Singapore is not a city known for street art. In fact, art in public spaces is strictly monitored in light of tough state laws against vandalism. Some argue these laws are a manifestation of the state’s desire to maintain control over public spaces and curb dissident access to platforms where their message can spread. The government, on the other hand, posits that such laws are required to protect property funded and used by the public.
These restrictions came under heated discussion last year, when a street artist was arrested for her unauthorized use of stencils, spray paint and stickers on public roads and traffic lights. As such, street art in this city is largely limited to certain areas where it is has been legalized or commissioned.
One of these spots is The Substation, an independent non-profit center for the arts in Singapore’s civic district. It’s one of the few areas in the space-squeezed city which remains a dynamic homage to the city’s cultural roots and architectural heritage. The center’s name is a reference to the building’s past as a former substation dating back to 1926, before being reborn as The Substation in 1991. Since then, it has supported, hosted and organized arts projects, festivals and events like the Loveletters Project, the Artist, the Book and the Crowd as well as the Singapore Night Festival, and provided a precious platform for street art.
The center began providing a home for street art when a French artist approached the centre asking for permission to make art on its exterior. Other requests soon followed, and the wall has since taken on “a life of its own”, and is now populated mostly by the imaginations of local artists.
Some might feel that regulating street art detracts from its intrinsic value. Perhaps this is true, but regardless, in a city which never seems to stop moving and building, this creative explosion is worth savouring and slowing down for. Even here, in this alley, things don’t stop changing – the wall will be washed clean later this month to make way for new art.