Mural hunting in Tiong Bahru

I was exploring the National Museum of Singapore with my partner and there in Gallery 10, was an immersive animation that showed scenes of early Singapore. The work was entitled “Moving Memories” by Yip Yew Chong. I later found out that his murals can be found around Singapore. This blogpost takes readers through Yip Yew Chong’s murals in just one area – Tiong Bahru.

Why Tiong Bahru?

According to this post by the artist, he was encouraged by the positive response from the public from his works in Everton Road and began to draw up potential locations. Two came up – Chinatown and Tiong Bahru. Besides feeling connected to these two places,  they were also conservation areas and suitable for such an endeavor.

He later found that the walls in Tiong Bahru were more suitable with it being clean and in abundance and the alleys quaint. The walls in Chinatown in comparison were greasy and the alleys were piled with stuff. Tiong Bahru was also his childhood playground where his cousins and siblings would hunt for saga seeds!

Later in the post, Yew Chong also recounted his experience in pitching his ideas to the final approval. It also bears mentioning that because the approvals were later than expected, he was working 5 weekends on these paintings even squeezing a business trip to Dubai at the same time!

I think this is testament to the artist’s determination to seeing his work come to fruition – a work that we the public enjoy even till today.

Pasar and Fortune Teller

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Pasar and the Fortune Teller

And so, with the help of friends, residents and his family providing logistical support along with food and drinks, this mural took 4.5 days to complete at an average of 12 hours of painting per day.

Originally conceptualized as two different murals, “Pasar” (malay for market) was not considered by the committee approving his murals as it was too costly. Approval came however after lowering its costs by simplifying it and combining it with “Fortune Teller”, which was painted based on a small black and white photograph that he had.

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Fortune Teller was based on a black and white photograph

Despite trying to search for the original fortune teller through social media, he found out less than a week later than he had passed on. Yew Chong thought that it would be touching for him to view a mural of himself, complete with his unusual business attire and his signboard.

On the last day of painting “Pasar”, the artist also added a small squatting stall selling traditional cakes and kuehs based on a resident’s suggestion (see featured photo of blog post).

Bird Singing Corner

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Bird Singing Corner

This mural was painted over 1.5 days. Compared to “Pasar”, this one was in a semi-sheltered walkway and hence more comfortable to paint. In the original sketch, the 4 fluttering grey birds were not present. These were only added at the end.

Each mural was also accompanied by a poem by the artist. Below is the one found for Bird Singing corner.

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Bird Singing Corner

The poem is a touching tribute to days past of uncles just sipping tea or Kopi (Hokkien for coffee) at the Kopitiam ( Hokkien for Coffee shop) and listening to their birds singing.

Home

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Home

Tiong Bahru being one of the first public housing estates in Singapore is also home to Yew Chong’s murals of a scene inside a home. In fact, some of the homes in Tiong Bahru are still furnished traditionally, prompting many bypassers (me included) to peek into the homes as we past them.

It was the artist’s intention that this mural be an alternative “showroom” for people to enjoy. Belying this fact were the groups of people who we saw taking pictures here before and after we left the area.

Recreated mostly from the artist’s memory of his home, “Home” also has other references to his family. On the television set is his aunt’s favourite comedian duo, Wang Sa and Ya Fong. You can also find his dad’s ash tray along with his grandmother’s 555 cigarette tin on the table with the telephone.

Conclusion

With a bit of walking and exploration, you can find heritage-rich murals in the Tiong Bahru region. Within these murals you can find references to Singapore’s founding, her multi-cultural roots , even her way of life.

While reading the poems that accompany these murals give some background of why the artist chose to paint the scene , reading the artist’s detailed post about these works, you realize that these were not just beautiful creations depicting Singapore’s past but love letters to his family and the nation.

I highly recommend you to read his post before you go down to the site.

The lowdown

Reference: Artist’s post on the Tiong Bahru murals.

Time taken: 2 hours

Locations: Locations in Tiong Bahru are indicated in green.

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