If you lived through the 90s, you’d probably know who Michael Fay is. Michael Fay was an 18-year-old American teenager who found himself in the heart of a massive controversy which involved intense back-to-back negotiations between the Singapore government and then-US-president Bill Clinton. In 1994, the media attention it attracted was global.
Michael Fay was caught spray-painting several cars in Singapore, and as a result, was liable for the punishment of caning as per Singapore’s laws. People around the world were shocked at Singapore’s hard stance towards crimes they deemed petty and accused our government of being overly-rigid and excessively stern. The government, led by then-president Ong Teng Cheong, proceeded to cane him anyway but reduced the strokes from 12 to 6 as a sign of respect for Bill Clinton.
Bearing this in mind, it will, therefore, be quite surprising to know that Singapore, today, has allocated specific areas in the country where artists and members of the public can channel their inner Banksy by taking the spray can to the wall. These walls can mainly be found in the heart of town and are mostly public walls, with one being privately owned but open for public use.
As a graffiti artist myself, these walls come as a blessing because it represents an outlet for people like me to express ourselves without having to deal with much red-tape freely. So long as you do not paint anything overtly political or offensive, you’re pretty much open to painting anything that would quench your creative thirst.
Before you start painting, however, it is essential to take note of one enduring custom that’s widely practised in the street art community—come with your own bucket of wall primer paint and rollers, and cover the wall entirely with paint first before you proceed with your artwork as a sign of respect for the previous artist. It’ll also improve the overall aesthetic of the surrounding area and make your artistic creations stand out more.
Without further ado, here are places where you can channel your inner Banksy without, you know, getting caned.
Located right outside Somerset MRT station, this long-standing skatepark was opened in 2006 by the National Youth Council to support Singapore’s ever-growing extreme sports community. Apart from featuring many skateboarding obstacles, the park also houses two concrete walls that are open to the street art community for public use.
The atmosphere here is always buzzing—on weekdays the park is filled with teens hanging out at the wooden benches by the side and office workers out and about on their daily commute. On weekends, the open field behind these walls is always packed with domestic workers having leisurely picnics, enjoying their day off.
Getting there is simple—alight at Somerset MRT and take Exit A. As soon as you’ve exited the station, it’s impossible not to spot the huge and busy skatepark located on your left.
A walking distance from Somerset Skatepark is the Scape Youth Park. Once the epicentre for youth subculture events in Singapore, the glory days of this place has long past expired since the construction of the swanky, state-of-the-art *SCAPE shopping centre right across the road from here.
The long stretch of walls remain though, and it is personally one of my favourite places to paint at because of the presence of shaded trees and low foot traffic. Sessions spent here are always loungy and chill. It would be good to come prepared with mosquito repellent though due to the presence of greenery surrounding the walls.
Compared to the previous two entries, this spot is somewhat obscure as it is located within a residential area in Bukit Batok West. The walls are found in a concrete skatepark beside the PIE, on a jogging route near Block 178. Painting here is also a very peaceful experience, with very little foot traffic that consists mainly of occasional, curious joggers.
To get there, take the MRT and alight at Bukit Batok. Head down to the bus interchange and board bus 941, where you will then alight at the sixth stop, at block 169. Upon alighting, head south through the HDB estate until you get to block 178 and you will be able to see the skatepark from there. The colourful walls lie in stark contrast to the lush greenery surrounding the park and can be spotted from a distance away.
Nestled in the heart of Sultan Arts Village, this is the unofficial hub for local graffiti artists. Here, you can find a long wall by a fence beside the car park in front of Aliwal Arts Centre.
Though the habitants of the area privately own this wall, the artists that live there are usually open and welcoming to anyone interested in learning how to paint. They might even offer a free lesson if they’re feeling up to it. They also stock imported brands of spray paint that have a wide range of colours created specifically for mural creation.
Utama.co is a shop that sells urban art supplies, including specialised spray paints, created by known local street art couple Ink&Clog. Their brick and mortar store is located at Katong Point, where they also feature a wall located at the back of the mall for the sole purpose of mural painting.
Utama.co privately owns the wall, so if you’d like to try your hand on painting here, it is strongly recommended that you speak with the owners of the store first before doing so.
At the back of Aliwal Arts Centre, there is an alleyway, on which rests a vast, two-storey high wall emblazoned with a massive street art mural. A few more paintings can also be found a short distance down the alleyway, at a smaller wall on the side of the building.
These walls are co-managed by National Arts Centre and local street art collective RSCLS, so any artist who intends to paint here has to seek permission from either group. As the walls here are massive, artists would usually come and paint collaboration murals here. It is a difficult wall to tackle as it involves painting with ladders at heights, so if you’re just starting out, this wall is probably not the best for your maiden experience.
Though freedom of expression should never be seen as a crime, destruction of other people’s property does carry a hefty sentence here in Singapore. While the act of graffiti writing can be very therapeutic and thrilling, one should always be careful not to get themselves in trouble with the law for the sake of self-expression.
Also, as these walls are public, come with the understanding that any artwork done there is purely temporary, and that everyone has an equal right to have their fun with it. Don’t expect your masterpiece to last for months, as the turnover rate is typically a few weeks before another artist comes and paints over it. Always take pictures when you’re done!
These public walls offer an excellent avenue for those interested in getting into this hobby and should be seen as an act of appreciation from the authorities for our valued artform. Hence we should always try our best to play our part by ensuring that it can continue to be enjoyed by more street art enthusiasts and artists in the years to come.