Monday, 8 February 2016

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Lai Wei Xuan

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! 


Lai Wei Xuan is currently a JC2 student at Nanyang Junior College. She joined the NUS Museum for two weeks as part of Nanyang Junior College's Work Attachment Programme. Wei Xuan was attached to the Collections & Curatorial teams, assisting in administrative work for upcoming projects. In this blogpost, Wei Xuan reflects on her time with us.

“Short but meaningful”. This phrase sums up my 2-week long internship at the NUS Museum. These two short weeks really opened up my initial perspectives of art, as well as satisfied my curiosity of the behind-the-scenes actions going on in a museum.

My initial perception of how a museum runs was for curators to work on a theme which they are assigned to, and from there set up exhibitions. However, I soon came to realise that administrative work is an integral part of running a museum. One of the first tasks that I was assigned by Greg, AD for Admin & Ops, was to key in acquisition numbers of the museum’s artworks so that the museum’s art collections can be made available online for people to view. That was when I realised that even the curators themselves have to do this tedious administrative work, which forms the not so glamorous job scope of a curator.

Doing administrative work is part and parcel of the job of both a curator and an intern.

I was very lucky to have Austin, my intern-mate, to show me around the museum, and to give me a mini guided tour on the Ng Eng Teng collection, a collection he was assigned to research. His detailed explanations of the various sculptures of Ng Eng Teng really broadened the way I view artworks. With a broadened and more open mind, I was able to better appreciate the beauty of the intricate brush strokes of Chinese paintings and detailed designs of Chinese ceramics from the Lee Kong Chian Art Collection, which reflected the various flourishes in each dynasty.

My personal favourite will be Sun Kai’s, Landscape. His intricate and detailed brush strokes painted a realistic picture of olden China in the late 19th century.

I was also tasked by my mentor, Siang, Curator of the Lee Kong Chian Collection, to create powerpoint slides for the Vietnam War collection, which will be shown in the exhibition in early January next year. As there is limited space to display the hundreds of Vietnam War paintings and propaganda posters, the only solution is to showcase the works through powerpoint slides which will be played on TV monitors at the exhibition. Visitors will then be exposed to more artworks created during the War, and learn about the soldiers and common people’s lives during the war, which are portrayed  vividly through the artists’ works.

Creating PowerPoint slides for the artworks by inserting pictures of artworks and its descriptions.

The visit to the Baba House was a highlight of my internship. The tour guides were so passionate about the Peranakan culture that they explained the significance of almost every nook and cranny of the house and answered visitors’ questions with excitement. I, too, found myself with a huge takeaway from the tour as my understanding of Peranakan culture have definitely deepened. Who would have known that the slightest detail of a piece of furniture of the Peranakans will have a symbolic meaning behind it?

Lantern at the front yard of the Baba House which has the family’s name.

Although it was only for 2 short weeks, not only have I gained new-found knowledge, but also met people with such strong passion for the arts that I have gained respect for them. Never would I thought that I would have a chance to work with curators who tirelessly work on planning exhibitions, and making sure their interns have a better understanding and broader perspectives for the arts. Firstly, I would like to thank Michelle and Trina for giving me this opportunity to intern at the museum. (Thank you Michelle for the short but detailed tour you gave me!)

Secondly I would like to thank the staff at the office: Sidd, Greg, Kenneth, JJ, Francis, Donald for being nice and patient to a young intern and exposing me to the behind-the- scenes action going on in a museum's office.

Thirdly, a big thank you to Siang, my mentor, for being ever so patient with me even when I made mistakes.

Last but not least, thank you Austin, for being a good friend, making my internship even more enjoyable, showing me around the campus, broadening my perspectives for the arts with your strong passion, and deepening my understanding of boy-school culture. (Thank you for the cake treat!) 

Friday, 5 February 2016

Exhibition | CONCRETE ISLAND prep-room

[Gallery Impression, CONCRETE ISLAND prep-room]

Date: 2 February 2016 - June 2016
Venue: NX3, NUS Museum

Taking as its points of departure J.G. Ballard’s novel Concrete Island (1974) and Tan Pin Pin’s film 80km/h (2004), this project features works and documents guided by the metaphor of Singapore as a “concrete island”. It proposes to think of this city as less a built environment, than a condition of movement, exchange, and intensities. The project disperses into several formats all at once: a prep-room exhibition space; a publication reader; an experimental readingprogramme; a bus tour along the Pan Island Expressway; a mobile cinema programme. This prep-room space at the NUS Museum functions as a site for the ongoing accumulation of materials generated out of this project.  

Current contributors to the project include Luca Lum, Tan Pin Pin, Tse Hao Guang, Jason Wee, Geraldine Kang, Fiona Tan, Ho Rui An, Anca Rujoiu, Amanda Lee Koe, Kathleen Ditzig, Liao Jiekai, Vanessa Ban, Lai Chee Kien, and Kent Chan. 

Saturday, 16 January 2016

CONCRETE ISLAND | Bus Tour with Lai Chee Kien

CONCRETE ISLAND takes as its points of departure J.G. Ballard’s novel of the same title and Tan Pin Pin’s 2003 film 80km/h. Rather than a cartographical record of Singapore, the project maps Singapore as a landscape of varying intensities, speed and rhythms. Using the term ‘concrete island’ as a guiding metaphor, this project by the NUS Museum encompasses an exhibition space, a publication reader, a reading workshop, a mobile cinema programme, and a bus tour.

Conducted by Dr Lai Chee Kien, the bus tour begins at Changi Airport, traversing the horizons of Singapore along the Pan Island Expressway, addressing Singapore’s urban history and its movements through a tourist’s moving image of Singapore.

[Image credit: Still from Tan Pin Pin’s film 80km/h, image courtesy of artist.]


Date: 23 January 2016
Time: 4pm-6pm

* Meeting details will be emailed to participants when registration is confirmed. The bus will depart Changi at 4pm sharp.

** Participants can choose to end the tour at the National Library Building, or Golden Mile Complex.

**Please note that photography and videography may take place throughout this event for possible usage in print magazines, digital platforms or for marketing purposes.

This CONCRETE ISLAND Bus Tour is part of Singapore Art Week (16 – 24 January 2016). An initiative by the National Arts Council, in partnership with the Singapore Tourism Board and Singapore Economic Development Board, Singapore Art Week reinforces Singapore’s position as Asia’s leading arts destination. It is a nine-day celebration of the visual arts, held at many venues across Singapore, including museums, art precincts and non-profit spaces.

Reaching out to both Singapore residents and international visitors, Singapore Art Week offers a myriad of quality art experiences, from art fairs, gallery openings, exhibitions, lifestyle events and public art walks, to enriching discussions on art and culture. Covering the visual arts beyond contemporary practices, including modern and traditional visual forms, Singapore Art Week also aims to galvanise the arts sector to launch innovative art and lifestyle concepts and events in conjunction with it. For more information, please visit

Friday, 15 January 2016

Talk | "Who wants to remember a war?" In Conversation with Dato' N. Parameswaran

Date: 22 January 2016
Time: 7pm-8.30pm
Venue: NUS Museum

Free admission with registration at

Join us for a collector's talk with Dato’ Parameswaran, as we hear about how he began collecting prints and drawings from the Vietnam War period, and the stories behind the artists and works. This talk is organized in conjunction with the NUS Museum current exhibition, Vietnam 1954 – 1975: War Drawings and Posters From The Ambassador Dato’ N. Parameswaran Collection which features posters, woodcuts and drawings from the French phase of the Indochina war of resistance against the Americans, and drawings and sketches of life and people at the frontlines.

For more information on the exhibition, please click here.

[Image Credit: Huy Toan, Welcome the Liberation Army of Ho Chi Minh City, 1975, Gouache and lacquer on thick paper, 32 x 53 cm]

Saturday, 2 January 2016

CONCRETE ISLAND | "Through the crash barrier" Reading Programme

"Through the crash barrier" is a 12-week reading programme and literary experiment led by the idea of drift/derive through J.G. Ballard's novel Concrete Island. Beginning first with a close reading of the opening chapter, it aims to accelerate through Ballard's novel by half, reading only a selection of 12 out of 24 chapters. The proposition here is to pace out the reading of Ballard's novel by half

h the end of every session marked by participants deciding on which chapter to read and discuss next. Through a combination of close readings, reading aloud sessions, and reading excursions unfolding across Singapore, this programme is an attempt to put Ballard's novels under a variety of pressures: to explore the space of literature, the acts of reading, and the rhythms of readings set against the (algo)rhythms of the city.

Ballard's Concrete Island tells the tale of a speeding protaganist who finds himself ejected out of the London highways, and marooned onto a traffic island. There he is forced to survive out of what is left in his car and what little else is available on the island. Facilitated by Luca Lum and Kenneth Tay, "Through the crash barrier" is a component of the project CONCRETE ISLAND organised by the NUS Museum.

For more information and to apply, check out -
Applications close on 17 January 2016

[Image credit: Geraldine Kang]

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.