Singapore has always been known for having a hard stance against graffiti and street art. Whether it’s Sam Lo’s cheeky stickers or Priyageetha Dia’s golden staircase, few to no street artists are really allowed to have complete freedom of expression when it comes to their work, which is in itself, tends to be anti-establishment by way of claiming public spaces as their canvas.
How then can street artists flourish in Singapore without facing clampdowns from the law or immense self-censorship? The answer might just lie in the new Graffiti Hall of Fame initiative.
Launched last Wednesday on 28th April, a ‘Hall of Fame’ is a popular street art term that refers to a place with several walls that artists can paint freely. In the case of this particular initiative, the ‘hall’ comprises several five-metre tall walls spanning 131 metres on Bali Lane and 107 metres on Ophir Road. Seventeen muralists then have been united to add colour, shape and characters to these walls, and mark the very first Graffiti Hall of Fame in Southeast Asia, and the country’s largest open-air gallery.
Led by One Kampong Gelam, the association representing and supporting the interests of stakeholders in the Kampong Gelam precinct, it makes sense that the district was chosen as the site of the Hall of Fame. After all, Kampong Gelam is home to several iconic cultural landmarks, such as Sultan Mosque, and has a history of artists and musicians making their mark here.
What is perhaps most significant is how the five-metre tall walls are in fact, being repurposed thanks to the power of street art. Originally erected as noise barriers for ongoing construction work, they have since been adapted to become ‘evolving stages’ for Singapore’s top muralists, and invite other top artists who would like to claim the space to join in as well.
“The ongoing construction work has impacted some businesses and shopfronts,” says Aileen Tan, One Kampong Gelam representative and owner of Blu Jaz. “That’s why we are working with the stakeholders to mitigate and transform the noise barriers into a public art space instead.”
“Artists are the best people to visualise stories of adversity turned opportunity.”Aileen Tan, One Kampong Gelam representative and owner of Blu Jaz.
There is little danger of being legally implicated as well; after all, the project is also supported by prominent government agencies such as the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), and Land Transport Authority (LTA). If anything, the project marks a move towards greater celebration of vibrancy, diversity and freedom of expression, with the sheer number of artworks in an array if signature styles.
Among the 17 artists kickstarting the project include prolific street artists ANTZ and Didier ‘Jaba’ Mathieu, who each present stand-alone murals on Bali Lane, as well as a collaborative piece on Ophir Road with Hegita. This marks the first time the trio are painting a collaborative piece together, taking inspiration from the charm of Kampong Gelam. Titled Constant Elevation, the piece represents their imagination of the precinct, complete with street cats and red-roofed shophouses.
Ophir Road will also see The Journey, a mashup of the precinct’s past and present, as inspired by five of the artists’ personal memories of Kampong Gelam. This is a collaboration between Studio Moonchild, Dem, KILAS and Boon Baked, with a fictional past involving time portals, flying pigeons, and more.
Over at Bali Lane, AshD and NOEZ23 present a more light-hearted piece, as they reimagine graffiti artists as contemporary pedekars (martial arts masters) equipped with brightly-coloured spray-cans. Meanwhile, HasJ’s abstract mural mirrors pedestrians on the street, communicating how we each ‘walk the line’ in our own unique ways.
Full-time tattoo artist Sei10 sprays the environmentally-charged Tamotori Hime (The Pearl Diver), seamlessly marrying Japanese folklore with the precinct’s Batik heritage to tell a story of the state of our current world.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or want to find out more on the go, not to worry. QR codes will also accompany the murals, and allow visitors to access the Hall of Fame microsite, containing artist information and artwork descriptions. Members of the public can also look forward to Street Art in Kampong Gelam, a three-episode mini-series that premieres on 19th May, featuring insights from stakeholders including the Manager of Aliwal Arts Centre Kenneth Chng.
And despite geographical distance, local artist ZERO has even managed to do a collaboration with Indonesian muralist Stereoflow. Part of STB Indonesia’s SingapoReimagine campaign, which aims to spark conversations to reimagine the future of traveling, the duo present a single holistic narrative across borders titled Under the Same Sun, where ZERO’s signature style will be remixed and presented as part of the Hall of Fame on Bali Lane, while Stereoflow will paint his signature remix at M Block Space, Jakarta.
“It’s not been an easy task for any of the 17 artists involved in this project, whether it’s navigating the traffic or dealing with the weather, not to mention how so many of us are doing collaborations with each other for the first time,” says ZERO. “But in all, it is a concerted effort, and we put in our 110% effort no matter what. We understand that graffiti and street art is temporal by nature, and that is precisely how it reflects urban society, where everything constantly changes.”
“And much like how the city evolves every day, when street art disappears from the walls, we learn to move on, find some other space and inject new life into it, and appreciate it for as long as it lasts, always knowing that there will be something else somewhere.”ZERO
“Anyone who comes up to me and asks what it’s like, I will tell them it is hard work to be a full time artist, even after doing it for over 20 years,” ZERO adds. “This is something that requires a lot of sacrifice, and it was never going to be an easy journey. But street artists don’t just hang around and wait for something to happen; if we have a means and way to do it, we should.”
Ultimately, the Graffiti Hall of Fame @ Kampong Gelam is set to be the bridge between the precinct and the artists, to create something to be proud of, and to gain greater recognition for artists as a genuine, ‘real’ profession with value. Everything changes, but hopefully for the better, as the evolving stage allows for new work to replace the old, and build on all that the previous artists have already created. It’s a step in the right direction for Singaporeans to start crafting their own street art culture and identity, making it clear for the world to see, and for locals to realise that there’s a lot more out there than just Banksy – all they have to do is look around somewhere closer to home, Kampong Gelam specifically, and they’ll find some incredible murals waiting for them at the Graffiti Hall of Fame.
Graffiti Hall of Fame @ Kampong Gelam spans Bali Lane and Ophir Road, and is open 24 hours. Find out more on their website here