Dr Heidi Tan
In 1996 I became a founding member of the curatorial team at the Asian Civilisations Museum, one of Singapore’s national museums that was launched in 1997. I worked for almost two decades on the development of the collections which included Chinese and Southeast Asian ceramics, Peranakan or Straits Chinese materials, and Southeast Asian objects ranging from Hindu and Buddhist sculpture to textiles, contemporary printmaking, and the performing arts. As principal curator, I was responsible for leading the development of permanent galleries, conceptualising special exhibitions, and publishing new research conducted in Southeast Asia. The latter included a new programme of exhibitions curated in collaboration with regional museums including: Viet Nam. From Myth to Modernity (2008), Sumatra: Isle of Gold (2010), and Enlightened Ways. The Many Streams of Buddhist Art in Thailand (2012). More recently I contributed to Cities and Kings. Ancient Treasures from Myanmar (2016).
My doctoral research at SOAS explored the phenomena of curating and collecting in the Buddhist pagoda museums of Myanmar. Fieldwork conducted over the period 2015–16 used comparative museology to analyse forms of local curating, ritual practices, and processes of museumisation located within sacred space, during a time of great social change in Myanmar.
Curatorial practice-based research informs my contributions to teaching within the department where I have since 2015 taught museology courses including: Curating Cultures, Collecting and Curating Buddhist Art in the Museum, and Curating Global Arts.
My research interests span museums and museology, curating and collecting, and exhibiting Buddhist art in Southeast Asia, where I also continue to work with community and professional curators. I am currently working on two projects: a survey of Burmese collections with a focus on religious objects and approaches to collecting during the colonial period (1824-1948); and a project in collaboration with the SOAS Digital Archive titled: "Meritorious Curating. Pagoda Museums in Myanmar" which aims to make documentation of pagoda museum collections publicly accessible for further research and teaching.