Singapore is known for being clean and sanitized, but we’ve also got a thriving street art scene that brings pops of color to nooks and crannies where you least expect it. In between the sleek skyscrapers of our concrete jungle, creativity blossoms on the walls of housing estates, in quiet alleyways, and within bustling neighborhoods, bringing with it a flutter of radiant energy and charm.
We trudged across the island’s central district to hunt down as many artworks as humanly possible so that we could break down the works of art by neighborhood. Here are some of the cool and creative designs we saw along the way, from edgy graffiti to retro scenes — we hope it helps you chart out your own course to see these sights up close.
Amidst the historic shop houses, souvenir tourist traps, working spaces, and trendy bars of Chinatown and Tanjong Pagar, the variety of heritage murals makes for a pleasant stroll around the area. Start off at 333 Kreta Ayer Road, where scenes of Little Guilin, chess mates, and a duo practicing tai chi line the walls and staircase leading up to Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre. Part of the Colouring Banda Street initiative by accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), these works are the result of a team effort between the company’s volunteers and residents from the area.
Nearby, hidden in a corner among Keong Saik Road’s chic eateries, Ripple Root’s quirky splashes of paint brighten up the exterior of The Working Capitol. Commissioned by the co-working space, the artwork is Peranakan tile-inspired on one side and “jazzy and rhythmic” on the other, explain the pair, whose creative process begins with an initial sketch and flows into spontaneity in the paint elements.
In another backstreet, brightening up the now-closed Botanist cafe, a slinky stretches out from where the pavement meets Neil Road. Further down 7 Craig Road just after the Bearded Bella cafe, you’ll chance upon ladies kitted out in apparel of old, holding on to modern-day gadgets like branded bags and laptops. Head just around the corner to Duxton Road and you’ll easily spot an #ootd backdrop-worthy series of colorful dots that instantly bring to mind the game of Twister.
At the back of Tanjong Pagar Road, where the stretch meets Murray Street, you’ll come face to face with another of Ripple Root’s work, influenced by the area’s past as a nutmeg plantation. True to their style, the artists keep things upbeat and tongue-in-cheek, fostering a little lighthearted cheer in the neighborhood.
Next, make your way to Ann Siang Hill, where snazzy restaurants brush shoulders with watering hole favorites of the after-work crowd. A back lane leading to nasi lemak hotspot The Coconut Club features a newly-painted Chinese zodiac design paying tribute in particular to 2019’s Year of the Pig.
Finally, before you pass out from heat exhaustion, stop by Amoy Street’s Thian Hock Keng Temple, the country’s oldest Chinese one, and marvel at the 40m-long mural by Yip Yew Chong, a name synonymous with nostalgia-tinged street art in Singapore. Complete with extracts of historical information, the images captured here showcase the myriad experiences of early Hokkien migrants.
A sleepy neighborhood dotted with housing estates, eateries, and residential shop houses, Everton Park is a tranquil enclave where you’ll bump into the odd person taking a little “me time” in one of those cozy cafes. It’s also where Yip first got into street art in August 2015 – he’s since gone on to paint over 50 public murals in Singapore and beyond.
Inspired by childhood memories, Yip reminisces “the old Chinatown when it was a huge street market full of push cart vendors and wet market stalls”, and credits street Cantonese opera, with its “realistically painted canvas backdrops and wooden plank props which looked 3D”, as his influences.
His very first painting, “Amah” (“mother” or “grandmother” in Chinese) along 40 Everton Road, depicts a housemaid doing laundry in a kitchen for a Peranakan family. In the three years since, he’s experimented with varying canvases, painting on rocks in the Botanic Gardens and wooden houses on a jetty in Penang, all the while taking bolder steps in his brush strokes, playing with brilliant colors, and tuning down the cartoonish aspects of his portraits.
Around the corner, Yip’s “Barber” work displays an old school haircut experience, while his charming “Provision Shop” piece along 8 Spottiswoode Park Road brings to life a vintage store of grocery goodies.
Another haunt of Yip’s, the hip ‘hood displays his works tucked away in back lanes and unexpected corners. As usual, these are themed after the heritage of the area, capturing snippets of a bygone era. The iconic “Bird Singing Corner” on 71 Seng Poh Lane surfaces memories of old, when avian-lovers would gather (some still do now) to admire their feathered friends. A couple minutes’ walk away, 73 Eng Watt Street portrays “Pasar and the Fortune Teller” a lively scene of multi-ethnic communities coming together for food.
Finally, prettifying the wall right outside a resident’s unit along 74 Tiong Poh Road and Eu Chin Street is “Home,” a peek back in time when box set TVs, newspapers, and telephones reigned supreme.
The dwelling place of museums, design studios, and art schools naturally buzzes with its own funky aesthetic, which is most clearly seen on 222 Queen Street and 51 Waterloo Street. The former spills over with creative graffiti juices splattered across the side of a building, while the latter invites you to play around with a series of painted doors along a corridor.
Illustrating moments from Singapore’s past, Yip and fellow painter Yuen Kum Cheong take inspiration from Bras Basah’s history in their interactive images of buildings from Singapore’s past, including the likes of Odeon Cinema, National Theatre, NCO Club, and National Library.
Moving on to the hipster street of Haji Lane — plenty of psychedelic and funky artworks crowd the area. Just follow those tourists with their bulky cameras (or perhaps you’re one of ‘em) and you’ll come face-to-face with a medley of prismatic designs along the alleys of The Singapura Club, Blu Jaz Cafe, and Piedra Negra.
Around the area, you can spot more street art on the façade of buildings facing Victoria Street, from Symmetry cafe to the Vintage Cameras Museum, plus the ever-changing canvas that is the alleyway behind Aliwal Arts Centre. And at Sultan Gate, Yip’s recognizable java-themed work at the now-defunct A.R.C. Coffee covers the side of the structure. Close by, Sultan Arts Village, where graffiti store The Black Book resides, proudly exhibits an evolving array of spray painted works that take you straight to funky town.
First things first, amble through the nearby Jalan Besar for a glimpse of “shiok” murals at Horne Road outside The Bravery Café and the junction of Plumer Road and Jalan Besar. Created by artist Ben Qwek for Guinness Singapore, the “Ang Ji Gao” (Hokkien for “red-tongued dog) designs commemorate the brand’s limited edition Foreign Extra Stout.
Before the trail wraps up, wander around the lively district of Little India, starting at the striking “Cattleland 2” painting by artist Eunice Lim at 67 Kerbau Road, right outside the MRT station’s Exit E. When you pass by Park 22 Hotel, look out for Speak Cryptic’s “In The Clouds” monochrome illustration matching the building façade, then walk a little further to the side alley by Belilios Lane, where Psyfool’s “Traditional Trades of Little India” covers the walls with visuals of traders and merchants in the area from years past.
On Baboo Lane, where the stretch meets 212 Serangoon Road, lift your gaze to the sky and catch sight of Jaba’s artwork, which places modern and olden ways of transportation side by side.
A short distance away, 1 Hindoo Road gets jazzed up by Izzad Radzali Shah’s wacky “Festival” blue mural down an alleyway, and Indian superstar Rajinikanth gets an homage in paint at 11 Hindoo Road, thanks to Zero’s larger-than-life portrait of “Working Class Hero.”
As you scout out the neighborhood and beyond, keep an eye out for new and cool artworks that come to life every time an artist hits refresh. With our flourishing scene and the continual rise of up-and-coming creatives, we can only expect more groovy artistic expressions and unconventional perspectives of Singapore in the years to come.
Photography: Benita Lee for Coconuts Media
This article, On the trail of street art in Singapore: Where to find murals, creative designs, and heritage scenescapes, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company. Want more Coconuts? Sign up for our newsletters!