Because art should be for everyone

In a landmark new effort to reach out to all art-loving communities, the Singapore Art Museum has introduced a new collection of inclusive artworks. The SAM Touch Collection is the latest in the museum’s outreach initiatives, and was specifically developed to engage with the visually impaired community here.

Based on existing artworks by Singaporean artists in the museum’s collection, the new interactive works were adapted by the original artists to cater to the needs of the visually impaired—via supplementary resources like audio guides, or reproduced artworks with finer details to enhance touch and interaction.

Current works in the collection include an adaptation of David Chan’s Utama’s Cat—a cheeky reference to the prince who named our island, and a SAM Front Lawn commission in 2015. The life-sized work was scaled down and replicated through 3D printing, accompanied with hardwood samples to illustrate the original material that was used for the lion.


Utama's Cat adapted

Justin Lee’s East & West, first presented at the Singapore Art Show 2009, comprises miniature replicas of Lee’s initial army of fibre glass warriors. Both the minis and the originals don the same jarring black headphones that explore the intersections between national identity, commercialisation and consumerism. In addition, symbols present in the figurines were produced separately through 3D printing to aid in teaching about the work.


East & West adapted

Finally, sound artist Zulkifle Mahmod’s Raising Spirits and Restoring Souls was a mixed media installation of copper pipes, solenoids, amplifiers and sound files that was part of SAM’s SG50 exhibition in 2015. The adaptation uses all the same materials, but is assembled in an interactive and portable form.

The selected works were chosen for their relation to historical, cultural and social aspects of Singapore; no surprise, because no one should have to sit out on our nation’s glorious narrative.

More will come in time; the development of the SAM Touch Collection is an ongoing process that began research in 2014. The initiative is simply the latest in the museum’s inclusive programming efforts—in 2017, SAM started the “Quiet Hour at SAM” programme, which provides special needs visitors free transportation to and from the museum, closed-door access to ongoing exhibitions, and tailored tours and workshops. Such private arrangements are integral in providing a calming space for visitors who might react to stressful stimuli.


Raising Spirits and Restoring Souls adapted

Speaking on the changing roles of museums, Manager of Programmes (Education) at SAM, Wang Tingting said: “Contemporary art should be accessible to all communities, and the development of programmes like Quiet Hour at SAM and the SAM Touch Collection are first steps in rolling out the type of programming that we intend to facilitate in the future at the museum.”

At present, the only other museum to have taken steps in permanent inclusive programming is the National Museum of Singapore, which announced the introduction of a Quiet Room for special needs children, to be launched later this year. The safe haven will be designed to provide a relaxing setting, and will be part of the museum’s upcoming initiative Quiet Thursdays, which will allow special needs children to visit an hour before the museum opens to the public.

Light and art festivals are fun and all, but it goes without saying that we need more of such tailored, permanent programmes in Singapore to move forward as a truly inclusive society.


The SAM Touch Collection is available for booking by schools and community groups at education@singaporeartmuseum.sg or online here.