Monday, 16 November 2015

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Venessa Tan

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! 


Venessa Tan is a second year History of Art major at University College London. Venessa joined NUS Museum as the Ng Eng Teng Collection Curatorial Intern, assisting in research for the new permanent Ng Eng Teng Collection exhibition, conceptualisation of an accompanying publication project, and the exhibition preparations for Sheltered: Documents For Home. In this blogpost, Venessa shares and reflect on the process of her work.

My internship with the NUS Museum began with a stack of readings that Michelle had prepared on the museum’s history and museology in general. Her selection of texts highlighted Singapore’s curious position – a Southeast Asian heritage, a colonial intervention, and a subsequent post-colonial existence that I find very hard to understand. The tone seemed to be set that, as people aspiring to work in the ‘cultural sector’, the road would be paved with not just difficulty, but contradiction. As if to acknowledge this, the museum’s permanent collection begins with Michael Sullivan bemoaning the unsustainability of art history in Singapore, equally a resignation and invitation. It seems to be the one Western inheritance that does not rub quite as easily with the general public.

As a ‘curatorial intern’ to Kenneth, I was given a mix of practical tasks (like editing videos, transcribing, photocopying and scanning) together with those of a more cerebral nature (critiques of current exhibitions, suggestions for programmes). I assisted him with Sheltered: Documents for Home, an exhibition involving the response of 5 NUS Architecture and Geography alumni to 03-Flats, a film produced by their former professor, Dr. Lilian Chee. A lot of the conceptual groundwork had been laid, in fact Sheltered had been brewing for a year, and is all part of Kenneth’s larger intention to create exhibitions that possess a continuity or relevance to each other rather than existing as standalone events.

I put together a timeline of our public housing history, aimed at highlighting the importance of this particular trajectory in shaping our political, cultural, and social landscapes. It was a small project but nonetheless one that required time and consideration. I made the ‘mistake’ of writing it in present tense, but Kenneth and I decided to keep it as such, given its ability to suggest the present-ness of the past. We decided to leave out Singapore’s independence year as well. Such decisions, we hoped, would be noticeable even if they were minor.

I also assembled newspaper clippings to supplement this timeline. Although they only involved rudimentary cropping and editing skills (on Microsoft Word no less) I must say that it excited me to have objects that I had worked on displayed in the exhibition. The process involved sieving through Dr. Chee’s selections and choosing those I found to be of relevance to the timeline, whether as a qualification, refutation, or complement. Kenneth then made some edits to my selections based on the kind of message he wanted to send (not uncritical, not overly critical, generative and productive seemed to be what he was going for). By the end of the flurry of exhibition prep (where I was more preoccupied with assisting architect Debbie Loo for her part of the exhibition) the arrangement of the timeline turned out to be very different. It was interesting to see Kenneth’s final curatorial decisions and to be a small part of the massive process involved in putting it together.

Austin and I doing the little that we could before opening night.

There is also an upcoming satellite exhibition of Sheltered at our National Library, for which I had a list of books, plays, literature, and films, to locate. I added on to this list with discoveries of my own, and got a little carried away sometimes with all the interesting material I found. For example, I had not known about how vibrant the Singaporean feminist movement has been – since the 70s, women writers have productively compared the economic, political and legal differences Singaporean women experience, and a more recent title characterises feminism in Singapore to be in ‘a state of ambivalence’. I am not sure what impact the micro-decisions I made will have on the overall exhibition, but I hope that if someone stumbles upon one of the titles I have chosen they might find some nugget of interest.

Another interesting dimension of the museum that I got to engage with was the museum’s two ‘Prep Rooms’, in which upcoming and potential exhibitions are worked on, realized on a small scale, and made transparent to the public. Open Excess looked at bibliographies, forewords, and prefaces as significant texts in the context of Singapore’s art history, of which T.K. Sabapathy is the central figure. While it is difficult to summarise the exhibition because it is rather composite and experimental, in essence Kenneth had gathered the art historian’s books and arranged them to simulate a library experience, where curiosity often leads us upon chance encounters. The shelves, however, were severed from touch by transparent glass panels, which was both a security feature and something that fitted his intentions. I made suggestions to ‘open up’ the space in various ways and activate it as a site of exploration, but even though Kenneth was sympathetic there were other practical issues to account for.

Nevertheless, I felt lucky to have been given the opportunity to engage in these discussions with Kenneth. Given the historical backlog and continuous nature of his programmes, it was very generous of him to attempt to translate what he did to me. On a related note on meaning transfer, it must be difficult to juggle contemporary curatorial practice with the needs of a public that might not have entirely inherited this ‘way of seeing’. In fact, if we want to go all the way back, the exhibition format had its origins in the Great Exhibition of 1851 and was a highly imperialistic venture. Contemporary attempts to de-colonialise the medium are theory-laden and heavy with the struggles of history, which sometimes means that museums are engaged with more as symbols of cultural knowledge than as an active social tool and means of communication. As I continue my education abroad, I hope to dig deeper into how concepts of Art are configured in our country, and see how I can meaningfully contribute in the coming years.

I would like to thank Kenneth for always being receptive to my thoughts even though I was often a disruptive and confused presence. He and Michelle were concerned about my learning and development as an intern – when I was feeling anxious about what I wanted to do in the future, Kenneth actually took time out from his insane schedule to share, straightforwardly and honestly, the joys and trials of being a curator working in his particular contexts. Indeed, there are intellectual, mediatory, and practical elements to the job, and it is anything but easy, requiring not just theoretical rigour, creativity, and logistical aptitude, but, even more demandingly, an acceptance of permanent ambivalence. It’s conceding the vulnerability of meaning-making while at once being responsible for it and having faith in it, and it’s not a job for the weak-willed or easily exhausted.

I would also like like to thank Emma, Jeanette, Yee Ting, Jia Yi, Derong, Chen Wei, and Austin, my fellow interns, for filling my days with happiness (and sometimes delirium). I am immensely grateful that I was able to meet and fall in love with these funny, kind, intelligent, borderline-neurotic people through the internship.

We probably had too much fun – I missed them so much when they were done with their internships!

The NUS museum’s unique institutional contexts/constraints, importance in providing an alternative narrative to Singapore’s history, concern with taking up its own past (“There are too many episodes of people coming in here…”) and interest in speculation about the future (Debbie Ding’s The Library of Pulau Saigon), all make it a really interesting and valuable museum. I can’t be more grateful to have played a small part in an organization made up of down-to-earth, capable, and committed people toiling daily to create sound programmes and expand their reach.

Walking Tour | Asian Modernity: The Past in the Present | People's Park Complex

People’s Park Complex in 1988. Image courtesy of Dr Johannes Widodo

Date: Friday, 27 November & Saturday, 5 December 2015 (Repeat Session)
Time: 9.30am - 12.30pm
Tour fee: $16 (for NUS students), $25 (for NUS staff and general public) Limited to 16 pax.
*Details on directions and meeting point will be sent after payment is made.

Please click here to view the eflyer.

Please register at

People’s Park Complex is one of the most important modern Asian architectural heritage in Singapore. With this field lecture and walk around this iconic building and its urban context, we will try to uncover the hidden “gene” and the spirit of the place of Chinatown’s morphology and modern typology.

Held in conjunction with the exhibition Sheltered: Documents for Home, this walking tour is an extension of the exhibition’s research interest in Singapore’s urban history and housing.

For information on the exhibition Sheltered: Documents for Home, please click here.

Tour Leader
Dr Johannes Widodo
 is an Associate Professor, the Director of the Tun Tan Cheng Lock Centre for Asian Architectural and Urban Heritage in Melaka (Malaysia), and Executive Editor of JSEAA (Journal of Southeast Asian Architecture) of the Department of Architecture, National University of Singapore. His research areas include Architecture History, Typology & Morphology, and Heritage Management.

He is the founder of mAAN (modern Asian Architecture Network) and iNTA (International Network of Tropical Architecture). He has been serving as a jury member for UNESCO Asia Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation, member of ICOMOS International Scientific Committee and Shared Heritage Committee, founding member and director of ICOMOS National Committee of Singapore, and associate member of the Asian Academy for Heritage Management. He is also a founding member and director of DoCoMoMo Macau. He serves as advisory board member of the Preservation of Sites and Monuments, National Heritage Board of Singapore.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Panel Discussion | "The Only Way Is Up"

Date: Friday, 6 November 2015
Time: 7 - 8.30pm
Venue: National Library Building, Level 1, Visitors' Briefing Room.
100 Victoria Street, Singapore 188064

Free admission with registration at

Accompanying the off-site component of the exhibition Sheltered: Documents for Home at the National Libray Building’s Lee Kong Chian Reference Collection, this session brings together a panel of scholars and practitioners to discuss some of the peculiar implications of Singapore’s urban landscape where the only way, it seems, is up. The accelerating efforts of the Housing and Development Board (HDB) to accommodate everyone and everything into its high-rise public housing schemes had been dubbed a vertical success. Yet such a verticality has also generated, along with it, a whole complex of unanticipated movements, such as a speculated correlation to the frequency of “highrise leap” (suicides) in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

This session is grounded by discussions of the respective projects by Debbie Loo (“Passages Home”) and The Saturday Projects (“The house behind”) developed for the exhibition as attempts to trace these (errant) movements.

For information on the exhibition at the National Library Building, please click here.

About the speakers
Prof. Jane M. Jacobs is Head of Urban Studies and Director of the Division of Social Sciences at the Yale-NUS College. She researches, publishes and teaches in the fields of urban studies, postcolonial studies and qualitative urban methods. Her most recent book is the co-authored Buildings must die: a perverse view of architecture (MIT Press, 2014).

Debbie Loo is currently a doctoral candidate at Department of Architecture, NUS. An architect by training and a flâneur by instinct, she developed the project Passages Home in response to her encounters with a vacating Pearls Centre building.

The Saturday Projects (Felicia Lin, Jolene Lee, Wong Zihao) pursue work beyond the normative output of architecture. They investigate the narrative potentials of the built environment, with particular interest in familiar landscapes with unstable, unfinished or unwritten expositions.

About the moderator
Dr Lilian Chee obtained her doctorate from University College London and is Assistant Professor at Department of Architecture, NUS. She has curated several architectural and art exhibitions including SUPERGARDEN for the Singapore Pavilion at the 11th Venice Architectural Biennale. She conceptualized the architectural essay film 03-FLATS (2014) which formed the initial impetus for Sheltered.

[Image credit: Passages Home, Debbie Loo; postcard inserted into Public Housing in Singapore: social aspects & the elderly]

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Call for Internship Applications - Dec 2015

The NUS Museum Internship Programme

The NUS Museum Internship Programme aims to engage students by providing them with opportunities to advance their research interests and to add on to the existing scholarly material on regional art and culture. Through this programme, we aim to build a rapport with you and encourage your interests in the arts and heritage. By working as part of our team, many learning opportunities will be available, enabling you to gain greater insight into the workings and resources within the NUS Museum.

Application Timeline

20 October 2015
Open call for application.

8 November 2015
Deadline for submission of applications. Please return a copy of the attached internship application form with a copy of your CV and a recent essay/writing sample via email to with the subject header “NUS Museum Internship Programme”. Applications received after this date will not be considered.

Please download a copy of the form at this link: 

12-13 November 2015
Shortlisted applicants will be contacted for the arrangement of internship interviews.

We regret that applicants who were not selected will not be notified.

16-20 November 2015
Internship interviews will take place during this period.

Please note that interviews for Position 4: Baba House Outreach will take place from 26-30 November 2015.

1 December 2015
Shortlisted applicants will be informed of the results of the interviews.

Internship Positions Available

1.    South & Southeast Asian Collection Curatorial Intern

This internship requires the intern to work with the curator of the South & Southeast Asian collection to (1) research on specific styles and concerns overarching general art practice in history to current period; (2) identify concurrent periods in history and Malaysian art/cultural development. With the accumulation of the above research, the intern will also assist in the development of data management methods eg. artist kits, timelines and tagging based subject, issue and material. The intern also has the option to work on identifying digital library methods and platforms, methods in managing existing database of digital copies of texts and models of generating more texts to add into a digital library platform.

  • Keen interest in Southeast Asian, particularly Malaysian, art and history
  • Proficiency in Malay (written and oral communication) an advantage but not a requirement (please provide a written sample if applicable)
  • Interest in information management
  • Good attitude towards research work
  • Meticulous with a keen attention for details
  • Able to work independently and collaboratively

Positions Available: 1


2.    Archaeology Ceramics Research Intern

This internship requires the interns to participate in developing a bibliography of glazed ceramics production in Myanmar and the economic and political history of Lower Myanmar.

Following this internship, there is a potential for selected interns to extend the internship from Jan-Sept 2016, to participate in a new exhibition project on archaeological ceramics from Twante, Myanmar and a study trip to Twante in May 2016 to document the collection of the sherds. The extended internship will also involve research and writing for the exhibition.

  • Interest in the history of Myanmar with a focus on pottery production centres in Lower Myanmar
  • Interest in the study of archaeological ceramic sherds as a way to explore the social, cultural, economic and political histories of the region
  • Good attitude towards research work
  • Meticulous with a keen attention for details
  • Able to work independently and collaboratively

Positions Available: 2


3.    Museum Outreach Intern

This internship requires the intern to work with the Museum Outreach team in conceptualising and executing the Museum’s programmes for 2016. These programmes may include talks, seminars and film screenings. The intern will also work on developing publicity content for online and offline platforms. The intern should be prepared to work during the Museum’s evening and Saturday programmes.

  • Meticulous with a keen attention for details
  • Good organizational and time-management skills
  • Pleasant, out-going personality
  • Proficiency in design software an advantage but not a requirement (please submit a design portfolio if applicable)

Positions Available: 1


4.    Baba House Outreach Intern

This internship requires the intern to assist in the development of public programmes for the NUS Baba House exhibition, Discover –Uncover–Recover: Studies at 157 Neil Road. This public programme series aims to delve into the history and development of the neighbourhood from a nutmeg plantation to what it is today, and unlock the potential of the NUS Baba House to engage with the disciplines of urban development and technical conservation of built heritage. The intern will also assist in house operations and develop content for offline and online platforms. The intern should be prepared to work during the Baba House’s evening and Saturday programmes.

  • Keen interest in land development, conservation, urban history and Peranakan culture
  • Good attitude towards research work
  • Meticulous with a keen attention for details
  • Able to work independently and collaboratively
  • Suitable for second-year students and above

Positions Available: 1

Exhibition | Sheltered @ National Library Building

[Gallery impression, Sheltered @ National Library Building, Lee Kong Chian Reference Library, 2015]

Date: 2 October - 28 December 2015
Time: 10am - 9pm daily

Venue: National Library Building, Lee Kong Chian Reference Library, Level 11

Developed as an off-site component to the main exhibition, Sheltered: Documents for Home at NUS Museum, this presentation features a selection of publications and literature from the National Library Board's (NLB) Lee Kong Chian Reference Collection. Assembled together with these publications are also a sampling of the research projects currently on show at NUS. In particular, this features an extension of Debbie Loo's "Passages Home" and Dr Lilian Chee's series of architecture line drawings. Set against a panoramic survey of Singapore's landscape is also a provisional timeline of Singapore's history with public housing. Together, these elements offer various points of entry into the exhibition project as a whole.

Supported by NLB, this presentation will also be accompanied by talks and discussions held between October and December 2015.


Saturday, 17 October 2015

Grounded Conversations | A Tour with Debbie Ding

Date: Saturday, 24 October 2015
Time: 2.30 - 4pm
Venue: NUS Museum


CLICK TO ACCESS FACEBOOK EVENT Free admission with registration at

Held in conjunction with the project The Library of Pulau Saigon, NUS Museum presents an artist talk with Debbie Ding, as part of the Grounded Conversations series. As a point of entry into the project, the artist will lead a virtual walking tour of her personal collection of 3D models of virtual trash bags and litter picked up in-world within Second Life. This conversation will pick up on an aspect of the artist’s practice as one concerned with resurrecting meaning from waste and remains.

About the artist
Debbie Ding (b. 1984) is a Singaporean visual artist and writer based in London. She facilitates the Singapore Psychogeographical Society, which is devoted to promoting a better understanding of the world through ludic adventures, independent research, digital documentation, and data/archival activism.

About the Grounded Conversations series
Presenting a series of distinct projects on how art practitioners have begun to adopt comprehensive paradigms in their fieldwork methods traditionally associated with anthropological and historical research, Grounded Conversations brings together practitioners from the contemporary art world to unravel this ‘anthropological turn’.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Book Launch | Baroda: A Cosmopolitan Provenance in Transition

Date: 14 October 2015, Wednesday
Time: 5.15pm
Venue: ST Lee Atrium, NUS Museum
To register:


5.15pm - 6pm [Introductions]
Welcome address by Madhvi Subrahmanian
Making of the Book with Editor Priya Maholay-Jaradi

6pm - 7pm [Panel Discussion]

Provincial Locations and a Cosmopolitan Asian Art, moderated by Ahmad Mashadi (Head, NUS Museum)

with Dr Gauri Krishnan (Director, India Heritage Centre),
Savita Apte (Director, Independent Art Historian),
Tan Boon Hui (Asst. CE, Museums & Programmes, National Heritage Board and Incoming Vice President Global Arts and Cultural Programmes & Director, Asia Society Museum, NY),
Farah Wardani (Resource Centre, National Gallery Singapore) and
Siddharta Perez (Assistant Curator, NUS Museum)

7pm - 8pm [Book launch]
Keynote address by Prof Vineeta Sinha (Head, South Asian
Studies Programme, NUS)
Closing address by Prof Prasenjit Duara (Raffles Professor of Humanities, NUS & Director of Asia Research Institute)

An oft-asked question in auction rooms and art galleries is: What is the provenance of this artwork? Where does it come from? Baroda: A Cosmopolitan Provenance in Transition establishes Baroda as a “centre” for art production; a place from where a wide range of visual arts originate.

Join us as we celebrate the Singapore launch of the publication! The accompanying panel discussion on occasion of the launch aims to move beyond the “Baroda/India” story to emphasize how several such seemingly non-metropolitan centres have an important bearing on the making of an Asian art. Directors of Asian museums, biennales and art fairs alongside academics specializing in Asian studies are invited to locate this work in a larger Asian context and offer ideas for new research on provincial Asias.

About the Editor
Priya Maholay-Jaradi, former Curator at the Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore, is an independent art historian. She has an MA in Art History from SOAS, London and a PhD from NUS. She has initiated a post-doctoral project, Asian Collection Studies at the IIAS, Leiden and authored books on paintings and photographs of the Parsis and Parsi Portraits from the Studio of Raja Ravi Varma. Fashioning a National Art: Baroda's Royal Collection and Crafts (1875-1924) is forthcoming with Oxford University Press, New Delhi.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern | Austin Chia

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! 


Austin Chia is a Secondary 4 student studying at Raffles Institution. He joined the NUS Museum for three weeks in September 2015 as part of RI's annual Gap Semester programme. Austin was attached to the Curatorial team, assisting in research for upcoming projects, the installation of Sheltered: Documents For Home at NUS Museum and at the National Library Board. In this blog post, Austin shares his experiences about his time with us.

“An eye-opening experience in the 16 years of my life”. This is how I would describe my 3-week long curatorial internship at the NUS museum. During these 3 short weeks, I have experienced and learnt not only about the life of a curator but also gained a broad view of the general workings of the museum.

When I first joined as an intern under Kenneth, I was under the impression that the curator is merely a conductor, one who arranges all the artworks to form a collective performance revolving around a theme, but I was soon to be proven wrong. Under Kenneth, I learnt about the various types of curators (those with a collection and those without a collection) before I was sent to examine and compare the differences between the curatorial practices of the NUS Museum and Singapore Art Museum. Through this exercise, I learnt about the curatorial practices of NUS Museum and SAM (choosing a theme, placement of descriptions and arrangements of works) and grew to appreciate the curator’s effort behind every show, most aptly shown by Kenneth’s mantra, which has been lodged into my brain, “every detail in a show has a purpose”. I also learnt how to appreciate a show rather than only the artworks within it, an enlightenment, albeit quite late, that has and will continue to enhance my appreciation of art exhibitions.

This photo depicts some of Ng Eng Teng’s sculptures and I like these sculptures as they are able to capture the state of mind of people with minimal body parts.

After learning about the curatorial practice of setting up an exhibition, it was time to apply what I had learned. I had the good fortune to experience setting up a show in NLB. While I must confess that at times some of the tasks were drudgery (transcribing an article and manual chores), they were also meaningful as not only was I able to assist Kenneth with the limited skills and knowledge I had but I also gained an insight into the not-so-fanciful-aspects of being a curator.  Along the way, Kenneth also gave me a lot of tips on planning the arrangement of the show such as using perspective to lead the viewers to the show and the use of contrast to attract attention. From the learning to the application, I learnt that the curator is not only a conductor but also one who imbues the artworks with more relevance and significance to the audience, just like multiple bridges that connect the public to the artworks.

Setting up the exhibition at the National Library.

The use of perspective to direct visitors to the exhibits is employed here through the placement of the bookshelves. The difference between the colours of the exhibit bookshelves (white) and the NLB bookshelves (grey) helps to create a contrast that emphasizes the exhibits to the visitors.

While bridges are important to the public, an island is equally important to the public, without which, bridges are useless. I learned about the process of acquiring artworks through a quick chat with Siang, another curator working at the Museum. Works in NUS Museum are acquired through loans or donations and Siang told me that rather than knocking on the doors of art studios to ask for donations, they would rather make friends with artists or collectors and let them donate when they feel like. Personally, I feel that this is an exemplary method to acquire works as the donors may donate more generously and willingly while the circle of friends of the NUS Museum expands.

Expanding too would be my circle of friends, apart from admiring and steeping myself into the huge collection of works and the various shows in the museum, I also had the opportunity to make many new friends who share common interests with me. First, the people at the museum: Peter, Philip and Jonathan, all of whom taught me about the maintenance of the museum and showed me the various nooks and crannies of the museum (for example, the staff pantry). 

This photo depicts a machine that measures the temperature and the pH in the museum, with it the caretakers would be able to check if the environment is conducive for the artworks. Hence, the works are kept in their best conditions. 

Second, the people at the office: Siang, Sidd, Michelle (thank you for giving me this opportunity), Trina, Flora, Greg, Francis, Ahmad, JJ, Devi and Donald, both of whom showed me how they maintained and recorded incoming works. Third, the people at the NUS Baba House, Su Ling, Poonam and Fadhly, who gave me a warm welcome when I came for the tour. 

Donald and I checking the conditions of incoming loans.

Last but not least, Venessa my good friend who brought me lots of laughter and Kenneth my mentor who dedicated extra time and effort to teach me about the curatorial practice. Thank you all for having me, a sixteen-year-old still trying to figure out what he wants to do in the future, as your intern and friend!

To end of my blog, I would like to quote the terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger: “I’ll be back”.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Foundations Series | S.P.U.R at 50: a reunion

Date: 7 October 2015, Wednesday 
Time: 7.00pm – 9.00pm
Venue: ST Lee Atrium, NUS Museum


For the ten years of its existence from 1965 to 1975, the Singapore Planning and Urban Research Group was a formidable think-tank comprising the island's most notable architects and planners, and later on, sociologists and other allied experts. The key objective of the group was to collectively study the problems, principles and practices of planning as they affected space-planning and architecture in post-Independence Singapore. They convened talks, forums, exhibitions, published their findings and engaged the government and public in dialogues. In their 50th year, NUS Museum invites its key members back for a reunion and a discussion about their work.

About the Foundations Series
Held in conjunction with the exhibition Between Here and Nanyang: Marco Hsu’s Brief History of Malayan Art, the Foundations Series is conceived to contextualise art and artistic practices against the backdrop of nation building and independence in the period of the merger ofSingapore and Malaya.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern | Leong Yee Ting

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!  


Leong Yee Ting is an alumni of Raffles Junior College and will be entering Oxford University this Fall as a History student. She joined the NUS Museum in July 2015, assisting in NUS Museum and NUS Baba House Outreach events, including research for the Baba House Conservation Project. In this blog post, Yee Ting shares her experiences assisting in various aspects of the NUS Museum and the NUS Baba House.

My experience over the past two months has been a mixed one in many ways – I was attached to both the NUS Museum and Baba House teams; I did research, administrative, warden, photography and housekeeping tasks. Hence, I dabbled in the curatorial, outreach and logistical aspects of running a museum. Overall, I am thankful for the invaluable and well-rounded exposure I have gained.

As an Outreach Intern at the NUS Museum, I performed warden duties and helped out at film screenings and the Istana Art Event. It was always a pleasure to see people absorbing and responding to the museum’s collections or programmes. Before this internship, a huge question that I had was how to make heritage and the arts relatable to ordinary Singaporeans, because I believe they have the potential to hold more meaning for our society. I don’t think I am confident of fully answering this question yet, but I have learnt a lot from how the NUS Museum positions itself to reach out to students and academics. The exhibitions here have a fair amount of text, and are curated to be intellectually challenging, at a level more suited to the educated. The outreach team also collaborates with professors keen to bring their students around and actively publicises events on campus. To reach out to non-NUS students who might be interested in art, they try to establish link-ups with other schools and hire interns such as myself.

I brought the same questions with me to the Baba House. Personally, my first encounter with it was a magical one. I was intrigued by the ornate and beautiful furniture, the grand and solemn ancestral altar, the mysterious and searching portraits of the Peranakans who had lived here. Even simple, inconspicuous, everyday items were dated back to the 1920s, such as a pail, shampoo bottle or National Geographic magazine. Like a fairy tale, it transported me to another time and place, yet enough of it remained familiar to me, for it to feel intimate and relatable.

Coming back to the questions of accessibility, perhaps the greatest difference between the Baba House and the NUS Museum is that the former is an artefact in and of itself, whereas the artefacts in the latter are behind glass display cases. Hence, the Peranakan heritage that the Baba House embodies is more accessible to visitors, since their experience here is more immersive, as opposed to the mental leaps needed to appreciate the art at the museum. Nevertheless, a regrettable observation I made was that most of our tour-goers were Caucasian tourists, despite the fact that the Baba House has much to offer the Singaporean. Its Peranakan blend of Chinese, Malay and European elements is a microcosm of the diversity of backgrounds that Singaporeans come from. It reminds us that such diversity is a reality we must accept, given our geographical location at the crossroads of many important routes, past and present.

At the Baba House, my job scope was more varied. Other than the research I helped to do for the new conservation gallery, I also did simple tasks like washing dishes, opening and closing windows, turning on and off the fans and lights, and answering tour-related emails. These gave me deeper insights into the maintenance of a heritage house. For instance, I initially thought that opening of window panels was as simple as opening all the window panels for maximum ventilation and leaving them that way. However, Fadhly later taught me how to open them in a way that best maximises ventilation for the artefacts and the safety of visitors walking around, and minimises damage done to the other furniture pieces should there be a breeze. He said that he had achieved this formula through trial-and-error over time. I was impressed by the amount of thought dedicated to performing a simple task well.

During one of the events, a visitor had remarked to me that the Baba House seemed palpably more run-down with faded colours and murals compared to its immediate post-restoration appearance six years ago. She expressed concern for the future upkeep of the house, given that this is not cheap. I also noticed that repainting works were going on during my stay there. Cleaning and pest control take place twice a week and once a month respectively. All these drove home the point that conservation is a continuous process, rather than a static end-goal.

Part of the reason why my work was so random and miscellaneous, I think, was due to the challenges of running a not-for-profit organisation like the Baba House. Due to our tight budget, there is sometimes more types and quantity of work to handle than the staff can manage. Often times, my supervisors were too busy themselves to set me tasks to do. Furthermore, given the temporary nature of my stint there, it was difficult for me to help them with anything really meaningful.

Another valuable feature of this internship was the reading sessions. The recommended readings provided a good overview of local art and curation, and interesting ideas for us to interact with, especially for someone with no background in art history like me. Although I could only attend two sessions, I enjoyed the discussions with fellow interns, curators and outreach supervisors. In our final session, we tried to define the elusive and amorphous term of “curation”. To do so, we asked ourselves questions such as “How is curation being taught in universities? Can it be taught?”, “What is the job scope of a curator?”, “What makes one exhibition more well-curated than another?” I liked that this was intellectually challenging, and deepened my understanding of the industry and its workings.

Having reached the end of this internship, I am very thankful for this opportunity. I am particularly grateful to my supervisors (Fadhly, Michelle, Poonam, Su Ling and Trina) for their kindness and patience towards me, as well as my fellow interns (Chenwei, Derong, Emma, Jeanette, Jiayi and Venessa) for their warm and bubbly company.

Caption: A candid moment where I am equal parts amused and perplexed at what the other interns are doing.

It was on one unremarkable day that Jiayi turned to me in the office to share her serendipitous and exciting discovery that the back of our $50 dollar note featured artworks by two of the big four names in local art – Drying Salted Fish by Cheong Soo Pieng and Gibbons Fetching the Moon from the Water by Chen Wen Hsi. 
Caption: The image on the top right is the painting “Drying Salted Fish”, whereas the one to its bottom left is “Gibbons Fetching the Moon from the Water”. A quick Google search revealed that the musical instruments on the far left are a kompang, veena, violin and pipa. These were chosen as they represent the different cultures in Singapore.

This felt like a quiet triumph to me. After all this while reading and learning about local art, whose potential seemed underestimated, here was an affirmation that art actually means something to us as a nation. Looking back on this internship, I am not sure that I have done very much to advance this perspective; I was definitely not indispensable in the tasks that I took on. Nevertheless, I feel privileged to have had the chance to see more and learn more, and I am sure that this will equip me to do more in future.