My Art Work: Nurul Kaiyisah My Art Work: Nurul Kaiyisah

My Art Work: Nurul Kaiyisah
Bringing Art Closer to Communities

  • 29 Apr 2022

Art was her minor subject in university, but Nurul Kaiyisah (Kai) made it her career upon graduation. In 2020, she joined SAM to discover the richness of contemporary art that caught her attention during trips to the museum for her art history class. As part of SAM’s Educations and Programmes team, Kai organises artist talks, school tours and youth programmes to make art more accessible to people from all ages and walks of life.

In this on-going series of interviews with SAM staff, Kai gives us a glimpse into what it takes to engage youths with contemporary art and how it is beneficial – even if you are not an art student.

You’ve developed a youth programme called SAM Starter Pack, where young people can have a genuine conversation with artists about their art practice, the art scene in Singapore. Why do you think it is important for SAM to engage the youth?

Kai: Youths today want to make change and unlearn societal norms that exclude some groups, and art can capture and express such progressive ideals. By holding a space for youths to get acquainted with contemporary art, we create an opportunity for them to discuss issues that they are passionate about and discover the power of art to bring these topics to the fore.

Also, most youths are digital natives and well exposed to global cultures and ideas, so they are good at making connections between the concept of an artwork and global concerns like climate change and inequality. I believe they can spur conversations about art that is refreshingly different from the esoteric ‘art speak’.

Kai and the artist Zai Tang.
Kai (left) and the artist Zai Tang (right) at a SAM Starter Pack: From Audio to Art session.

A great example is that in some museums overseas, youths have been at the core of running ‘drop-in’ programmes to provide support for other young people in diverse communities. These include stimulating conversations about art and its intersection with class, race and sexuality. The youths not only discuss the issues at hand but are also able to see how art can be a vehicle of change.

How do you tailor programmes for youths and offer different experiences of the same artwork to visitors of different ages?

Kai: Each age group has their own set of interests and expectations on what they intend to learn when visiting our exhibitions. In the process of crafting our programmes, we will usually look at the concept of the artwork and explore potential points of engagement for different age groups. For example, we often select artworks that will open up discussions about topics that are of interest to the youths. We believe that building upon the knowledge that they already have will make the process of understanding art easier for them.

Kai during the filming of the Project Happiness video.
Kai during the filming of the Project Happiness video for World Mental Health Day.

I’m not an art student. How will I benefit from interacting with art?

Kai: I think forging a personal relationship with art makes you understand yourself better. I've learnt a lot from my stint at SAM and interacting with many creatives who talk about their personal relationships with art. Many of these creatives have several other commitments to attend to and yet, still carve out time for their art practice, since it helps them be more in tune with themselves. Art offers the opportunity for anyone to explore themselves in a reflexive manner, whether through art-making or interpreting an artwork. Every experience with art teaches us to be more humane too!

Tell me more about you and art...

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I cannot work without a cup of kopi peng.

Dear Rohani Ismail, I always wanted to ask you on how your friendship with Georgette Chen influenced your art-making process?

A portrait of Rohani painted by Georgette Chen.
Rohani (1963) by Georgette Chen.

Gift of the artist’s estate. Collection of National Gallery Singapore.

One misconception about an art museum is that it is boring–you literally cannot be further than the action!

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