Museum of National Identity

By Michelle Kuek, who works in Outreach at the NUS Museum where she is actively involved in facilitating a vibrant museum culture on campus among students as well as exploring collaborations and opportunities between NUS Museum and the broader NUS Community.

History of NUS Musuem

Established in 1955 before Singapore’s independence as the University Art Museum at the then University of Malaya, NUS Museum may be regarded as a prototypical museum institution whose historical trajectory has mirrored significant periods in the history of Singapore and the University in its search to reflect Malayan or national identity within the context of its geography and inter-cultural encounters.

The NUS Museum is situated amidst serene surroundings at Kent Ridge Crescent with walking tracks, upscale Singapore hotels and popular birdwatching sites nearby. The museum itself includes collections of ceramics, paintings, calligraphy, jade and bronzes which exposes visitors to a deeper understanding of China. Illuminating display of South and Southeast Asian art pieces complement the most comprehensive collection of works by Singapore’s foremost sculptor, Ng Eng Teng.

The Collections

The Museum’s collection was introduced by our first curator, Michael Sullivan, as a teaching collection for the University. However, since 1955, contingent on the development of Singapore, the University and curatorial directions, the Museum and its collection underwent a series of changes. They were divided, transferred, recalled, integrated and separated, amalgamated with other collections, before eventually being expanded into its current form. The most significant event was the separation of Singapore from Malaysia in 1965 which saw the collection being divided across national lines.

Today, the Museum’s collection gathers together over 7000 artefacts and artworks divided across four collections.

1. The Lee Kong Chian Collection consists of a wide representation of Chinese materials that includes jades, ceramics and classical paintings, and in recent times, has expanded to reflect the complexity of modern and contemporary Chinese culture.

2. The South and Southeast Asian Collection, whose seed collection came from the University of Malaya Art Museum, includes Indian classical sculptures and miniatures, Southeast Asian ceramics, textiles and modern art. The collection has since expanded to include artworks by contemporary Southeast Asian artists.

3. The Ng Eng Teng Collection is a donation of over 1000 artworks from the late Singaporean sculptor and Cultural Medallion recipient. The late Ng Eng Teng was one of Singapore’s most important artists connecting the pioneering generation of artists to later contemporary artists. His generous donation represents the most comprehensive collection of works by a single artist in Singapore.

4. The Straits Chinese Collection is developed as part of the interpretative display for NUS’ Baba House at 157 Neil Road. The collection consists of furniture, ceramic wares, portraits, costumes, decorative objects and domestic paraphernalia, and is used as a resource for research and critical scholarship into Straits Chinese culture.

Our Practice

With a diverse collection ranging from classical Chinese and Indian materials to modern and contemporary Southeast Asian art, the Museum remains an integral part of the National University of Singapore. Its four major permanent collections and curatorial practices makes it a comprehensive resource for teaching and research, furthering NUS’ mission to transform the way people think and work through education, research and service.

The Museum also strives to be at the forefront of ideas, where dialogues between academic fields must occur to sharpen and create ideas. Linking various disciplines and material culture through display and discourse, the Museum facilitates interdisciplinary engagement. We seek to work with not only partners from within the University but also from the global knowledge community to expose fresh perspectives and facilitate research beyond campus. Initiatives taken include inviting artists, curators and researchers for exhibitions and talks, partnerships with international research centres and universities for exhibitions, and participation in international conferences. The Museum also has a thriving internship and work attachment programme where we provide students of various disciplines an experiential learning environment to prepare them for their future step into the museum and heritage industry.

As a university museum and a historically significant collection that intertwines with Singapore history, NUS Museum has evolved into a site of encounters where the academic and public realms intersect with one another; our role is no longer one of institutional authority but also to facilitate aesthetic and intellectual experiences that are heterogeneous and productive.

Join Us

We are always happy to welcome new docents, interns, volunteers and donations.
If you would like to be part of the NUS Museum, you can reach us at the following:

T: 6516 8428

Museum Opening Hours
10 am – 7:30pm (Tuesdays – Saturdays)
10 am – 6 pm (Sundays)
Closed on Mondays and Public Holidays

University Cultural Centre
50 Kent Ridge Crescent, National University of Singapore
Singapore 119279

Ongoing Exhibitions

The Sufi and the Bearded Man

The Sufi and the Bearded Man: Remembering a Keramat in Contemporary Singapore features a keramat of a nineteenth-century Sufi traveler, Siti Maryam, from the Middle East. This shrine was situated at Stadium Link, Kallang and has since been exhumed in 2010. Two years before, upon receiving word of the shrine’s impending closure, a project team consisting of Teren Sevea, Nurul Huda B.A. Rashid and Shabbir Hussain Mustafa was formed to collaborate with Wak Ali Janggut, an intermediary of the Sufi and the custodian of the mausoleum. These conversations culminated in the keramat and its life-worlds entering the Museum, a transition animated by the display of photographic evidence, material remains of artefacts, anecdotal histories and related documents. By considering and using alternative ways to recount and understand heritage, this exhibition calls attention to devotional culture, lesser-heard narratives and esotericism in Singapore.

This exhibition is also part of NUS Museum’s Paper-to-Gallery series, a platform which encourages faculty, students and overseas researchers to work alongside our curators to present their research findings in a visually enriching format and with an emphasis on the development of curatorial methodologies.

Sculpting Life: The Ng Eng Teng Collection

On the Top Floor of the Museum, a permanent space has been dedicated to the display of works from the Ng Eng Teng Collection. Sculpting Life is an exhibition that is motivated by a number of interests. Firstly, to assemble a body of works that represent salient themes and conceptual perspectives of the artist and in doing so, to highlight continuities and transformations, as well as strategies developed by Ng Eng Teng at different times of his practice. Secondly, by adopting an ‘archival approach’ of display, which includes a display of his maquettes, drawings, and paintings, this exhibition hopes to encourage and facilitate a range of readings to highlight the significance and interpretative possibilities of the collection as a scholarly or curatorial resource. To further this endeavour, a workspace filled with archival documentation of Ng Eng Teng and his artworks have been carved from within the gallery to facilitate research.