When you think of Singapore, your first thoughts are probably of ‘crazy rich Asians’. Of ultra modern architecture and skyscrapers of dizzying height. Or even of their notorious strict laws. But I bet that the Singapore street art scene wouldn’t ever be the first thing to pop in your mind. And yet you can find the most colourful and largest murals you can imagine here! Looking for free things to do in Singapore? Go street art hunting!
Singapore + street art? That’s a big YES!
Prior to our trip to Singapore, I didn’t really know what to expect, but it sure wasn’t street art. This South Asian city-state is mostly known for being a green garden city and its extremely clean and safe streets. Not that surprising because if you dare to break the strict laws, you can expect some severe penalties.
Considering street art and graffiti are even illegal in most parts of London, it could never be allowed in Singapore. Or so I thought. Because when we took the shuttle bus from the airport to our hotel, I couldn’t really believe my eyes. During the ride I saw the streets were covered in the most extraordinary street artworks!
Kampung Glam: the Singaporean version of London’s hipster area Shoreditch
I had booked our hotel in the Lavender area* a few weeks before our trip. I consciously opted for accommodation slightly outside of the city centre, yet close enough to reach with just a short metro ride. And in walking distance of the hipster street Haji Lane. Let’s say this is the Singapore version of Brick Lane in Shoreditch, London’s trendy alternative neighbourhood. This was the area where, after my UK emigration, I first laid eyes upon high-quality street artworks, igniting my ever-growing love for this urban art form.
Both Singapore’s Haji Lane and London’s Brick Lane are located in a predominantly muslim area with a magnificent mosque in its centre. But what both streets mostly have in common are the dozens of unique independent boutiques, bars and restaurants. And similar to Brick Lane, Haji Lane in the Kampung Glam neighbourhood is a hot destination among Instagrammers.
Interested in more street art articles? Then have a look in my street art album!
Hoping to take a photo of this cool area without too many people around? Then definitely avoid the weekends and come out (very) early in the day. The colourful shops and murals in Haji Lane make for popular photo backgrounds.
Singapore street art: save this post on Pinterest for later!
Other street art locations in Kampung Glam
> Murals by Ernest Zacharevic in Victoria Street
Besides Haji Lane there are a few more great street art locations in Kampung Glam. Personally I was especially struck by the artworks in the nearby Victoria Street. But because this is basically a main road without any shops or cafés around, it is a far less popular destination than neighbouring Haji Lane. However, the murals by artist Ernest Zacharevic are definitely worth the short stroll over here.
Zacharevic is originally from Lithuania, but now lives in Penang, Malaysia. It’s partly because of him that the Penang street art scene is now so well known all around the world. Lucky for me he also made it up to neighbour country (or rather city-state) Singapore. He painted all these artworks below and also the one you see in the feature image in Singapore’s Victoria Street. Just absolutely stunning, right?
Zacharevic’s aren’t only visually pleasing, but also bear a social meaning. Just have a closer look at the signs on the trolleys. Left: Take what you need and right: Give what you want.
> Yip Yew Chong’s Coffee Story in Sultan Gate
On the other end of Kampung Glam you can find this gigantic mural titled Coffee Story by Yip Yew Chong. More about this artist in a minute because you can find his murals (over 60 of them by now) all across Singapore.
The following mural was so big I couldn’t fit it in one photo! On the left you see a traditional coffee brewery and on the right a modern version. Not a random subject considering it’s painted on the wall of the café A.R.C. Coffee in Sultan Gate.
The history of Old Singapore relives through the works by Yip Yew Chong
When I returned home from our 1-month long trip, I looked up information about the Singapore street art scene. I read that to celebrate Singapore’s 50th anniversary in 2015, the government actually invited artists to paint murals across the whole of Singapore. This was also when painter and illustrator Yip Yew Chong made his first mural.
Chong is in his early fifties now so he grew up right after Singapore’s independence. Before that it was first a British colony and afterwards part of Malaysia.
In his stunning murals, Chong paints the Old Singapore from his memories. I didn’t realise this till I got home again and looked up the artist of all these murals I had admired so much. When I read his motivation and backstories to his paintings, my appreciation for his works grew even more. Because it turned out that Chong’s murals serve as modest windows into the past. Into a time when old crafts and traditions still flourished.
The Chinese Letter Writer
Take his mural Letter Writer above for example. You can find this painting in Singapore’s Chinatown, the neighbourhood Chong grew up in. Chinese letters played an important role in society then. One of their services was to write letters on behalf of Chinese immigrants. Letters to the immigrants’ loved ones they had to leave behind in their homecountry.
Think that street art is only popular among young people? In Chong’s case you’re wrong because especially the older residents of Singapore are big fans of his works. They appreciate his effort to document both their and Singapore’s history in a modern way, making it accessible for everybody. It has even reached you by reading this blog post!
‘Paper Mask & Puppet Seller’ shows us the travelling merchant Mr Yeo Ban Kok. He used to sell his handmade paper masks and puppets from his cart in the 1980s. He would always allow tourists to take photos of him without ever asking for anything in return. With his mural, Chong still encourages visitors to take a photo of Ban Kok.
This scene illustrates how Chong remembers his childhood. Families of different religions and cultural ethnicities all living in the same building.
Want to learn more about Yip Yew Chong? Then read this lovely article with interview on the website Honeycombers. On Chong’s own website you can see all of his artworks and their backstories: website Yip Yew Chong.
Art deco, hipster shops and street art in Tiong Bahru
Because we spent five full days in Singapore, this gave us plenty of opportunity to explore some of the less obvious areas. One of our ‘expeditions’ took us to the Tiong Bahru neighbourhood. A special experience as it felt so completely different from other parts of Singapore.
I had the sense to experience more of the ‘normal’ or authentic Singapore. Visiting Tiong Bahru actually felt like visiting whole different city, partly because of its unique art deco architecture. But by now Tiong Bahru has also been discovered by the hipsters, hence the growing number of modern shops and cafés. And street art of course. Like this funny goat by photographer and artist Ernest Goh on the wall of the famous Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre.
Also Little India in Singapore is great for street art
To finish off this blog post, let me share some photos of all the beautiful street artworks in Little India with you. This neighbourhood is so colourful by itself already, with its brightly painted temples and vibrant market stalls.
Although I shared a great deal of my Singapore street art photos in this blog post, these are just a few of the murals you can find there. But my goal was to give you an idea of the Singapore street art scene and to tell you that this actually exists! And who knows, perhaps I’ve even inspired you to go on your own Singapore street art explorations one day.
Have you ever been to Singapore? Was there something in particular that caught your attention or completely surprised you?
I’m curious to read about your experience! Thanks, Zarina xx
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