The National Heritage Board (NHB) is at the forefront of
promoting greater awareness of Singapore’s heritage.
Two NHB scholars tell us how they believe in studying
our history to preserve the memories of our nation for
generations to come.
NHB is the custodian of Singapore’s
heritage and its vision, 'Pride in our
Past, Legacy for our Future' serves as
the watchword for preserving the rich tapestries
that are Singapore’s heritage so that present
and future generations may all learn from them
and build a better future for our nation.
The NHB Scholarship will allow passionate
individuals, who wish to aid in this noble cause,
the chance to achieve their full potential and
play a significant role in shaping Singapore’s
cultural legacy. Two NHB Scholars, Kathleen
Ditzig and Rachel Eng, tell us about their
respective scholarship journeys and how they
hope to contribute to Singapore’s burgeoning
Masters in Curatorial Studies,
Bard College, US
Bachelor of Art History
(Minor in Asian Humanities),
Magna Cum Laude, University of California, US
"Significant developments in history or culture have rarely come about because of the genius of a singular individual ... it’s key for us to understand how culture continues to be upheld and sustained by the community"
WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE NHB
Kathleen Ditzig: I’ve always loved talking
about art and its social and political context.
At the University of California, I had a
wonderful mentor who guided my research into
contemporary Chinese art and I was able to
see how contemporary art practices are often
indebted to historical traditions or legacies.
I believe that cultural policy is a form of metaart
curation and the NHB scholarship provides
me with the opportunity to put that knowledge
to good use. NHB is also quite a diverse
organisation – it does critical historical work,
advancing local culture and implementing
building programmes that holistically
develop the arts and heritage scene, and
I want to help NHB in all these areas.
Rachel Eng: My parents are very
interested in the arts and introduced
me to movies and books about
military history as a child. I also
looked forward to school trips
to museums and I realised
I wanted a career related
to history. The NHB
scholarship offered me the
opportunity to get involved
in Singapore’s historical and cultural scene
– essentially my dream job! Furthermore,
the experience that NHB has in running the
country’s museums and its work in the heritage
sector is unparalleled.
Tell us about some of the high points of your scholarship journey.
Kathleen: Working at the National Museum of
Singapore was a highlight for me – I had lengthy
discussions with some fantastic historians on
historical events and their representation. I’ve
also met many social historians whose work
I’ve been admiring for quite some time.
In addition, the Center for Curatorial Studies
at Bard College (where I’m reading my Masters
in Curatorial Studies) offers a practice-based
programme, which means that you are
expected to take on public projects and produce
professional content for a savvy and critical
cultural scene. I am very proud of a particular
project I developed with a Singaporean artist
and Canadian curator, the research platform
offshoreart.co which studies how offshore
structures have influenced cultural practices
around the world.
Rachel: One of the most memorable (and
certainly the most difficult) experiences was the
second interview during my NHB scholarship
application. At first, it was nerve-wracking
to face interviewers who are also industry
veterans, but thankfully they put me at ease
and I was able to expound at length on various
history and heritage affairs – both of which
I’m very passionate about. I’ve since learnt
that it is important to embrace any challenge
wholeheartedly, as there will always be hurdles
in life to cross and you might as well have fun
with the experience.
Rachel Eng Kai Lin
Bachelor in Arts (History),
University College London, UK
How do you see yourself contributing to the arts in the future?
Kathleen: I really believe that the sustainability
of the arts in Singapore will depend on how it is
historically, socially and globally integrated into
Singaporean society. Art is not just something
to gawk at and be in awe of – it has to resonate
with people and we should ask ourselves the
fundamental question of what it means to
experience art in our society today. I also want
to build programmes that will convey the issues
that matter to us Singaporeans to audiences all
over the world and help them understand what
it means to be a Singaporean.
Rachel: I would like to bring the arts to a wider
audience! A lot of Singaporeans are ambivalent
about our heritage and history, preferring
instead to focus on the future. I think it’s equally
important to reflect on the past and understand
how we’ve come to this point in our history, as
well as acknowledge the common threads that
tie us together. I hope to generate more public
conversation about the shared identity that our
history and common experiences have given us
What advice do you have for aspiring NHB scholars?
Kathleen: Significant developments in history
or culture have rarely come about because of
the genius of a singular individual. I’ve certainly
not figured it out and I don’t think anyone can
ever say that, but nevertheless I do feel that it’s
key for us to understand how culture continues
to be upheld and sustained by the community
if we want to achieve cultural work of value in
Singapore or around the world – this can only
come about if you focus on the work of building
the foundation of your practice at NHB.
Rachel: Know why you want to pursue your
goals. The humanities are great because they
allow you to do what you’re passionate about,
and I think that passion is something that really
is embedded in the framework of NHB. The
most important thing is to be fascinated by
what you want to do, as an NHB scholarship
isn’t only about finishing your degree, but also
taking on the role that comes after that – make
sure you’re applying for that as well!