In conversation with: Elaine Cheong on her learning journey


18 August 2017

The MA Asian Art Histories is the first MA programme in a tertiary institution worldwide to focus on Asian modern and contemporary art. The programme offers students a unique and varied learning experience that goes beyond the classroom. It provides students with opportunities to develop their research and professional practice as well as expand their networks through local and overseas study trips.

Recent graduate Elaine Cheong shares her learning journey with us.

Tell us a little about yourself.
I am Elaine Cheong, born and bred in Singapore. I lived in London where I studied and later worked in IT. I also lived in New York City with my then young family of two children. It was in New York where I soaked up the vibrancy of the arts scene and it got me increasingly drawn to museums and galleries. I have since retired from my role as an IT professional and having an empty nest, I decided to immerse myself in the arts, an area which was not an available option to me in my younger days. Hence LASALLE!

What made you choose LASALLE over other graduate schools?
I like that the MA Asian Art Histories Programme is focused on the art histories of the region and that makes it unique. It is more relatable to me as I grew up in Singapore which is part of South East Asia. In the end, the art histories of the region are no less intriguing than Western art histories and the stories need to be told. I feel it has a lot to offer in bringing forth a better understanding of the socio-political issues of the countries in the region that in turn influenced the art. The narration takes the form of peeling away many layers in the works and not a straight-up account of history which makes it very intriguing.

How did the environment at LASALLE support your learning?
The lecturers come from many different countries and backgrounds bringing about a diversity of perspectives, making the learning very enlightening for me. My classmates come from Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Turkey, USA, Philippines; some are global citizens and again contributed to the melting pot of ideas. These and the constant bombardment of exhibitions, talks and overseas trips provided me with a very holistic learning environment.

What is one of the major highlights of the MA Asian Art Histories Programme?
For me it was the end-of-year class trip to Shanghai coinciding with the Shanghai Biennale. Apart from the exposure to great art it provided a platform to know my classmates better, taking relationships beyond the tenure of the course.



Has your time with LASALLE given you a specific edge or advantage in your current area of work?
As I am at a different life stage from many of my classmates – I am in my 60s and retired – the postgraduate qualification is not a leg up career-wise. However the journey in the one and a half years of the course has so many takeaways that will stay with me for life, that will go beyond just the title of Masters in Asian Art Histories.

It has enabled me to look at the world from many more new angles and helped me be a more critical thinker. It has directly benefited my volunteer work as a docent in the NHB Museums since 1998 and more recently at the National Gallery. In this role I am constantly challenging myself to delve deeper into both history and art. The course helped me bring both together, and I can help visitors see the stories behind the paint on the canvas.

Share with us a memorable experience in your time at LASALLE
There is no ‘big’ momentous event that comes to mind. Rather I cherish the more meaningful ‘smaller’ moments that will always bring on a smile for me. The cheeky deluge of Whatsapp messages during class; the slightest excuse for the wine and endless snacks that find their way into class; the copious cups of coffee we take turns to buy each other during class break; and the outpourings of empathy for the personal situations of certain classmates.



Any advice for those who are considering to enrol into the MA Asian Art Histories Programme?
The course is rigorous and demanding both in terms of time spent and the uncompromising standards demanded by the school. That makes it all the more worth pursuing as it has opened doors for me – into new ways of looking, new conversations, new friends. The positives are inexhaustible. It helped me look at things (not only art) from a critical angle, and an ever-inquiring mind makes for a better quality life.

LASALLE is an inclusive place. It does not discriminate against the ‘babies’ (20 somethings) nor the ‘oldies’ (50s and beyond!) It only demands that you be passionate about learning. I have many friends seeking my advice on the course but are hesitant to commit because of the demands of their work. What I say to them is, let the burning desire and love for art, and for learning, drive you and the rest will fall into place. Let not the paper qualification be your primary motivation. The rewards beyond the formal qualification are immeasurable, and life-changing!