Jalan Besar – a sanctuary for strangers and art
Find art works squirreled away in unlikely corners, such as the workshop of Mr Phua, who embodies the persistence and passion of old-time Jalan Besar craftspeople. “I naughty, fool around, don’t want to study. But my right hand works!”
Chinese clan associations still own many properties in Jalan Besar, like these beauties on Sam Leong Road.

Jalan Besar – a sanctuary for strangers and art

OH! Jalan Besar: Refuge for Strangers is a mini art walk that burrows under the surface to tell stories of the transient workers, sunset trades and disappearing clans that make this neighbourhood a refuge in technocratic Singapore.

Four art works are secreted across secret spaces and trade shops. Discover Alan Oei’s stop-motion Goliath tucked away in the atmospheric workshop of carpenter, sculptor and theatrical set builder, Mr Phua (aka Jackie Chan). Find repurposed fabric collages by Nature Shankar and a politically charged mixed media installation by Subhas and Migrants Band Singapore in an unofficial Bangladeshi community centre-cum-musical club. Watch Hampshire Road, Min-Wei Ting’s silent but eloquent video commentary on the aftermath of the 2013 Little India riot, in the most unexpected place…

Sandwiched by Little India to the North and Arab Street to the South, Jalan Besar (‘Big Road’ in English) began life as a track through the betel nut and nipah plantations. The Malay kampong dwellers who farmed at Jalan Besar used human waste as fertiliser, and the smell was intensified when the area became a centre for the processing and burning of rubbish. The nearby thoroughfare was ironically named Lavender Street. This has always been a place for the displaced and marginalised.

OH! Jalan Besar leads you down streets where New World Amusement Park used to draw the night crowds from Malaya and Singapore with boxing, burlesque and booze. It also touches on the hidden world of the present day: the Chinese clan associations that still own many properties hereabout; the furtively thriving red-light business which draws in women from Vietnam and Cambodia; and the transient workers who have made Jalan Besar their refuge as they build modern Singapore for the rest of us.

You can also savour the sights and smells of affordable restaurants serving tasty Chinese, Malay, Indian and Vietnamese food. They say that in Jalan Besar, if you throw a stone, you will hit a good eating place.

Running until 17 Oct, OH! Jalan Besar is a great way to discover a different side of Singapore. It is organised by OH! Open House, an independent arts organisation committed to telling alternative stories of Singapore through art. Book for OH! Jalan Besar: Refuge for Strangers here.

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