Picture perfect: A guide to the best of Singapore’s artsy side and cultural color

 

Google ‘Singapore’ and the first few images that come up are always the stock image-esque shots of the famously futuristic city skyline. Sure, we already know Singapore’s a gorgeous metropolis, but if you’d like to get under the skin of a country, there’s definitely more to explore about a place’s culture and heritage, and capture it all on film. 

Everywhere you look, Singapore is art — and we’ve got the lowdown on where you’ll wanna be this November, to immerse yourself in the thick of it. For locals, it could also be the chance to connect with the different cultures in multicultural Singapore. 

Where better to immerse in the intertwining of multi-cultural Singapore than in the lantern-lined streets of Chinatown, the bustling alleys of Little India, or the quaint and colorful Kampong Glam? Here’s a guide to explore all the hidden charms Singapore has to offer — a visual crash course if you will, on just what makes the Lion City truly unique.

 

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Experience the glamour of Kampong Glam

This precinct has its roots in the Malay word Gelam or the Gelam tree, the bark of which was historically used to make awnings and sails by the orang laut (indigenous sea nomads and some of the earliest settlers) back in the day. 

Kampong Glam is the heritage Arab/Muslim quarter of Singapore and home to the imposing Masjid Sultan, or the Sultan Mosque. The immaculate structure is hard to miss, with its massive gold domes. Not to mention the horde of tourists lined up along Bussorah Street, hoping to get a clear shot of the mosque, flanked by towering palm trees and colorful restored shophouses. We’d recommend going on a weekday to minimize the Photoshop work needed to remove those tourists in the background. 

Besides being a great spot for Malay-Muslim and Middle Eastern food, Kampong Glam is where food, shopping and culture intersect. They’ve simply got everything, from touristy trinkets lining the streets to eclectic boutiques peddling vintage clothing along Haji Lane, alongside the traditional carpet and fabric tradesmen who still ply their trade along Arab Street. 

Photo: Singapore Tourism Board

Catch this gallery outside, how about that?

Just a short amble away is the Gelam Gallery, Singapore’s first outdoor gallery that takes art to the streets. The outstanding display of street art is a visual feast well worth a visit. Two back alleyways along Muscat Street are now adorned with a collection of more than 30 artworks by both local and international artists — quite the upgrade from otherwise drab bin-lined alleyways. It’s an intertwining of different art styles that blend together to form this unique outdoor gallery that mirrors the diversity of Singapore. 

What might be even better is if you visit during two weekends in November when Gelam Gallery Alive is on. From 16-17 Nov, and 23-24 Nov, attendees will be treated to stunning performances by musicians, and artwork by talented portrait artists just waiting to capture your likeness on paper, all against walls adorned with murals and framed art. Attendees will also get to try their hand at communal wall art, and learn about Henna (temporary body art using plant based dye). At night, stringed bulbs even transform the space into quite the cozy venue — the perfect painted canvas for an Instagram-worthy shot. 

Photo: Singapore Tourism Board

Scoot over to Katong and Joo Chiat for a taste of Peranakan culture

Immerse yourself in all things Peranakan when you visit culturally-rich Katong-Joo Chiat neighborhood, home to rows of pastel hued-shophouses. Dating back to the early 1900s, these buildings have been featured in many an Instagram post, it’s truly a sight to behold. The Barbie-pink house is a particular favorite going by the number of times its location has been tagged. There are actual residents living in these houses, so be considerate when taking a selfie outside their gates. 

That’s not all, as those hoping to explore the area can opt for the KJC Art Circuit , where attendees will get to go on a self-guided tour via GrabWheels e-scooter to experience the historical and architectural diversity in the vibrant enclave of Katong and Joo Chiat.. Happening from 16-24 Nov, there’s a whole bunch of pre-war architecture to explore, alongside workshops that you can attend, so don’t miss out.

Photo: Singapore Tourism Board

Paint the town red (and every other color) 

Paint Little India!, an event by Mural Lingo is a four-day event that’ll have you speaking their lingo on all things art by the end of it. Attendees young and old will have no lack of things to do here, with lots to see and hands-on activities to try on 23, 24, 30 Nov and 1 Dec. Just think — the next art you display on your Insta feed could be your own. 

If you’ve always wanted to try your hand at mixing eco-friendly paints, the Natural Pigment Workshop (SG$20 per pax), is tailored for you. Learn how to make your own non-toxic paint from everyday ingredients such as berries and turmeric powder. Whatever vibrant hue you can think of, it doesn’t have to be just a pigment of your imagination. 

For the DIY-curious, what about the Stencil Art Workshop (SG$15 per pax), where you’ll learn to upcycle and customize your own items? Release your inner artist with spray paint, custom-made stencil and some unsuspecting t-shirts and tote bags. 

Take a trip through Singapore’s alleyways to take in all the (legal) street art plastered across Little India with the Street Art Walking Tour (SG$15 per pax) organized by Artwalk Singapore. 

If you’ve always wanted to paint a mural, here’s your chance. Unleash your inner Banksy when you join the good folks at Mural Lingo for some Social Mural Painting, and be a part of the community creating a 2 x 6m long mural artwork. 

For the little ones, the Prawn Fish Moon booth is a great way to get them coloring between the lines — or outside them, depending on the artistic vision of your little tyke. 

 

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Follow the rainbow

Also in Little India is this vibrant and colorful house. It’s definitely easy to see why the rainbow-hued structure is popular with locals and tourists alike. This is the residence of Tan Teng Niah — a towkay, or a successful businessman who was renowned for his confectionery business and other small businesses back in the 1900s. 

Situated along Kerbau Road, it’s the last surviving Chinese villa in Little India, and one of the most photographed structures in the area. Step in to learn about the house pre-restoration, when it donned a less brightly-hued exterior. Needless to say, every angle of the house provides a different backdrop to take pictures against, so make sure you allocate enough time to hit up every corner. You might also want to crouch down to a low angle to get as much of the striking building in frame as possible.

Photo: Singapore Tourism Board

Go behind the scenes of Chinese opera

Chinese opera is commonly referred to as, Chinese wayang (a Malay word referring to a live performance that uses puppets or human dancers). 

This November, wayang enthusiasts will be treated to a deep dive into the history of wayang, with the inaugural Chinatown Opera Festival (SG$10 – 20), organized by the Chinatown Business Association. Happening from 20-24 Nov, a variety of operas from the different dialects will be showcased. It’s the ultimate throwback, with scenes of Chinatown from the 19th century replicated with the help of elaborate makeup and costumes — dramatically long sleeves included, of course – providing insight to when Chinese immigrants first introduced Chinese Street Opera to the Lion City. 

For a deeper experience, join workshops teaching attendees how to apply opera makeup, paint masks and props, and even learn about the significance behind the music and costumes used. Show your peers what a culture vulture you are with some snaps of traditional Chinese opera. 

Attendees will also be able to sample old school snacks such as roasted chestnuts or bird’s nest drink for a taste of 19th century Singapore. That’s not all, as the Singapore Tourist Guides Society will also be organizing walking tours depicting Chinese Opera stories of 19th century Chinatown. New and old mesh together with a specially curated trail with Augmented Reality features, in partnership with experiential travel company LocoMole, for a truly immersive experience. 

There’s a whole bunch of lesser-known (but equally picturesque) cultural experiences in Singapore that complement popular tourist spots for great snaps of the island-state, and November is the time to discover them. This November, art and culture is well and truly alive at every corner, proving that the little city-state known for its myriad cuisines is also a feast for the eyes. Discover more here for more of how Singapore’s streets are coming alive with performances, street art and other activities. 

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