Shabbir Hussain Mustafa

Assistant Curator, National University of Singapore Museum, Singapore

Shabbir Hussain Mustafa is an Assistant Curator with the National University of Singapore Museum. His research interests are in modern South and Southeast Asian history. Within a broader framework of the archival-curatorial method being developed at the NUS Museum, his curatorial approach has centered heavily on deploying archival texts as ploys in engaging different modes of thinking and writing, all in an attempt at opening up the archive to multivariate struggles of perception and reading.

Mustafa is currently engaged in an extended study on rethinking the NUS Museum’s South Asian collection originally accumulated at the then University of Malaya Art Museum from the period 1955-1972 by its early curators and reputed art historians Michael Sullivan and William Willetts. Earlier exhibitions he curated on this topic include Fragments, Histories, Contexts: The NUS Museum’s South Asian Collection (2007) and Past-Present: Craft Communities in Contemporary India (2009). Lodged within third-worldist debates, Fragments, Histories, Contexts interrogated a 1959 donation of South Asian objects (ranging from Gandharan sculptures to modern art paintings by painters such as M.F. Hussain) by the Government of India to a newly self-governing Singapore. Past-Present looked at a later episode in 1964 when the then curator William Willetts undertook a collecting/study trip on behalf of the University of Malaya Art Museum to craft production centers in northern India. The nuances of these two projects amongst others were brought together as part of a much larger exhibition Camping and Tramping Through the Colonial Archive: The Museum in Malaya (2011) which looked at the shifting nature of collections and museological practice at two museums in British Malaya, namely the Raffles Museum and Library and the University of Malaya Art Museum. Calling for a tactical, recollectional, experimental ethic towards the museum object, and reconstituting the role of contemporary-art based on the changing historical contexts of intellectual and social inquiry, Mustafa continues to develop projects which will continue to engage narratives of the postcolonial experience within a museological setting.

Other South and Southeast Asian exhibitions that Mustafa has recently curated include: Archives and Desires: Selections from the Mohammad Din Mohammad Collection (2008); I Polunin: Memories of Singapore Through Film and Photographs (2009); Persistent Visions | Erika Tan (2009) and Proverbial In(ter)ventions: Ratnadeep Gopal Adivrekar (2009). His recent publications include “Re-membering the Intimate Past” in Shifts: Wong Hoy Cheong, 2002-2007 (2008); “Something” in Being: Ahmad Zakii Anwar (2009); “Confessional Curation” in The Sufi and The Bearded Man: Re-membering a Keramat in Contemporary Singapore (2011) and “Curatorial Notes” in Camping and Tramping (2011), an essay which lays out some methodological considerations for the rethinking of curatorial practice in Singapore.

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