. These are some of the more interesting pieces I saw and my take on them:



The first piece I saw at the start of the exhibition was “Cultural Sinkholes” by Salleh Japar. The paper mache that’s used here are actually road maps of Singapore, each sinkhole covered by road maps of Chinatown, Kampong Glam and Little India respectively, representing the old spatial distribution of racial groups. In the past, space was segregated according to race mostly for ease of governance. However, could that have created a kind of cultural separation that still exists today?



Several paintings featured the use of traditional Chinese brush strokes and art techniques to paint Malayan settings. Seeing how such techniques were being used to paint not-your-typical-bird-chineseflower-lotus sceneries, we can see the interaction that occurred between people, between communities; a fusion of East meets West.



Sites of Manoeuvre by Michael Lee. A 3D reconstruction of lost sites in Singapore such as the old National Library (picture), the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and the old British Council. These pieces not only strike a sense of nostalgia into us, but also serve to remind us of the memories and history we have abandoned over the years of development.





These 3 paintings seem to have a common theme: groups of women doing stuff/labour. I think it showcases the contributions of women in the past and display the important roles that women play in building the Singapore we know today. However, the paintings also seem to highlight the idea of cultural separation, where spatial segregation of races spill into the workplace and the social environment.

An exercrpt from the poem <This Island Is Too Much>

Some foundations are too grimy
Some pupils have too much pocket money
Some students are overwhelmed with activities
Some scholarships are remarkably hard to secure

Some NS is such a waste of time
Some reservists are way too vulgar
Some CD brigades have way too many malays
Some Mat Kampau pose too much

Some many other things besides these
Better just to leave it at that
Some poets say too much
What is it about love?

I love this poem; I think it showcases Singaporean’s culture of complaining way too well.

On the 17th of January, we were asked to assist and be a part of Amanda Heng’s “Let’s Chat” performance at the Radio Malaya opening where people got together and plucked “tao gei”s while drinking tea and chit chatting. We used around 4kg of tao geis for the performance and even met Amanda Heng herself during the opening and assisted her by cleaning the teacups and constantly replenishing the tao geis. Although unfortunately I was unable to be there for the actual Radio Malaya opening in the evening, helping out with Amanda’s performance art piece in the day was very fun. Plucking tao geis and sipping on tea while conversing with other people is an unexpectedly great way to socialise and meet new people.




Monday, 8 May 2017

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Cheyanne Gan

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! 

-

Cheyanne 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. As our NUS Baba House Intern, Cheyanne was tasked to carry out research on various artefacts in the house and was also involved  its daily operations and logistics matters.


These 3 weeks of internship with NUS Museum have definitely been fulfilling. Through the numerous museum visits, I managed to learn more about museum operations and logistics. Being stationed at NUS Baba House, I was able to experience fully the life of one working at a house museum. At the same time I also learnt so many things about Peranakan culture! I learnt how unique Peranakan culture is, as an example of how a community, Chinese in this case, came to adapt to its environment without losing its identity. Now I understand how closely linked history and culture are. I have also realised the importance of local culture, of not just the Peranakans, but also the cultures of the different ethnic and religious groups present in Singapore.

As I was doing research for the different historical artefacts in the house, I realised that each artefact placed in this house has so much historical value as well as cultural meaning behind it. Each artefact tells a story on its own. A kind of story that your grandmother and grandfather would tell you. After going through the artefacts in detail and analysing the house as a whole, I now understand how important it is to make the correct decisions when a conserved house is concerned; how every artefact makes a difference, and every decision has its consequences. Curators must always keep in mind their purpose as well as the identity of the house.

As I communicated with the visitors, I could tell they were very interested in the house. Many were eager to visit the house. I know the staff at the Baba House also feel a deep sense of pride and attachment towards this house. For this blue house along Neil Road reflects more than 10 years of their hard work, from conducting tests to find out the original colour of the house to experimenting to decide which lime plaster works best for the walls. The amount of effort put into conserving and running this house reflects the passion and love the staff as well as the NUS students have for Peranakan heritage. For this house is not merely a house filled with old furniture. It is a house which contains many stories of the people who used to live here. It is a house which we will entrust to the next generation to look after.

I do not regret taking up this internship, because it has taught me things I cannot learn anywhere else. After such an experience, I am able to better appreciate the historical sites we still have in Singapore today. Thank you NUS Museum for such a privilege, and special thanks to the staff of Baba House, namely Fadhly and Poonam, for their patience and guidance throughout this internship.



Exhibitions at the Lee Kong Chian Gallery


Me standing in the front courtyard of the house. Sadly this is the only photo I have of Baba House because we can only take photos outside the house.

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.