Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Roy Ng

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! 


Roy Ng is a final-year NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences students, majoring in History and minoring in Art History. As part of his internship, he served as Research Assistant to Dr Priya Maholay-Jaradi, whom the Museum is collaborating with for a forthcoming 2019 programme.

What is Singapore?

Is it the oft-cited fishing village, transformed into a bustling metropolis over a short span of a few generations? Is it a former colonial outpost of the British Raj, an important entrepot for imperial trade, or a nexus of confluence between East and West?

A commemorative project was wedged between the two key anniversary years of 2015 and 2019: the former marking the golden jubilee of India and Singapore’s formal diplomatic relations, and the latter marking the bi-centennial since Singapore’s (re)-founding by Sir Stamford Raffles.

Although brief, my time assisting Dr. Priya, and working under NUS Museum, gave me an opportunity to practice the theories, methods and issues I have learned as an undergraduate taking a minor in Art History. Under this stint, I undertook a project that situated and problematized key donations of artefacts from the Government of India to the museum (formerly known as the University of Malaya’s art museum) from 1959, under the wider context of Cold War diplomacy, the Non-Aligned Movement and decolonizing postures adopted by new nation states. 

My research into the primary source materials of archives like NAS, along with other collections from NLB, MFA and CLB, found coherence as I forged discursive trends in art history, and exhibition-making within India and Singapore, as arbiters of the nature and scope of these donations. As I went deeper into my research, I had come to find an important role that individuals played in the crafting of political, diplomatic and cultural discourse between the two nations. Ideologues, bureaucrats, museum curators, university chancellors and high commissioners all played a fundamental role in shaping and facilitating the cultural exchanges between Singapore and India.

If you had asked me today, what is Singapore? I would say, after having this three-month experience as a Research Assistant, that our city-state should be defined more through its longue durée; one of cultural interaction between South and Southeast Asia that long preceded the advent of British colonialism in 1819. Artisanal objects of the collection of my study had (and continue to have) the potential of decentring the high arts and consequently Eurocentric modes of art history, exhibition-making and connoisseurship.

Perhaps by revitalizing our connection to India, Singapore may fare well in finding a more authentic self; one that is rooted not just in its geographical location, but also cultural antecedents.

I would like to thank Dr. Priya for the opportunity in engaging with this research project, as well as Michelle for her supervision during my attachment to the Museum. 


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