Susie Lingham to leave SAM

SAM director Susie Lingham’s last day at the museum is March 31.
SAM director Susie Lingham’s last day at the museum is March 31. ST FILE PHOTO

Dr Susie Lingham steps down as museum director to pursue personal projects

The Singapore Art Museum (SAM) director Dr Susie Lingham is leaving the institution after more than two years at the helm.

Dr Lingham, 50, whose last day with the museum is March 31, will step down to pursue personal projects as an artist, writer, educator and curator.

The search for a new director will commence soon. In the interim, the museum's senior curators Joyce Toh and Tan Siuli will take over as co-heads of the museum's curatorial team. The museum's chief executive Leng Tshua, as well as senior staff, will continue to oversee the museum's administration.

The museum, however, is in discussion with Dr Lingham about her role in the Singapore Biennale, a major art exhibition that it is organising and will run from Oct 28 next year to Feb 26, 2017. She has played a key role in developing the curatorial model and foundation for the upcoming Biennale.

Dr Lingham said her time as director has been an "amazing experience" and it allowed her "to set the course for SAM's new mandate as the contemporary art museum of Singapore".

She added that it has also been "a great honour to have been given this opportunity to help set SAM on its course towards its brilliant and inspirational future".

Members of the arts scene whom The Straits Times spoke to said that while they are sad Dr Lingham is leaving the institution, they are hopeful she will continue to be part of the scene and contribute to its growth.

Artist Ho Tzu Nyen, 37, said: "Susie is a singular, uncompromising and principled individual who, during her time at the museum, was deeply committed to her vision of what art is, and should be."

Artist Zulkifle Mahmod, 40, said: "I have seen a lot of Singapore artists, even young artists, showcased at SAM during her time as director."

He is one of five artists, along with Ho, who were commissioned by the museum to create works of art for its 5 Stars exhibition that considers the ideals represented by the five stars of the Singapore flag.

He says of working with her on the exhibition: "I learnt that she has been following my practice over the years and she gave constructive criticism, which helped me improve my work in 5 Stars."

Art historian T.K. Sabapathy, 77, says: "She is a great thinker and doer in the art world, always has been since I've known her for 25 years and more. I don't think she is going to disappear from the art world in Singapore."

Her involvement with the local and regional arts scene stretches as far back as two decades. In the 1990s, she was co-founder and director of the cutting-edge arts group 5th Passage. The non-profit, self-funded arts company was among the first of its kind here, providing a platform for everything from art exhibitions and performance art to public readings and forums.

She holds a diploma in fine arts from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and a doctor of philosophy in literature, religion and philosophy from the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom.

The artist-academic was an assistant professor with the visual and performing arts academic group at the National Institute of Education before she joined the museum.

Unlike her predecessors, Mr Kwok Kian Chow and Mr Tan Boon Hui, who had previously worked at the National Museum, she did not have a background in public arts administration. But her background as an arts practitioner was welcomed by the arts community when she was appointed in 2013.

Mr Sabapathy said that in her time as director of the museum she has produced exhibitions such as Sensorium 360 and Medium At Large, which leave "no doubt about her capacity to present visual art in ways that are visually stimulating".

Sensorium 360 presented contemporary art not as abstract concepts but as creative works that appealed to one's senses. Medium At Large helped viewers wrap their minds around contemporary art by considering how material is used in the works.

In all, she has overseen the presentation of 13 exhibitions as well as steered the museum through its corporatisation as it left the National Heritage Board in November 2013 to become an independent company under the Visual Arts Cluster, which includes the National Gallery Singapore and print institute STPI.

The museum board's chairman Jane Ittogi said that "with her unusual gifted shepherding, SAM entered new territory in imaginative and rigorous curatorial directions" and it "look(s) forward to collaborations" with Dr Lingham in the future.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2015, with the headline 'Lingham to leave SAM'. Print Edition | Subscribe