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Custodians of Our Heritage

Mon, 01/19/2015 Koh Wanzi
Custodians of Our Heritage National Heritage Board (NHB) scholars play a key role in preserving Singapore’s culture and heritage. Tasked with the responsibility of representing contemporary artists and preserving historically significant sites and emblems of culture, NHB scholars get to live out their passion in the arts, culture and history.

Custodians of Our Heritage

Many associate scholarships with office jobs in the ministries or statutory boards, where scholars take on a behind-the-scenes role in policy planning or the crafting of strategic visions. They are unaware of the sheer diversity of careers offered by various scholarship providers.

National Heritage Board (NHB) scholars Naomi Wang and Ian Tan are testament to the fact that scholars can work out in the field as well. In venturing away from conventional careers, they chose to pursue a path steeped in heritage and history and work to preserve and promote Singapore’s culture. And with opportunities to liaise with artists and go on-site to assess the historical significance of local architecture and cultural landmarks, they have a literal hand in preserving the integrity of our heritage and ensuring that the local arts scene continues to thrive.

“We champion the vision and work of contemporary artists and simultaneously act as intermediaries between artists and the institution.” – NHB Scholar Naomi Wang
Working Among Works of Art

Naomi champions the exceptional opportunities offered by the NHB Scholarship. She says, “The NHB Scholarship is unique because it supports further studies in specialised fields such as Art History, Museum Studies and even conservation work.” And for one whose keen interest in Art History was kindled in Junior College by her exposure to the subject, it’s no wonder that she gravitated towards a scholarship that aims to develop individuals like herself to contribute to the local art scene.

Now an Assistant Curator with NHB, Naomi is part of a team of contemporary art curators. She works closely with artists and other industry professionals such as designers, architects, fabricators and conservators to conceptualise and realise contemporary art projects. She shares, “Some of our projects include the Singapore Biennale 2013: If the World Changed, Visual Culture: Urban Peels and Visual Culture: Folk Songs from Mekong. In addition, I’ve worked on exhibition-in-print publications and File Not Found, a curatorial initiative part of Nouvelle Vague at Palais de Tokyo, Paris.

“We champion the vision and work of contemporary artists and simultaneously act as intermediaries between artists and the institution. Last year, I travelled to a remote town in the North of Yangon, Myanmar. This was a 200-year-old village bordering the Rakhine state, where we documented the Thuye’dan Village Art Project – a five-year running art project by Myanmar contemporary artist Aung Ko.”

Preserving Our Heritage

On Ian’s end, the NHB Scholarship enabled him to contribute to the celebration of Singapore’s architectural heritage. As an Assistant Manager in the Impact Assessment and Mitigation Division, Ian works with government agencies to document and preserve the tangible and intangible heritage of Singapore.

He explains, “Tangible heritage includes physical buildings and structures while intangible heritage refers to things like culture and food, best epitomised by Singapore’s hawker food culture. The job merges my two favourite interests – history and architecture. I strive to find innovative ways to share this passion and knowledge with the community.

“On a typical day, I assess the heritage significance of historical sites and structures and work closely with other public agencies, community groups and individuals on developmental and commemorative issues.”

Ian has also studied the historical bridges along the Singapore River, and how their construction correlates with the development of Singapore as a global trading port. He shares with us a fun fact, “Cavanaugh Bridge, which is made from wrought iron, is one of only two bridges in the world designed with a rigid cable-stayed structure!”
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