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Doing the Write Thing: Catherine Nadira Tan

Catherine Nadira Tan is a public relations expert at Hedgehog Communications, and the author of Secrets of Singapore: National Gallery. An avid fan of architecture and art, it is no surprise as to why she chose to write about National Gallery Singapore in this newest installation of the Secrets of Singapore series.

In this interview, she paints the big picture on how her writing process behind her debut children's book was really like.

Why did you choose to write about the National Gallery Singapore for this book? I love visiting museums and the Gallery was no exception. As a history and architectural buff, the venue itself was already a point of fascination for me to begin with, as it used to be the former Supreme Court and City Hall.
Although I am not an artist, I enjoy consuming art in its various forms, be it visual art, music, dance or theatre. I believe there shouldn’t be any age barrier when it comes to appreciating art. 

I grew up in a single-parent and low-income household and had limited access to the arts as a kid, even though I was already very interested in it then. I hope my book will help to give children, especially those from low-income families, a chance to know more about art outside school. As a Singaporean, I also want more people to know about our homegrown artists, especially the pioneers. 

Tell us a little more about the new characters in this addition. I wanted to make the book relatable and accessible to anyone, especially the kids. I have also always liked the idea of animating inanimate objects. The paintbrush and canvas naturally came to mind. Professor Brushie and Curious Canvas are meant to represent the two extremes in an art audience – one knows everything, while the other knows next to nothing.

What’s one secret about the National Gallery Singapore that you found the most interesting? The secret lift! As a regular visitor of the Gallery and someone who has never missed any guided tours, I thought I already knew the place inside out. So, it was a real surprise when I learnt there was a hidden lift that trucks could directly enter and bring the artworks to the relevant floors. I always assumed a bunch of strong guys had to move the artworks using the staircases!

Do you see the National Gallery Singapore differently after writing this book? I definitely appreciate the exhibitions a lot more, now that I know how much work goes behind the scenes, from the logistics and curating to editorial and marketing. And beyond the exhibitions, maintaining the facility itself takes a whole lot of effort too, such as ensuring the indoor temperature is always kept constant.

What does your kid think of the book? My daughter is only three, so it’ll be a while before she can read my book! I am grateful to have a “test audience” while writing the book – my two nephews and my niece who are between the ages of 12 and 15. They gave me a lot of valuable feedback – such as when certain concepts and words are too cheem or when the puns are off.

The book features a lot of Singaporean artists. Would you like your kids to become artists too? I believe in following the child and his/her interests. As a parent, I try my best to offer a simple and real learning environment for my daughter and give her opportunities to freely commit to an area that piques her interest.
Whether she eventually decides to work in the field of arts, humanities or sciences, or none of these at all, the most important thing to me is that she is kind. To be kind not only to the people around her but also to herself. Emotional and mental health are so important. To me, that’s the role of arts in my life – it offers me a channel to regulate my emotions; it’s a form of therapy.

What other secrets of Singapore would you like to showcase next? I am proud of and would love to talk more about Singapore’s cultural heritage. I am a Singapore-born Chinese, attended a convent school, married an Indian, and embraced Islam in my adult years. I think with inter-racial marriages on the rise, and the ever-growing influence of mass and social media, parents are challenged to ensure their children know their place in the world. I would love to write books that help our kids to hold a confident conversation with others about their identity, be it with locals or foreigners.

Get Secrets of Singapore: National Gallery here.

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