Yip Yew Chong’s mural “The Provision Shop” shows life in the Blair Plain Conservation Area, a popular spot for visitors to snap a photo.
Yip Yew Chong’s mural “The Provision Shop” shows life in the Blair Plain Conservation Area, a popular spot for visitors to snap a photo.

Where the Lion roars

Art February 02, 2019 01:00

By Khetsirin Pholdhampalit
The Nation Weekend
Singapore

8,949 Viewed

Murals and lights stir the imagination in Singapore Art Week



PASSION FOR all things visual was running high in Singapore last week as the Lion City went all out in organising art-related programmes across its multiple galleries, institutions, museums, non-profit spaces and public areas as it marked the seventh edition of Singapore Art Week. 

The event was part of the island-state’s global tourism campaign “Passion Made Possible” that aims to awaken a love for culture and art and encourage visitors to live their dreams.

A kaleidoscope of light and colour is projected on the facade of the former Supreme Court – now a part of the National Gallery Singapore.

In addition to exhibitions, art fairs and symposiums, visitors were invited wander through the vibrant cultural precinct of Little India, discover the rich architecture of the Blair Plain Conservation Area, and marvel as the facade of the Civic District’s historic buildings were transformed into a kaleidoscope of light and colour.

Strolling around Blair Plain Conservation Area

The Blair Plain Conservation Area is a jewel of Singapore, where the visitor can discover the charm of old row houses in an eclectic mix of architectural styles.

In contrast to the surrounding high-rises, the quiet Blair Plain Conservation Area, next door to Singapore’s Chinatown, is home to a charming array of old two-to-three-storey shophouses with an eclectic mix of Chinese, Malay and European design elements lining the narrow roads of Neil, Blair, Spottiswoode Park and Everton.

Stroll through the area with its continuous stretch of more than 100 row houses, some of them beautifully restored and many still inhabited, is like travelling back in time to the Singapore of yesterday. 

The architectural styles of the Blair Plain area will remind Thais of Phuket’s old town, which is home to Sino-Portuguese row houses boasting intricate European neo-classical and Renaissance-style details in the stucco columns, cornices and arched window frames and interiors that blend Chinese and European touches.

The row houses have front verandas linking them together, without gates, to form a walkway sheltered from the sunshine and downpours.

“This area is charming for the unique characters of the shophouses that date back to the 19th century and was designated a conservation area in 1991. Historically, well-to-do merchants wanting to be close to the port chose Blair Plain as the location for their residences because it was quiet and conveniently located for their business. The original neighbourhood is made up of shophouses that are still standing, many of which have received Architectural Heritage Awards from the Urban Redevelpment Authority (URA). Art lovers have settled here and opened art galleries and studios,” says Singapore-based Canadian art consultant Louise Martin. 

According to the URA, the Chinese influence on the architectural styles are represented by such elements as the courtyard plan in the interior of the house, the rounded gable ends of the pitch roofs and the bat wing-shaped air vents above the first storey windows.

The Malay influence can be identified in the timber fretwork of the eaves and fascia boards and the design of the balustrades, the European influence is dominant in the fanlights, French windows, Portuguese-style shuttered windows, while the Colonial influence is seen in the Corinthian pilasters on the upper storeys.

Courtesy of Warayut Sinlaparatsamee

Several walls here have been enlivened with murals by self-taught artist Yip Yew Chong, who depicts life-size scenes of the past including an old-school grocery shop, a street barber, and an elderly washerwoman. 

“I grew up in Chinatown and have been living in the neighbourhood for 24 years. I want to tell the young generation about the heritage of this area and bring back fond memories to the older generation as well,” says Yip, a full-time accountant, who began dabbling in street art after chancing upon Lithuanian artist Ernest Zach’s murals on Victoria Street in 2014. He now has 48 murals in Singapore.

 Yip Yew Chong’s mural “The Provision Shop” shows life in the Blair Plain Conservation Area, a popular spot for visitors to snap a photo.

Yip points to his mural titled “Provision Shop” painted on the wall of house No 8 at the junction of Spottiswoode Park, Everton and Blair Roads. It depicts a store selling rice, dried foods, fermented fish and egg, biscuits and much more, with the shop owners busy sawing ice and grating coconut. Next is a portrait of a bean curd and soya milk cart with a schoolboy randomly picking a stick from a can so he can eat for free if he wins the game.

“The scene is based on the house owner’s description of the place as he remembered it during his childhood in the ’50s and ’60s. As he has no old pictures, I had to search through the archives and rely on my own memories of how grocers looked in the ’70s and ’80s. It took about two weeks to complete,” adds Yip.

Thai street artist Alex Face’s iconic character Mardi adorns the wall of an old shophouse on Spottiswoode Park Road.

Well-known Thai street artist Patcharapol Tangruen, aka Alex Face, has painted his iconic three-eyed child Mardi on the wall of house no 63 on Spottiswoode Park Road, which houses a traditional medicine shop.

According to Alex, Mardi - a child dressed in a rabbit costume who peers out at passers-by with her eyes half opened and a sense of weary vulnerability -was inspired by his own daughter. In Singapore, one Mardi is seen wearing a fashionable Nyonya Kebaya with flowers in her hair to celebrate Peranakan culture. The other Mardi character is dressed in a traditional Chinese blouse and driving a segway. 

The residence-cum-office-cum-studio of Nick Oxborrow and his artist friend Carlos Munoz Luque

Singapore-based British event organiser Nick Oxborrow and his Spanish artist friend Carlos Munoz Luque have turned their rented white Peranakan shophouse on Blair Road into their residence-cum-office-cum-studio.

“This is one of the most beautiful parts of Singapore. Living in this charming and historical building is very inspiring and adds energy to our creative works. The landlord has maintained the original character of the house from the rustic floor tiles to the high ceilings and stairs,” says Oxborrow whose office is on the second floor.

Luque’s studio-cum-gallery is downstairs and showcases his expressive and abstract paintings playing on the transformation of natural structures into trees, roots and the ground.

Art Porters Gallery

Two years ago, Guillaume Levy-Lambert and Sean Soh set up their Art Porters Gallery in a renovated Peranakan shophouse on Spottiswoode Park Road. With a focus on Southeast Asia, the gallery has an active programme of exhibitions, events and talks and its current exhibition is “Domestication II” by Singapore-born New York-based artist Su-en Wong that continues until March 17.

Little India gets spiced up

Little India, the buzzing heritage district of Singapore, is also a spot to discover a unique cultural diversity, mixed architectural styles and murals based on this year’s theme “Image and Sound of Fragrance”. 

The former house of Chinese merchant Tan Teng Niah is remarkable for its colourful facade and is the last remaining Chinese villa in Little India. /Courtesy of Warayut Sinlaparatsamee

The remarkable building easily recognisable by its colourful facade is the former house of Tan Teng Niah, a prominent Chinese businessman in Little India. It is the last remaining eight-room, two-storey Chinese villa with European architectural influences in the area. 

Speak Cryptic’s blackandwhite work at the gable wall of Park 22 Hotel in Little India is inspired by symbolic Indian flowers and intricate patterns of the sari.

At Park 22 Hotel, Farizwan Fajari, aka Speak Cryptic, has painted the gable wall in black and white with images of interweaving flowers found in garlands – a symbol of strength and purity in the Indian culture – as well as the patterns of the graceful Indian sari. The work was done in a spontaneous style and took just three days to complete.

 Colourful Indian spices are a source of inspiration for the mural painted by Zul Zero.

Inspired by the sights, smells and sounds of Little India, Zul Zero has painted a mural titled “Diff/Fusion” inspired by colourful spices cardamom, chilli powder and cumin in geometric forms while the images of eyes, ear, nose, mouth and hands refer to the traditional chakras about the centres of spiritual power in the body including the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. 

Blinded by the lights

At night, visitors are invited to stroll around the historical buildings of National Gallery Singapore, the Arts House, Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall, Asian Civilisations Museum and Esplanade Park to see the interactive projection mapping light show at the Light to Night Festival.

This year's festival runs in two parts - as part of the Singapore Art Week, and as part of the Singapore Bicentennial continuing until February 24.

The Asian Civilisations Museum is drizzled with colourful light in figurative tribal art elements.

For the first part, the facade light is based on the Odyssey, developed with Brandon Tay and Safuan Johari together with multimedia illustrations and digital content by 14 other artists. It invites visitors to follow the artistic voyage of an explorer who traverses different facades of cultural institutions and sojourns in the world of duality in search of identity. Each subsequent facade features a different part of the explorer’s journey and can be enjoyed independently of the recommended route.

Sebastian Chun’s light installation “Stick” recalls the ubiquitous hallmarks of the Singapore of yesteryear.

On the lawn of Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore designer Sebastian Chun has created an outdoor interactive art installation called “Sticks” made out of bamboo sticks and neon lights to revive two ubiquitous hallmarks of the Singapore of yesteryear: the childhood game “pick-up sticks” and bakau piling, a technique once commonly used to construct scaffolding.

The light festival’s second part is based on the theme of “7 Stories from 700 Years” and takes a walk down the reimaged historical tales to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the founding of modern Singapore along seven facades of seven historical sites.

The mapping light at the facade of the former Supreme Court – now a part of National Gallery – tells the journey of the court, which was the last colonial building constructed in the island-state, while the cultural diversity that formed the Little Red Dot – a term referring to how Singapore is often depicted as a tiny red dot on the World map– is projected at the Asian Civilisations Museum.

The writer’s trip was made possible by Singapore Tourism Board.

ALL LIT UP

Many programmes of Singapore Art Week are still running. Keep updated at www.ArtWeek.sg.

Details on the Light to Night Festival are available at www.LightToNight.sg.