13 September 2018
Rubber played a key role in Singapore's prosperity during the 20th century, as we were the supplier of skilled labour and capital for the global trade industry. More specifically, as illustrated through Madhvi Subrahmanian's Ode to the Unknown, it was the combination of Chinese ceramic technology and Indian knowledge that enabled Singapore to gain success as a harvester, processor and exporter of the material.
This exhibition of latex cups is a permanent collection at Singapore's Indian Heritage Centre (IHC) and as Dr Gauri Krishnan explained, these craft objects are a repository of rich information. Their composition, form, aesthetic and use provide us insight into history and culture, and is a way of knowing that is different from simply reading texts.
As an art historian and museum specialist who had developed the Asian Civilisation Museum's South Asian Galleries and was IHC's first Centre Director, Dr Krishnan was the recipient of LASALLE's inaugural McNally School of Fine Arts Scholars Residency Programme. Hosted by the MA Asian Art Histories programme, the residency aims to further discourse about practice-based research amongst scholars and critics in the region, as well as promote intellectual diversity in the college.
To demonstrate the practicalities of curating, working with communities, and documenting intangible cultural heritage, Dr Krishnan thus took MA Asian Art Histories students on a tour of IHC and Singapore's heritage precinct, Little India. Such off-site visits, where learning is taken outside of LASALLE for better contextualisation, is a hallmark of the postgraduate programme.
LASALLE plays a pivotal role in connecting the arts, media, historical and curatorial practices with institutions and the wider art market in Asia. Such opportunities for industry professionals and students to converse builds greater synergy within the arts and cultural industry.
As shared by student Ivy Lam, an Arts Education Manager at the National Arts Council, who coordinates learning experiences between schools and local museums: "While the study of art history is pivotal to understanding the culture and narrative of a country, this content can only be disseminated or made sense of when partners in the ecosystem - artists, academics, donors, policy makers, institutions - work together."
She further added, "Dr Krishnan's incorporation of film and virtual reality into curation is very much in-sync with Singapore's push for digitalisation. Historical content may be retrospective, but the medium and technology available to us are contemporary. As artists, curators and educators, we should present art and history in a manner that is accessible and engaging."
Beyond shaping people's understanding about art histories, LASALLE's MA Asian Art Histories programme is also committed to critically building existing bodies of knowledge. Dr Krishnan's residency therefore also included an examination of research methods, further introducing to students approaches that are not traditionally used in art histories, such as oral histories and cultural heritage. Through this fruitful review, students were able to tighten the methodologies of their research projects and better articulate their arguments.
Such attention was well-received, as noted by student Lourdes Samson: "The small class-size ensured that the quality of the discussion is at a very high level and can be made even more in-depth depending on each student's area of interest."
Dr Krishnan herself valued the interactions she had with students and was heartened to have had the opportunity to learn about what concerned today's aspiring art historians and curators. When asked to reflect on her residency, she said: "LASALLE plays a pivotal role in connecting the arts, media, historical and curatorial practices with institutions and the wider art market in Asia. Such opportunities for industry professionals and students to converse builds greater synergy within the arts and cultural industry."