NUS Museum has received the University Museums and Collections (UMAC) Award from the International Council of Museums for prep-room, an exploration of curatorial methods and audience engagement.

The award, which recognises the most significant innovation or practice that has proved successful in a university museum or collection, was received by the Head of NUS Museum, Mr Ahmad Mashadi, in Milan on 6 July at the 24th International Council of Museums General Conference.

prep-room began in 2011 as an open gallery where curators employed archival materials to present content, curatorial experiments and design ideas, inviting visitors to observe the exhibition-making process, engage with content, and potentially begin a long-term interest in the project.

The inaugural prep-room was inspired by an interest in Raffles Lighthouse located at Pulau Satumu (Singapore). There, visitors could access how curators and collaborators spent eight months sourcing, categorizing and visually mapping archival materials ranging from 15th century cartographic maps to 19th century governmental declarations. This prep-room developed into a long-term collaboration with Singaporean artist Charles Lim Yi Yong, which resulted in three exhibitions.

A total of ten projects have been incubated as prep-rooms at the Museum since.

“In the prep-room, internships, mentorships and encounters bridge knowledges, disciplines, experiences, and even sensibilities in the hope of producing something surprising. Creating diverse sites of learning and means of accessing the processes of exhibition-making, the prep-room is an effort toward dispelling traditional understandings and practices of museum engagement,” says Ahmad Mashadi, Head of NUS Museum.

Two projects are currently incubated as prep-rooms – OPEN EXCESS and CONCRETE ISLAND. The former probes the immense book donation in 2014 by eminent art historian TK Sabapathy. Members of the public are invited to contribute to a writing project on Southeast Asian art history, one of Sabapathy’s key research interests. The prep-room for CONCRETE ISLAND, a project considering the metaphor of Singapore as a ‘concrete island’, has led to the development of multiple programmes, exhibitions as well as a publication reader.

Left: Entrance to prep-room. Right: Materials displayed in prep-room which curators and collaborators explored for Raffles Light.