Singapore is one cool destination. The Little Red Dot is a spunky nation and the tiny city-state lives by its own rules. Firmly law abiding, Singapore is strict on its locals and visitors alike and the city’s iron clad rules are one of its biggest boons (and pet peeves). While the locals have long ago adjusted to this firmness, most travelers return being amazed by the system and thanks to the regulations, Singapore stays clean, well maintained and it is one of the safest cities in the world. Though not a huge fan of firmness, I am not against regulations and restrictions per se, but there is one grey area of Singapore life which I find difficult to come to terms with.
The fact that Singapore is not the easiest place for street artist makes me feel unsettled about the city and I am a huge fan of painted wall murals. Street art spotting is one of my favourite things to do and I love to scour every place I visit for glimpses of the creative mind of the youth. There’s something about street art which makes me feel very alive and I love the brilliance displayed on them. They are mostly young, fresh minded and full of naked, raw impressions of the world we live in. That’s what perhaps makes them persona non grata in many countries and unfortunately, these stunning expressions of freedom come with hefty penalties. Singapore has stringent regulations against vandalism and spray painting on non-designated walls or public property without permission of the owner is considered as an offence punishable by fine of around SGD 2.000, imprisonment up to three years and/or eight cane strokes. Although, this strict control has eased a bit in recent years, in the past several people have been subjected to this penalty.
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This is the reason why only fifty or so active artists work in Singapore and many of the city’s most creative murals are sadly removed. Despite such strict policies, the city has a slew of hot spots that are legally painted with unique and striking street art. Presenting my list of the most jaw-dropping street art of Singapore.
KAMPONG GLAM and HAJI LANE
Of all the Singapore spots which are famous for their street art, Kampong Glam stands out as the hub of youth culture and this very touristy place along with Haji Lane hold some of the celebrated murals of the city. An erstwhile Arab/Muslim quarter, Kampong Glam is a popular hipster area and the lovely old area has the beautiful Sultan Mosque. It is a really cool place to hang out and kitschy boutiques, shisha bars, Arab cloth merchants, quirky cafes and great Malay and Middle Eastern food make it very popular among the young crowd. It is also one of the areas where street art was first prominent in Singapore and Haji Lane has the spectacular painted walls of Piedra Negra and of Blu Jazz Cafe. The alleyway in between them is gorgeously painted too and beautiful murals by Didier Jaba Mathieu cover the entire building.
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I don’t remember the Kampong Glam murals very clearly since the lively area had caught my attention more, but the sight of the wall mural-covered building with its street cafe had been unforgettable. My most memorable street art stretch had been Victoria Street and I had gazed at the commissioned works by Lithuanian street artist Ernest Zacharevic for hours. Famous for his murals in Malaysia’s Penang Georgetown, Zacharevic’s work is scattered all over Singapore and he has painted some pieces at Joo Chiat too.
The popular tourist district of Little India is one of my favourite places in Singapore. I love its blingy shops, spicy curry smells, a kaleidoscope of rainbow coloured buildings, technicoloured South Indian temples and raucous film music which pours out of every nook and corner. The little flower and vegetable markets of Little India are a lot of photogenic fun and the 24-hour Mustafa Shopping Centre is a great place for people watching. My best Singapore memories have been spent hanging around Little India and I have been rewarded with some really exquisite street art there. Many well-known figures of the international street art scene have left their marks on the narrow lanes of Little India and among them, the “Light In Little India” and the “Green Goblins” murals are true art. Made by American street artists Elmac and Tyke Witnes AWR (who were invited to put up their works during the Singapore Night Festival in 2010), both can be found at the pedestrian stretch between Rowell and Desker Road. That stretch also has a surprise series of fairy tale figures such as Red Riding Hood in the next door Bellwethers Bistro.
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I had fallen in love with a photo of a Banda Street mural so much, that I had spent one full Singapore day in its pursuit. The stunning mural depicting two old men playing Chinese Chess was among thirteen heritage murals showcasing the lives of pioneer generation residents in Kreta Ayer. Jointly painted by over five hundred Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) volunteers and hundred Kreta Ayer residents, the piece took six months to complete and was launched in April 2015. NOTE – This very pretty area of pastel coloured houses and quaint shops is a great place for buying some authentic Pernanakan goods. Opt for Peranakan beaded slippers, purses and embroideries here.
This has been the luckiest find during my entire Singapore stay. I had stayed at a pod hostel on Lavender Street and despite its cramped sleeping conditions, it had been a great experience. The hostel had opened to a busy street and heavily flowering bougainvillea vines had shaded its small street cafe. Across the street, a food center and breakfast dim sum shops had offered excellent cheap eats and Little India had been just a few steps away. MRT had been close by too and the hostel had been a happy hub of international travelers from all over the world. It’s biggest highlight had been the street art splashed all around it and every morning I had stared at them while sipping coffee. The murals had covered the street floor and walls of an entire block and most of them had been professionally done. My most happiest Singapore moments have been spent under those colour splashed bright walls and I must have taken at least a hundred photos of them.
Apart from these, my walks and explorations around different areas in Singapore have helped me discover many hidden street art secrets. While some have been found at well-known spots like Aliwal Street, Sultan Arts Village and Bugis-Bras Basah precinct, quite a few had been spotted at Clarke Quay, Everton Road, the Skate Park at *SCAPE, the Substation and the lively Tiong Bahru Market. Singapore is an art loving city and the rebellious nature of its wall murals have reminded me of a very famous street art which had blatantly announced that “Revolution will not be advertised”. That had been another street mural at yet another city across the world.
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NOTE – “Writings on the Walls” is an ongoing series in which I hope to collate awesome street art from around the world. If you wish to collaborate, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can take it from there.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE