By Jo Ann Dumlao
Not even in my wildest dreams did I ever think that one day I would be one of the Sister Guides at the National Gallery Singapore. But in a blink of an eye, it happened.
The National Gallery Singapore (NGS) is a modern art museum in Singapore that has the largest public collection of Southeast Asian Art in the world. The Sister Guides program is a collaboration between the NGS and HOME (the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics). In the program several volunteers are trained as mentors to lead gallery tours for our fellow migrant workers – in our home language. For me, that is in Filipino (Philippines), other languages in the program are Burmese ( Myanmar) and Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesia). There are 2 HOME volunteer mentors in each team. The great thing about this program is: there is free admission for migrant workers, and it includes refreshments after the tour!
There are several objectives for NGS and HOME to collaborate in this program, and with these, they hope to develop meaningful engagement of migrant domestic workers in their community.
- Develop a deeper understanding of the migrant domestic worker community In Singapore and their connection with the Gallery.
- Reduce access barriers for the migrant domestic worker community – become an inclusive museum.
- Pilot a self-empowerment/self advocacy model of engagement with a community of need.
- Pilot a strategy to reduce the linguistic barrier faced.
- Explore meaningful programmatic connections between the Gallery Children’s Biennale and the Gallery permanent exhibitions.
The tours took place on 2 Sundays in November, with different time slots for each language. To make the program successful, we invited participants by giving-out Sister Guides flyers and posting on social media.
Each group made a journey to six different artworks from the Children’s Biennale and UOB Southeast Asian Gallery. In line with the theme of the tour “Embracing Hidden Stories,” we explored hidden and untold stories through looking at artworks from Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar.
Under the guidance of the Sister Guides, participants thoroughly studied the artworks. The participants then willingly and excitedly shared their thoughts and opinions at the Q&A part of the tour. It was a delight to see how focused and interested they were! The selected artworks are connected to our lives as migrant workers, and they also speak about women, other minorities or indigenous people, about democracy and history. For me, yes, I definitely have this emotional connection to the artworks.
The feedback of the participants was great: they had fun, they gained knowledge about art and generally found the experience heart-warming and overwhelming. The most asked question afterwards was: “when is the next tour program of NGS? I will come again!” Everyone had an enjoyable experience – very different from what they thought was going to be “a boring art gallery experience.”
To us mentors, what challenged and excited us was that we did not know most of the participants, we met them only during the day of the tour. But gladly we were able to mingle and get to know the participants. Afterwards, all of the Sister Guides happily and willingly signed the volunteer form to make us officially part of the “Best Friends of Gallery “ team.
I want to say a big Thank You to the NGS for giving us – my fellow tour guides and myself this amazing opportunity. My heart is full; to see the Artworks of Juan Luna was a dream come true. He is not just an artist but also a National Hero in the Philippines. We are both from the province of Ilocos Norte.
There is no Right or Wrong in Arts, just enjoy what you are seeing and experiencing!