HDB wall art adds unexpected colour to the heartlands of Singapore

HDB wall art adds unexpected colour to the heartlands of Singapore

Gone are the days where art exists only in museums and galleries. In Singapore, murals of all sizes can be found in our historical districts, such as Little India, Telok Ayer, and Chinatown. But it doesn’t stop there, as the heartlands are starting to play catch up.

The ongoing effort to spruce up void deck walls in Housing Development Board (HDB) blocks seems to fulfil many different goals, some of which include bringing art to everyday spaces, serving as a visual guiding aid for the elderly, and memorialising our heritage.

The A List explores a variety of wall art that has rejuvenated heartland areas spanning Ang Mo Kio, Tampines, Macpherson, Holland Avenue, and Everton Park.

1. Ang Mo Kio

The familiar Kopitiam teacup and saucer adorning a wall at Block 106 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 4 serve as a guiding aid in leading elderly residents back home.
The familiar Kopitiam teacup and saucer adorning a wall at Block 106 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 4 serve as a guiding aid in leading elderly residents back home.

No matter where a Singaporean travels, seeing the classic Kopitiam teacup and saucer or even the White Rabbit candy can bring about a wave of nostalgia. With that in mind, Dementia Singapore (formerly known as Alzheimer’s Disease Association) launched the Wayfinding Project in the Kebun Baru precinct within Ang Mo Kio in March 2019.

The Wayfinding Project employs the use of brightly coloured objects on void deck walls to help people with dementia and their caregivers to identify their locations and find their way around the neighbourhood easily. 

An Ang Ku Kueh, a popular traditional pastry recognisable to many, is found on a void deck pillar at Block 116 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 4.
An Ang Ku Kueh, a popular traditional pastry recognisable to many, is found on a void deck pillar at Block 116 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 4.

As of April 2021, Dementia Singapore had completed 37 murals across ten blocks around Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3 and 4 – estates that have been found to house a high proportion of residents living with dementia. The murals are big and strategically placed next to the block numbers so they can be easily seen from afar.

White Rabbit – the childhood candy of many – adding colour and cheer to the staircase exterior of Block 257 of Ang Mo Kio Avenue 4.
White Rabbit – the childhood candy of many – adding colour and cheer to the staircase exterior of Block 257 of Ang Mo Kio Avenue 4.

Learn more about the Wayfinding Project here.

2. Tampines

A large mural at SAFRA Tampines visualising an active lifestyle.
A large mural at SAFRA Tampines visualising an active lifestyle.

Sports and visual art may not be the most instinctive combination, but SAFRA Tampines has managed to make it work – and look good. In 2019, they teamed up with Singapore-based creative studio Mural Lingo to design a mural that aims to encourage people to embark on an active lifestyle.

The mural design portrays all the activities that SAFRA Tampines offers, such as swimming, badminton, and bowling. Visitors will be able to spot the mural near the entrance of SAFRA Tampines swimming pool, squash courts, and the gym.

Imagine warming up to the backdrop of this lively mural? It might just give you that extra push you need to keep fit on the regular.

Learn more about Mural Lingo’s work at SAFRA Tampines here.

3. Macpherson

Several of Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh’s work makes their way to a void deck pillar at Block 56 Pipit Road, a short walk from Macpherson MRT station.
Several of Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh’s work makes their way to a void deck pillar at Block 56 Pipit Road, a short walk from Macpherson MRT station.

Is the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam on your must-visit list? If so, you’ll be pleased to know that there’s an unofficial preview of it right here in Singapore – not at a museum, but a void deck in the neighbourhood of Macpherson.

Some galleries don’t offer seats. But at this free ‘gallery’, you can take a rest on the benches while soaking in some of Van Gogh’s masterpieces.
Some galleries don’t offer seats. But at this free ‘gallery’, you can take a rest on the benches while soaking in some of Van Gogh’s masterpieces.

Reproductions of revered Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh’s famous artworks such as Starry Night, The Red Vineyard, and The Noon Rest can be found at the void deck of Block 56 Pipit Road.

Fun fact: the café in the painting Café Terrace at Night still exists, and was renamed Café Van Gogh to commemorate the artist.
Fun fact: the café in the painting Café Terrace at Night still exists, and was renamed Café Van Gogh to commemorate the artist.

Arts charity group Social Creatives are the masterminds behind this void deck gallery – said to be the first of its kind – that aims to promote community art. They work with grassroots leaders, residents, students, and volunteers to determine the mural themes and paint them.

4. Holland Avenue

Reproductions and spoofs of works by iconic pop art artists Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Keith Haring are featured on the void deck pillars of Block 8 Holland Avenue.
Reproductions and spoofs of works by iconic pop art artists Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Keith Haring are featured on the void deck pillars of Block 8 Holland Avenue.

Led by the same team behind the Vincent van Gogh-inspired murals, the team at Social Creatives turned another ordinary void deck into a pop art gallery with a focus on three legendary pop art artists: Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein.

A localised take on Roy Lichtenstein’s Crying Girl.
A localised take on Roy Lichtenstein’s Crying Girl.

Pop art, an art movement that emerged and flourished between the 50s and 60s in the United Kingdom and the United States, presents imagery inspired by popular culture. Andy Warhol’s famous Campbell’s Soup Cans and Roy Lichtenstein’s Crying Girl are some examples of pop art that you might recognise.

Another localised take on Andy Warhol’s pop-art portraits, featuring Kopitiam teacups and saucers.
Another localised take on Andy Warhol’s pop-art portraits, featuring Kopitiam teacups and saucers.

However, not all of the wall art found on the void deck pillars of Block 8 Holland Avenue are reproductions of famous pop art paintings. Rather, many of them are spoofs of the originals with a dash of local flavour. You’ll spot some familiar lingos such as aiyoo and sedap, as well as visuals of our MRT train and Kopitiam teacups.

Learn more about Social Creative’s void deck galleries here.

5. Everton Road

Singaporean artist Yip Yew Chong adds some kampong life to modern-day Everton with an artwork called Amah, which means ‘grandma’.
Singaporean artist Yip Yew Chong adds some kampong life to modern-day Everton with an artwork called Amah, which means ‘grandma’.

Despite being one of Singapore’s oldest neighbourhoods, Everton manages to balance its rustic charm with the modern developments happening in and around it – and it does so with a little help from Singaporean artist Yip Yew Chong’s murals.

Yip lived in Chinatown for 26 years and he draws on the time spent growing up in the area as inspiration for his heritage murals such as Amah and Barber, both of which are found at Blocks 39 and 40 Everton Road.

A neighbourhood barber gives a young boy a haircut in a makeshift tent in Yip’s mural Barber.
A neighbourhood barber gives a young boy a haircut in a makeshift tent in Yip’s mural Barber.
Yip’s 40m-long mural on Amoy Street illustrates how Chinese immigrants thrived in the early years of Singapore.
Yip’s 40m-long mural on Amoy Street illustrates how Chinese immigrants thrived in the early years of Singapore.

Yip created his first public mural Amah in August 2015. It features a woman hand washing clothes outdoors with nonya kebaya and other batik fabric hanging on the clothesline to dry.

A month later he began working on Barber, another mural around the corner from Amah.

Although most barber shops have gone indoors, Yip’s Barber mural provides a glimpse into the past where many neighbourhood barbers worked outdoors under a simple makeshift tent.

View Yip’s other work and their back stories here.

(Photos: Dementia Singapore, URA Singapore Instagram, Mural Lingo, Social Creatives, Yip Yew Chong)

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