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Tracing the evolution of Singapore’s growing street art scene.
Skip the air-conditioned galleries and take a walk behind the Aliwal Arts Centre in Kampong Glam. You may be lucky enough to encounter some of Singapore’s artists at work as they create colourful pieces on the large blank wall in the back alleyway.
Crew are you?
Street art in Singapore has gained recognition in recent years, but it is not a recent phenomenon. While there is little official documentation and archival of this ephemeral art form, some of the artists involved in Singapore’s early street art scene estimate that the community started to grow in the 1990s, with the formation of street artist collectives known as crews.
“Singapore was one of the first street art scenes to start in Southeast Asia, and had some influence on early scenes in neighbouring countries like Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia,” says Zul Othman, founder of Singapore street art crew RSCLS. Zul, who also goes by the moniker ZERO, is the first street artist in Singapore to be awarded the National Arts Council (NAC)’s Young Artist Award in 2013 for artistic excellence and his role in paving the way for the Singapore street art scene.
Another prominent street art crew with a long history in Singapore is the ZincNiteCrew (ZNC). Founded in 1998 with just four members, it has over 80 members spread across the globe today. “‘Street art’ wasn’t even a term back then, it was just called graffiti,” says one of ZNC’s founders who goes by the name SlacSatu (Slac).
In recent years, tourism has been an important factor in encouraging street art around the world — Melbourne’s Hosier Lane and London’s Shoreditch district are just some examples where street art has transformed once-derelict neighbourhoods into tourist hot spots. Closer to home, visitors flock to Penang’s George Town precinct to take pictures with the various artworks in its alleyways, a trend kicked off by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic’s art for the George Town Festival back in 2010.
Endorsement by the authorities has helped shift the perception of street art away from petty vandalism to recognising it as an art form in its own right. “Street art gives our city an exciting edge and energy, and the National Arts Council believes that it plays an important role in shaping Singapore’s cultural identity,” says Aruna Johnson, deputy director of Youth Arts, NAC.
NAC started to support the art form in 2013.
Most of the street art you see on Singapore’s walls today has been sanctioned in some form, usually through permission granted by relevant government bodies for public property.
The 50 Walls project in 2015 — which saw Australian and Singaporean street artists take to walls in Housing & Development Board estates and shopping malls — was spearheaded by the Australian High Commission as a part of the SG50 celebrations. Before it was closed for redevelopment, the Commonwealth viaduct along the Rail Corridor was a place where the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and NAC had let street artists paint freely on its walls.
Then there is the commission of artworks by private property owners — the whimsical sight of a policeman hauling a car by pulley along an alleyway is an older work by Singaporean artist TraseOne for Naumi Hotel, a boutique hotel along Beach Road. If you have visited the new Timbre+ Gastropark at Ayer Rajah Crescent, those colourful containers and Airstream walls are works by various members of RSCLS, who were commissioned by the Timbre Group.
Following the success of the Rail Corridor, NAC continues to work with partners like the Urban Redevelopment Authority, *SCAPE and the Arts House Limited to open up more wall spaces for street artists to practice, wherein the art is left to the discretion of the artist as long as they do not infringe the rules that typically govern public art display in Singapore.
Street art has always been the voice of the people, a reflection of their thoughts and surroundings, and in many societies, often used as a tool for rebellion. But in Singapore, the cooperation among artists, property owners and state seems to be the best compromise. In a country that looks to promote art appreciation among its people, what better way to do so than by having art all around you, interacting with you from unexpected corners as you go about your daily life?
Introducing some of Singapore’s more prolific street artists.
Named one of the top women street artists to watch on CBS New York and the Huffington Post, Sheryo is currently based in New York and works in collaboration with her American partner, The Yok. The pair visited Singapore in 2015 for the 50 Walls project and left their colourful creations in several locations around the island, including Bras Basah Complex, Telok Blangah Rise Food Centre and Haji Lane.
Co-founder of ZincNiteCrew (ZNC), his art usually showcases fine detail, impressive given that his main tool is the aerosol spray.
He is also co-owner of The Black Book, a specialised graffiti store at 71 Sultan Gate. Visit the store to see the ever-changing works of art on the 14 metre-long board just outside the door.
Founder of RSCLS, he often paints these mask-life faces that have become his distinctive signature. RSCLS has a studio at Aliwal Arts Centre and members can often be found working on the walls behind the building. The crew spearheaded a project called Solidarity, which saw them collaborating with other crews around the region. See the results at 222 Queen Street (with Thailand) and The Substation (with Indonesia).
He recently represented Singapore at HKwalls 2016, a Hong Kong street art festival which saw an international line-up of artists take to the walls of Sham Shui Po. Clog often works with his partner, graphic artist Inkten. Together, they form The Ink&Clog Studio, and you will often see their collaborative works side by side.
Also known as Ts1, his most popular works are the life-like stencils of people reacting to their surroundings. Look out for his skateboarding figures at Woodlands Mart, Taman Jurong Shopping Centre and Lepark at People’s Park Complex. His works have covered some illustrious walls, including the front façade of the Australian High Commission and Facebook Singapore’s new office at South Beach Tower.
Calls himself a ‘Graffiti Fine Artist’, his tinted portraits are detailed, very distinctive and extremely popular. He receives many private commissions which he showcases on his Instagram feed that has over 100,000 fans to date. Check out his latest work for The Singapura Club at 26 Haji Lane (above).