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Curators inform tales by their reveals, Arts News & Top Stories

Being a curator is “being a storyteller”, says Singapore Philatelic Museum curator Mishelle Lim, 37.

She is amongst a small however tireless group of curators behind the burgeoning museum scene in Singapore, who places collectively exhibitions – from the blockbuster 19th-century artwork showcase Century Of Light at National Gallery Singapore to the Singapore Philatelic Museum’s quirky little shows on stamps and popular culture.

From museum-hopping across the globe to climbing ladders and calling an undertaker, no day is identical for these keepers of heritage and artwork.

The Straits Times speaks to 4 curators behind ongoing exhibitions to search out out what life is like behind the scenes on the museum.

To be a curator, you have to make associates

Mishelle Lim, 37

Singapore Philatelic Museum

Ms Mishelle Lim says an essential a part of her job as a curator on the Singapore Philatelic Museum is to win the belief of individuals in order that they may mortgage their objects to the museum for exhibitions. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, KELVIN CHNG

It shouldn’t be straightforward making tiny items of paper stand out in an exhibition, however that is what Ms Lim has been doing for 11 years.

The Singapore Philatelic Museum curator is understood for shaping vibrant, interactive exhibitions, typically drawing on popular culture, that illustrate the intricate worlds of every stamp assortment.

“Stamps are small and flat,” says Ms Lim. “They’re not an enormous Ming vase or a three,000-year-old mummy. They’re straightforward to ignore.

“You cannot just display rows of stamps and tell people they’re great. You have to use stamps to tell a story.”

In June final yr, she wrapped up the Harry Potter-themed exhibition Collecting Magic: From Stamps To Wands, which featured memorabilia from the wildly well-liked wizarding collection and drew greater than 83,000 guests.

Her newest exhibition, Anime X Stamps, brings collectively greater than 900 anime-themed stamps and philatelic supplies, supplemented by collectibles resembling collectible figurines from pirate anime One Piece, uncommon authentic manufacturing paintings from Hayao Miyazaki’s movie My Neighbour Totoro (1988) and an digital guitar that performs the Doraemon theme music.


  • WHERE: Singapore Philatelic Museum, 23-B Coleman Street

    WHEN: Till April 15, 10am to 7pm every day

    ADMISSION: Free for Singaporeans and everlasting residents; for foreigners: $eight for adults and $6 for youngsters between three and 12 years outdated


A former Land Transport Authority buyer relations officer, she studied economics on the National University of Singapore, however fashioned an curiosity within the heritage trade after taking artwork electives.

She stored making use of for jobs at museums, getting fourth time fortunate with the philatelic museum.

She herself has been gathering stamps since she was 9, with a group within the hundreds.

As the curator of a small area of interest museum, she faces an uphill process of drawing guests.

“People have pre-conceived notions about us,” she says. “The frequent response is, ‘I am not a stamp collector, why ought to I come?’ or ‘Stamps are dying as a result of no person writes letters any extra.’

“But stamps are windows to the world. As long as you are interested in good stories, you can visit us.”

She tries to make every exhibition – there are round two a yr – as interactive as doable.

This ranges from bringing in a wig with pretend lice for an exhibition on Shakespeare stamps, to the Harry Potter exhibition, for which she labored with Nanyang Polytechnic college students to make portraits come alive and let guests “cast spells” at a display utilizing radio frequency know-how.

“Museums in the past were very static, a textbook-on-the-wall approach,” says Ms Lim, who is single.

“Nowadays, you can access information in two seconds on your phone. When people go to the museum, they want an in-person experience. They want to be able to absorb information not just with their eyes, but also with their bodies.”

She is engaged on an exhibition about youngsters’s e-book The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, which can open later this yr.

While most individuals would possibly suppose curation is firstly about gathering objects, she disagrees.

“It’s about getting people to trust you enough that they are willing to loan you items that are like their babies. You’ve got to make friends,” she says.

Collector of recollections

Nalina Gopal, 34

Indian Heritage Centre

Ms Nalina Gopal helped the Indian Heritage Centre build up a collection of everyday items by persuading local families to donate things such as hats, baskets and saris.
Ms Nalina Gopal helped the Indian Heritage Centre construct up a group of on a regular basis objects by persuading native households to donate issues resembling hats, baskets and saris. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

What might look like home detritus in a family might at some point be valuable artefacts in a museum, says Ms Gopal, curator on the Indian Heritage Centre.

In the everlasting assortment she has helped construct up for the heritage centre are on a regular basis objects she has persuaded native households to donate. Hats, baskets and saris that have been disintegrating in storage now gleam, restored to their full glory, in show instances.

“We collect memories,” she says.

As the curator of one in every of Singapore’s youngest museums – the Indian Heritage Centre opened in 2015 – she needed to ask many donors to take a leap of religion and promise their heirlooms to a museum that was, on the time, an empty plot of land.

As an immigrant from India, Ms Gopal says she feels a way of reference to the tales of these who got here earlier than her, albeit underneath higher hardships.

Born in Chennai, she studied historical past on the University of Madras, moved to Singapore in 2008 and is now a everlasting resident.


  • WHERE: Indian Heritage Centre, 5 Campbell Lane

    WHEN: Till June 30; 10am to 7pm (Tuesdays to Thursdays), 10am to 8pm (Fridays and Saturdays), 10am to 4pm (Sundays and public holidays), closed on Mondays

    ADMISSION: Free for Singaporeans, everlasting residents and all youngsters aged six and under. For foreigners, $6 for adults, $four for seniors, college students and individuals with disabilities


Her great-grandfather deciphered inscriptions on temple partitions and he or she has inherited his style for the historic.

Ms Gopal, who beforehand labored at living-history museum DakshinaChitra close to Chennai, says she was drawn to the Indian Heritage Centre due to its uncommon standing as a diaspora museum that focuses on the tales of the migrant neighborhood.

The switch of tradition happens in additional than simply the fabric, she says.

The most up-to-date exhibition she has curated is Symbols And Scripts: The Language Of Craft, which traces how scripts and symbols in handcrafted objects replicate the tradition that made them.

Part of the exhibition includes 14 visitor craftsmen from throughout India, who take turns showing on the exhibition at fortnightly intervals to display their vanishing trades – from leather-based shadowpuppet making to scroll portray.

Also within the exhibition is the oldest object displayed within the museum thus far: a three,000BC Indus Valley sq. seal depicting a unicorn.

Ms Gopal, who is single, says she remains to be partly in disbelief that the centre was in a position to get the National Museum of India to mortgage it the seal, together with two others courting again to 2,700BC. She has obtained envious messages from associates from India, who have not had the possibility to see it themselves.

“I am myself a member of the diaspora,” she says.

“To be able to tell the story of this diaspora, to connect people with their culture in a way that is rarely done, is a rare opportunity. I love doing it.”

Curating looks like making a film

Tan Huism, 52

National Library Board

Ms Tan Huism has curated about 20 exhibitions with institutions including the Asian Civilisations Museum and National Library Board.
Ms Tan Huism has curated about 20 exhibitions with establishments together with the Asian Civilisations Museum and National Library Board. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

In her greater than 20 years as a curator, Ms Tan has performed a variety of unusual issues, though the time she needed to order a coffin in all probability takes the cake.

When she was placing collectively the Peranakan Museum’s part on funeral rites, she needed to name undertakers for a coffin as a result of the superstitious contractor refused to do it.

Unfortunately, the coffin proved too large for the outlet within the exhibition and he or she ended up getting fabricators to sculpt a foam coffin as an alternative.

She has curated about 20 exhibitions with establishments together with the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) and National Library Board (NLB), the place she is the National Library’s deputy director of content material and companies.

“It’s like you’re producing a movie where you are also the director, the screenwriter, the casting director and the costume and set designer,” she says of her job. “All so you can engage with the audience and tell a compelling story.”

The Singaporean who was raised in Brunei, was tasked, as a younger lady, to take household company to the Brunei museum, which piqued her curiosity in exhibitions.


  • WHERE: Level 10 Gallery, National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street

    WHEN: Till Feb 25, 10am to 9pm every day; closed at 5pm on the eve of Chinese New Year, closed on public holidays



She moved to Singapore when she was 18 and majored in sociology on the National University of Singapore.

After graduating, she landed a job as a tv researcher, however gave it up after three months to hitch the National Museum within the early 1990s, taking a 20 per cent pay minimize.

Her associates have been perplexed at her determination to surrender an “exciting career in the media” for the quiet museum scene, which she joined even earlier than the National Heritage Board got here into existence in 1993.

Ms Tan, who is married with no youngsters, went on to spend 18 years with ACM and 5 years with NLB, placing collectively exhibitions starting from Islamic calligraphy to the NLB’s ongoing Tales Of The Malay World: Manuscripts And Early Books, which brings collectively uncommon, historic Malay manuscripts from collections across the world.

She has travelled by rural Malaysia documenting village pottery and slept underneath the celebs in western Turkey whereas on a visit to fee carpets.

Curation, she says, goes past the mere number of objects. “You have to imagine how they react to other objects in space. It’s not just a supermarket display. Placement can make or break the story.”

One of the hardest exhibitions she helmed was Serenity In Stone: The Qingzhou Discovery in 2009, which featured Sixth-century Buddhist figures from Qingzhou, China.

Its centrepieces have been some 3m-high stone stelae, which arrived in components weighing half a tonne every and needed to be stacked onsite by hand-cranked pulleys as a result of the gallery couldn’t admit a lifting machine. Ms Tan, “sweating like crazy” from nerves, oversaw the operation underneath the tense gaze of museum representatives from China.

While most exhibitions take just a few years to place collectively, she as soon as spent 10 years negotiating with Turkish museums to convey the treasures of the Ottoman Sultans to the ACM for the primary time.

She moved to NLB 5 years in the past, drawn partially by the brand new alternatives to interact with guests – opening up its uncommon assortment of 15,000 books and artefacts, as an example.

“At the library, we encourage you to come and use the collection. You can’t do that in the museum.”

Her targets embrace the continued digitisation of the library’s sources, to make them accessible to the general public.

“Learning should not stop after you leave the library,” she provides.

When the job will get tough and soiled

Clarissa Chikiamco, 34

National Gallery Singapore

Ms Clarissa Chikiamco once had to clean stinking styrofoam boxes from a market to use in an art exhibition.
Ms Clarissa Chikiamco as soon as needed to clear stinking styrofoam containers from a market to make use of in an artwork exhibition. PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Ms Chikiamco was crammed with concern and awe when she encountered legendary Filipino artist Juan Luna’s work for the primary time.

She was on a main college area journey to the National Museum of Fine Arts in Manila, when she noticed the 1884 masterpiece Spoliarium, depicting defeated gladiators being dragged from the world.

Fast-forward some a long time and he or she has found herself placing collectively one of many largest retrospectives on Luna, as a part of National Gallery Singapore’s blockbuster exhibition Between Worlds.

The exhibition, which is a part of 19th-century artwork showcase Century Of Light and likewise options Indonesian artist Raden Saleh, opened in November and runs till March.

“This has been quite a journey,” says Ms Chikiamco, who spent 4 years getting ready for the exhibition.

She travelled to 10 museums in nations such because the United States and Spain, together with the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, the place she bought emotional laying eyes for the primary time on Cleopatra, the work that received Luna his first main prize in Europe in 1881 and which has not often been seen in public till now.


  • WHERE: Singtel Special Exhibition Gallery, City Hall Wing, Level three National Gallery Singapore, 1 St Andrew’s Road

    WHEN: Till March 11, 10am to 7pm (Saturdays to Thursdays), 10am to 9pm (Fridays)

    ADMISSION: $15 for Singaporeans and everlasting residents, $10 for concession-holders; $25 for non-Singaporeans, $20 for concession-holders; free for youths aged six and youthful


She additionally combed by archival supplies on Luna’s life, a lot of which have been in Spanish.

“He was so incredibly famous that the volume of material on him was quite overwhelming. Our translation budget was limited so I think we scratched only the surface.”

Ms Chikiamco, who grew up within the Philippines, took the street much less travelled when she joined the second cohort of the Ateneo de Manila University’s artwork administration diploma course, which had simply 4 individuals. She additionally has a grasp’s diploma from the University of Melbourne in artwork curatorship.

She went on to work at museums such because the Metropolitan Museum of Manila and the Ateneo Art Gallery, adopted by a stint as an impartial curator. In 2012, she moved to Singapore on an employment cross to hitch National Gallery Singapore.

The singleton says the lifetime of an artwork curator shouldn’t be all globetrotting glamour and ingesting wine at exhibition openings.

She has had her fingers soiled, resembling when she needed to clear stinking styrofoam containers that had been used to retailer greens or pig heads on the Gwangju moist market in Seoul, as a part of an artwork residency.

She had determined to pay homage to the market through the use of the containers as a part of the artwork exhibition.

“Being a curator is such a rare profession that I always get asked about it in airports or by taxi drivers,” she says.

“It can be difficult, but it’s incredibly rewarding.”

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