SAM director will go on making her art

This week's appointment of practising artist-academic Dr Susie Lingham to the position of director of the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) suggests "a shift in thinking" among the top brass, says Ms Lingham herself.

Where such leadership roles were once filled by men and women with careers in the civil service, her appointment as well as the recent appointment of theatre director Ong Keng Sen as the festival head of the newly privatised Singapore Arts Festival suggest that long-practising artist-academics are now viable candidates for institutional leadership roles, at least in the field of the arts.

Says Ms Lingham: "I sense this shift in thinking and I'm glad for it. As artists, we come from a deep understanding of our practices and we can represent the arts fully without any mediatory factors.

"We can engage in the real tension of ideas and concepts and help take the Singapore art scene to the next level." Previous SAM directors Kwok Kian Chow and Tan Boon Hui came from the National Museum of Singapore.

Chong Siak Ching, head of the newly formed visual arts cluster comprising SAM, Singapore Tyler Print Institute and National Art Gallery, Singapore, says: "It's good for our team to have individuals with different skills sets, as opposed to a team with all the same skills... Susie is also not just an artist. She has taught, curated and advised the boards of institutions. So our selection committee considered her the right person for the job."

Ms Lingham, 47, is a visual arts pioneer who began her career in early 1990s. She co-founded the artist collective 5th Passage which was involved in organising the Artist General Assembly in 1993.

There, a performance piece by artist Josef Ng that included the snipping of his pubic hair ignited a media storm which lead to a dramatic 10-year no-funding rule for performance art by the authorities.

Ms Lingham notes that the art scene today is much "richer" in comparison and that the government has become "increasingly more supportive".

She has shown her artworks at various exhibitions and held a solo show at the Substation last year. She holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Literature, Religion and Philosophy from the University of Sussex and has taught at Lasalle College of the Arts, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and National Institute of Education, among other institutions.

She is quick to add that her appointment does not signal an end to her own artistic production: "I've told the museum that I'd like to continue making art. But I will not show it in the museum as that would be a conflict of interest. "

She thinks that her own artistic practice will also allow her to cast a more rigorous eye on the works being presented by the museum.

She says: "I consider my own artistic rigour and criticality as a strength that would allow me to see something that a fellow artist is doing and help bring it to another level. "

Like any serious artists, she is opposed to any notions of "dumbing down" art so that it may be more easily consumed by the public. She says: "I want to immerse the audience at the deep end, but with the guidance of the museum and a curator. There is no need to talk down to people."

She recalls: "As a young girl, I was already exposed to great books like Wuthering Heights and that's how I came to love literature. Art is similar - you must expose great art to people even at a young age, and guide them towards appreciating that complexity."

Ms Lingham will begin her work at the museum next month.