Science & Nature

How Singapore is making big space for art

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Published December 29, 2022

9 min read

In Singapore, it seems like art is at every turn. Look closely and you’ll discover masterpieces by surrealist Salvador Dalí, American pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, and Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama in the most surprising places—in front of an office building, jutting out of a walkway, and even on a rooftop garden above Orchard Central shopping center.

Singapore’s burgeoning art and cultural scene is one built on accessibility. From Anish Kapoor’s glittering stainless-steel sculpture to the rotund bronze Bird by renowned Colombian painter and sculptor Fernando Botero, art is on display in public spaces where everyone can appreciate it up close. At the historic Haw Par Villa, Singapore’s largest outdoor art gallery, visitors can peruse more than 1,000 statues and 150 dioramas that weave Chinese folklore and legends with traditional Confucius teachings.

In addition to showcasing works from some of the biggest contemporary names in the global art world, Singapore is also focused on cultivating a new generation of home-grown and regional talents, specializing in traditional fine arts as well as cutting-edge, experimental mediums. In an effort to promote and elevate street art, Singapore commissioned a diverse group of artists to create imaginative, contemplative murals in tucked-away alleyways and timeworn buildings in Chinatown, Little India, Tiong Bahru, Katong-Joo Chiat, and Kampong Gelam.

Throughout the year, festivals, live performances, and concerts add to the vibrancy of the creative community. Here are some of the biggest art draws to come.

ARTWALK

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When: January

An annual public arts festival, Artwalk takes place in the culturally rich neighborhoods of Little India and Katong-Joo Chiat. Visitors can embark on guided walking tours to learn about the food, stories, murals, history, and heritage of two of Singapore’s most distinct communities. Past events have included traditional Indian dance performances, poetry readings, Peranakan tile painting, leather crafting, and spice-making workshops.

What to expect: Experience art and culture up close with intimate performances and hands-on workshops with local artisans, storytellers, and cultural experts.

SINGAPORE BIENNALE 

When: October–March

Spanning five months, the Singapore Biennale is a dynamic event that aims to connect art to people and their lives. Organized by Singapore Art Museum and commissioned by the National Arts Council, Singapore, the biennale encourages folks to see art in a new light through interactive installations and exhibitions that are displayed throughout the country—in regional libraries, residential neighborhoods, and even satellite islands like Sentosa, St John’s Island, and Lazarus Island.

What to expect: The diverse programming includes docent-led art tours, acrobatic performances, story time with children, a film installation in a Singapore Flyer capsule, and “The Library of Unread Books” exhibition, where people can bring their own unread book to be displayed at the International Plaza.

SINGAPORE ART WEEK

When: January

Over the course of 10 days, this massive visual arts celebration organizes more than 130 art events at museums, galleries, independent art spaces, and public places across Singapore from the city center to the heartland neighborhoods. Visitors can attend film festivals, discussions with artists, photography exhibitions, urban art spotlights, and curated workshops that explore art and culture in Asia. Whether you’re interested in Sudanese textiles or architecture or cute Japanese aesthetics, there’s an event for everyone.

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What to expect: The 2023 theme is anticipated to be a tactile and quirky childhood-inspired series of events that redefine what it means to make and interact with art. For the first time in Southeast Asia, Danish artist Thomas Dambos’ iconic giant sculptures, constructed from reclaimed materials such as wooden crates and plastic waste, will be on display at Sentosa.

ART SG 

When: January

During the biggest art fair in Southeast Asia, more than 150 of the world’s best galleries will showcase their collection of more than 1,000 artists at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre. The film sector will feature panel discussions, experimental films, and new film-making practices around Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific region.

What to expect: This large-scale art show highlights paintings, sculptures, photography, and installation from galleries like the influential Gagosian, London’s White Cube, and Hong Kong’s Pearl Lam Galleries. Some galleries will also present digital technology artwork like AR, VR, and NFTs.

SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ARTS 

When: May

This annual performance arts festival pushes the boundaries of physical and virtual spaces and explores the “anatomy” of performances through music, ceremonial rituals, laser displays, film, dance, musicals, plays, and symphonies.

What to expect: The festival’s lineup includes a broad range of programs from local and international artists, ranging from orchestral performances to different styles of modern and traditional dances.

SINGAPORE NIGHT FESTIVAL 

When: August

For one week each August, the Bras Basah-Bugis precinct lights up for this multi-dimensional arts and heritage festival, with more than a dozen light installations, stage shows, and immersive theater performances.

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What to expect: During this party-like night festival, building walls provide larger-than-life canvases for light shows; underground tunnels are illuminated with neon lights; and crowds gather to watch jazz ensembles, taiko drumming, and traditional and modern dances.

Art and creativity blossom through a passionate exchange of ideas, a willingness to experiment, and exposure to different cultures and histories. A young nation with a well-developed infrastructure, Singapore is primed to be the Southeast Asian gateway to the next art and cultural hub. For more information on art events and cultural festivals, click here.

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