Tag Archives: Singapore

Bird Roost Heroes

Capt. Matthew Flinders (1923) by Charles Web Gilbert with seagull

It is an old chestnut but it suits a nautical man like Captain Matthew Flinders to have a statue that serves as a roost for seagulls. The bronze statue with its large granite plinth standing shows Flinders standing on the prow of a boat being dragged ashore by two sailors. The statue of Captain Mathew Flinders (1923) by Charles Web Gilbert stands beside the cathedral on Swanston St. in Melbourne. It would have been expected when the statue was erected that it would be joined by other statues of heroes but it looks like the tradition of creating bird roosts is fading away.

In the past it was easy – erect a stature of whoever is the current the culture hero. So the Scots would erect a statue of Robbie Burns, no questions asked, it was that easy. Now, it is not so easy. Who are the great and the good in the 21st century? The collective consciousness of the 21st Century is so mixed up with multiple identities, multiple worlds of merit (politics, war, peace, revolution, science, arts, sports) that are in dispute with each over the virtue of their merits, that any choice of a person as worthy of statue seems absurd.

Statue of Dali in Singapore

I remember looking at in amusement the collection of statues outside Parkview Square, an art deco revival apartment block in Singapore. It was a strange mad collection that only the most superficial understanding of history could put together. There was Dali along with Mozart, Picasso, Lincoln, Churchill and many others. There are some odd collections of statues of the great and the good around the world. When George Frêche, the president of the Languedoc Roussillon region of France decided to erect statues in Montpellier of the greatest men and women of the 20th Century he choose the following figures Vladimir Lenin, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Franklin Roosevelt, Jean Jaurés, Mahatma Gandhi, Gold Meir, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Nelson Mandela, Mao Zedong. (Alexander Chancellor reports in The Gaurdian Weekly 3/9/10 and Ed Ward writes about it in his blog entry “Days of Lard and Lenin”.)

What is the public expected to do with these statues? Worship their idols? There is, I’m told, a statue of Queen Victoria in India that has become a fertility shrine. Now in Melbourne only sports heroes and a few state Premiers are memorialised with bronze statues displayed in public places. These contemporary statues are all by Peter Corlett or Louis Laumen. I would like to see is a Peter Corlett statue of Nicky Winmar responding to racist taunts at the end of the St. Kilda vs Collingwood match in 1989. Here Corlett’s figurative sculpture could be used to create a passionate memorial of a rebuttal to racism that Melbourne needs to commemorate. Who do you think should have a public statue made of them or should we abandon the tradition?


Street Art around the World

Calling out around the world, are you ready for a brand new beat,

Coz summers here and the time is right for painting in the street.

(Apologies to Marvin Gaye/William “Mickey” Stevenson/Ivy Hunter)

Of course the list of cities where they are painting in the street is a bit longer than a few cities in the USA. Is there city in the world where there isn’t graffiti or street art? It would have to be the most repressive of police states and probably affluent without slums or other areas of neglect (e.g. empty factories). Nor could there be any indigenous tradition of wall painting. It is not Singapore, Iran or even the Vatican City (where there is both ancient and modern graffiti). In Tahiti there is Kreative Concept, l’association graffiti de Tahiti, representing Tahitian street artists. The site is in French (try Google translate) but has lots of photos as you might expect that require no translation. Requiring no translation is Cebu Street Art, from Cebu City in the Philippines. Of course we can just forget about war torn states like Somalia where a Canadian soldier reports “graffiti on everything”. I don’t know where there isn’t graffiti and I wouldn’t bet a dollar that any city in the world was graffiti free now.

As I explored the wide world of graffiti and street art I thought that I would to find more regional differences in this the most international of all art movements but there isn’t anything as obvious as that. The internet has made street art influences global even the cultural divisions of languages and alphabets is not significant in street art. The domination of English language in street art is surprising; even some francophone artists use English. It is disappointing that there aren’t more local references evident in global street art. Surely somewhere in the world traditional wall painting has merged with contemporary street art?

I have been reading, or rather looking at because it is ≈98% photographs, Nicholas Ganz Graffiti World – new edition (Thames & Hudson, 2009). I’m glad that I borrowed it from the library rather than buying it. Artists from the Americas and Europe occupy most of the book so the title is misleading. Although it mostly photographs with very short pieces of information about the artist and it does provide some small overviews of street art in various countries. For example, that Eastern bloc countries were late in developing a street art scene because of government bans on the sale of aerosol spray cans. And Nicholas Ganz reports that the first pieces have gone up in Burma and North Korea (p.374) addressing the question that I raised at the start. There are a few parochial features mentioned in Graffiti World like drawing on rail cars in oil chalk in Canada or the strategies of the some street artists from Brazil. I haven’t been able to compare it to the old edition (2004) but the list of Australian and Singaporean artists appears to have not been greatly revised in this new edition.


Stuck on Stickers

Stickers are a type of communication, a self-adhesive media. There are stickers all over the city, political, religious, advertising promotions, stickers that are peeled off and reapplied by accident or design and street art stickers. With all of these stickers it is difficult to spot the street art amongst the commercial, political and promotional. It is like finding a poem on a noticeboard.

Street art stickers or sticker art have been created to be small graphic works of art with self-adhesive backs. They are quick to apply and can fit on the backs of signs, poles and other surfaces in the city.

Stickers are another form of tagging, especially the ubiquitous “Hello my name is:” stickers with a tag written on it with a fat marker pen. Like tags stickers are often linear, that is they follow a line, along a street, applying a sticker to every suitable pole.

Arrowsoul Warriors in Singapore

Arrowsoul Warrozz (Singapore)

No matter how tough the city authorities are about other kinds of graffiti stickers are around.  Stickers thrive in anti-graffiti environments like Singapore.

Back of sign in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane

Back of sign in Fortitude Valley (Brisbane)

Although Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley is not an anti-graffiti environment like Singapore, stickers also thrive on the back of the street signs in the area. A lot of these Brisbane stickers, especially those of Loki One, Mzcry and ZKLR are created using stencils and aerosol spray cans. I have seen some of the best street art stickers on the back of street signs on Brunswick St, Fortitude Valley.

Stickers are the most collectable aspect of street art because of their size. I have a very small collection of stickers, especially when compared to Michael Anderson who has collected about 40,000. Mostly I just photograph them. So here are some more of my photographs.

Happy - Graffiti Colour My World in Brunswick

Happy – Graffiti Colour My World (Brunswick, Vic)

Happy’s “Graffiti Colour My World” parody of the Crayola Crayon advert and slogan. This is one sticker that I do have in my collection but the photograph is of one in its natural state beside the Upfield train-line.

Still Life in Spraypaint (Fortitude Valley)

Still Life in Spraypaint (Fortitude Valley)

There are many self-referential street art stickers that is self-conscious about its status, or not, as art. I don’t mean self-conscious in the sense of awkward and shy, but self-conscious of its own conditions, media, and quality. It takes street art to a new level, not of quality images, but in the depth of thought. Yes, this is a heavy philosophical way of looking at what is often the lighter side of street art. It is funny because it is deep rather than superficial.

God Has a Plan to Kill Me (Melbourne)

Lister – God Has a Plan to Kill Me (Melbourne)

I like street art stickers, especially the ones with a witty message like “God has a plan to kill me.”


Slac in Singapore

Street art is an international art movement; it is not limited to a few city centres like New York, Melbourne or São Paulo. It is popular through out SE Asia, from Brunei on the island of Borneo to the streets of Bangkok. “Capitalizing on the popularity of street art in Brunei the Alliance Françoise used the hotel (the Sheraton Utama Hotel) for a one-day show in which the French three-person graffiti collective SOAP created a public art work.” (Art Asia Pacific, Almanac 2009, p.151)

Slac with one of his pieces

Slac with one of his pieces

All the writers, around in the world celebrate the personal expression and instant fame that street art brings. On a visit to Singapore I met up with Slac at the *scape park on Somerset Rd, just behind the busy, internationally famous, shopping centres of Orchard Road. Slac showed me around the *scape park area.

*scape park centre

*scape park centre

The *scape park is a skate board park and small youth arts centre with a two story aerosol piece on its front wall, along with more of Singapore’s ubiquitous gardens.

MRT seats in *scape park

MRT seats in *scape park

Slac, a 19 year old Malay Singaporean writer who has done legal and illegal aerosol art. Slac started off doing graffiti after playing too many computer games with graffiti themes. Now he is one the best street artists in SG. He has been asked to stop entering aerosol art competitions in Singapore and start to judge them.

Slac's dragon

Slac's dragon

Slac told me that the popular preference in Singapore is for images rather than calligraphy in street art. This is strange because calligraphy is valued in both Chinese and Islamic cultures. Slac did show me a piece with 3D wildstyle Arabic letters.

Slac's piece in Haji Lane

Slac's piece in Haji Lane

I had seen some of Slac’s work around Haji Lane earlier in the week. The old small shops with their covered sidewalks used to be common in Singapore still remain here. And Haji Lane has been rejuvenated into a trendy area with a bit of street art and shisha (or hookahs, Turkish tobacco pipes) bubbling along the footpath that leads along the front of these old buildings. Business and rents in the area have subsequently increased.

The area around Haji Lane is called the Arab Quarter because it was the last bit that the East India Company and Stamford Raffles hadn’t swindled the local Malay Sultan out of. There is a goth/cosplay shop, designer street-wear clothes by SUP, traditional cloth merchants, funky cafés and excellent Malay food in the area. The street artists are mostly Malay because the Chinese Singaporeans don’t want to sacrifice their work life.

Slac's unfinished dogs

Slac's unfinished dogs

Slac had to stop painting these two dogs because the police had come along and were asking questions. The owner of the building was away in Thailand so couldn’t be contacted. Slac wasn’t arrested this time – he just can’t continue working on the piece.


Performance Art in Singapore

The exhibition, At Home Abroad, at 8Q sam featured six contemporary Singaporean artists whose art practices are largely or partially based abroad: Choy Ka Fai, Jason Lim, Ming Wong, Sookoon Ang, and Zulkifle Mahmod. I was surprised in the first gallery with the work of Jason Lim as Jason Lim is a performance artist. Jason Lim’s performance the “last drop” was about space, balance and water. It was documented in the exhibition with videos and the remains of a performance. Jason Lim’s performance consisted of various ways of pouring water. His attempts to catch a drop poured from a glass in the same glass were captivating.

Most of the other artists in the exhibition also had performance art elements to the art. Zulkifle Mahmod created electronic soundscapes with natural samples in both recordings and live site-specific performances. Ming Wong performs in an art video re-enacting and playing every male and female role in a Fassbinder film. Choy Ka Fai is a performer as well as, a visual artist. She performs as a guide and narrator in her video installation about public housing flats in Singapore. This would not be remarkable in most other countries but is in Singapore because of the 1994 controversy, that gives performance art a historical charge that is unique to Singapore.

Performance art emerged from neo-Dadaism, like Allan Karprow’s happenings and Fluxus, and merged with the extreme logic of the avant-garde art in the late 1960s. Performance art focused on the body and the then current political issue of breaking social taboos. American artist Vito Acconci plucked his hair and inflicted painful injuries on himself. In Australia artist Stelarc suspended his body using multiple hooks. And the extremes of the Viennese Actionism that concentrated on breaking taboos.

This trend in performance art continued until at the height of the punk rock movement. When it appeared that all the taboo breaking goals had been accomplished and Sid Vicious was doing Acconci’s masochistic act for the masses. A more elegant and technologically savvy form of performance art started to emerge, like Laurie Anderson in America. And in Australia Stelarc engaged with technology and prosthetic limbs. And all of the Singaporean artists in the At Home Abroad exhibition with their use of video and other digital technology.

Art history is not a neat time-line, art trends generally do not occur in different places simultaneously and local conditions will influence these trends. So the history of performance art in Singapore is different to this broad over-view. In 1994 in Singapore a major controversy erupted following the New Years Day performances by Joseph Ng, who cut off his pubic hair and Shannon Tham, who vomited into a bucket. This already outdated Acconci influenced performance and the subsequent controversy led to a ban of government funding of performance art in Singapore. Extensively documented by Lee Weng Choy in “Chronology of a controversy” (1996). The ban on performance art in the 90s reinforced international perceptions of Singapore as an extremely rigid and controlled state.

In December 2003 the Substation art space hosted a performance art event, Future of Imagination, curated by Lee Wen, the first performance art event that was funded by the Singapore National Arts Council in ten years. As the pendulum of taste swings in the opposite direction with equal force Singapore now has an International Performance Art Event at Sculpture Square; The Future of Imagination is now in its 5th year.


Temples without gods

Art galleries in Singapore are like temples without gods. If you build the art space will they come? And then what will they see? From the newest art galleries in Singapore, to the commercial galleries, to the government funded institutions there are the spaces but not the content. And often what content there is has been imported.

Singapore’s commercial galleries import art from around the world to on sell it; not enough, of even the bland designer type art, is being produced locally. Like Ode to Art gallery, in the shopping mall connected to my hotel. The gallery only has three Singapore artists represented, the rest come from Turkey, Vietnam and the USA.

The Substation is a contemporary arts centre with a white rectangular gallery space and a theatre. When I visited the Substation there was an imported exhibition: Victoria Cattoni’s exhibition “What if I Want to Water Ski? And Other Questions”. Victoria Cattoni is an Australian artist and the Australian Government, Queensland Government and Australia Council supported her exhibition. Cattoni examines issues about wearing the hijab with portrait photographs of women wearing hijab, videos and books of questions and replies. It was the most well attended exhibition that I saw in Singapore, mostly by Moslem women wearing hijab. And why not, when it was basically fashion photography exhibition. And it did also have the added dimension of a pleasant dialogue between the non-Moslem artist and Moslem women about an allegedly ‘hot’ topic.

As well as providing excellent exhibition spaces Singapore is good at supporting its student artists; I always see a school art exhibition at SAM when I visit Singapore. This time it was Abstractus, at 8Q sam, an exhibition of the work of students from the SOTA arts programme. However, this reinforces the attitude in Singapore that art is a juvenile activity, as demonstrated by the denial in the very first sentence of 8Q sam’s press release on its target audience: “Audiences at 8Qsam are not only limited to the young.” After these student exhibitions there appears to be nothing, a few emerging artists but no great truly great Singaporean artist, no major artists.

The new contemporary art wing, 8Q sam, of the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) appears to have no permanent collection. It is a great space in a converted old building but like the old wing of SAM it is largely empty space.

These are fragmentary observations, seen by a tourist and an editor who, in 1999, put together a directory of Singapore’s art and culture websites for LookSmart. But then no story is complete. What happens to all of these young Singaporean artists? Do they have to leave the country in order to continue an artistic career? Please leave a comment if you are one of these young Singaporean artists, have your say and you can help complete this story.


Singapore’s Art World

I’ve spent the last few days in Singapore look at art galleries and meeting up with street artists because my wife was attending a conference. I tried to see a cross section of Singapore’s visual art world. From the high-brow end of Singapore art government galleries, the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) and 8Q, http://www.singart.com/8qsam/ the new contemporary art wing of SAM. To the commercial galleries, the contemporary art spaces and an artist-run gallery. I saw the art by emerging artists, art students, street artists and designers.

I’ve been to Singapore a couple of times before and I once wrote a directory of arts and culture websites for LookSmart, back in 1999. And most recently I published two interviews about street art in Singapore in this blog (Street Art in Singapore and Graffiti in Singapore II). So I met up with the guy’s that I’ve been exchanging emails with Rozaimie Sahbi (aka Slac), and self described, low-brow (stencil, batik and caricatures) artist and art teacher Kamal Dollah, in Singapore. Kamal brought Luthfi Mustafah (aka The Killer Gerbil) along and it was great to meet him. Thanks guys for showing me around. And a special thank you to Kamal for the excellent Malay lunch, not only was it good but I eating three new vegetables and a type of snail is an excellent experience.

Myself & Kamal Dollah

Myself & Kamal Dollah

There are many connections between Singapore and Melbourne because many Singaporean artist study at RMIT and other Melbourne tertiary institutions. Singapore’s street art has been influenced by contact with Melbourne street artists: Slac mentioned Drew and The Killer Gerbil recently visited Melbourne’s Blender Studios and the Everfresh Crew.

I saw some excellent contemporary art on exhibition at Osage Gallery and also at 2902 Gallery in the same building at the Old School on Sophia Rd. The Old School is prosaically an old school that has been converted into studios, galleries and other similar creative businesses.

Osage Gallery is a contemporary gallery, with some excellent spaces well light spaces with extremely high ceilings. The exhibition that I saw “Found & Lost” explored the limits of drawing and Khiew Huey Chain’s post-minimalist site-specific installation “Existential Construct” was the most spectacular piece in the exhibition. Using string drawn tight between nails “Existential Construct” created careful lines in the largest of Osage Gallery’s spaces.

2902 Gallery specializes in contemporary photography and a regular program of new exhibitions. The gallery is very new; it opened this year on the 29th of February, hence the name 2902. There are three gallery spaces, gallery lighting and humidity control, an important feature in Singapore’s environment. The exhibition that I saw featured the first graduating class of Singapore’s photography students. In another gallery design students were exhibiting “All Future Parties” – I only found the galleries at the Old School because of the signs for this exhibition.

wall painting outside 2902

wall painting outside 2902

Singapore is not a noted internationally for its artists but that is no reason to ignore it. I won’t and I am trying to write more about Singapore’s art world. The art scene in Singapore is marginal, it has cultural, social and political problems but it is definitely improving.


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