Walls Of Fame: Chinatown Murals By Yip Yew Chong
STORY: Ng Kai
14 April 2021
Ahead of World Art Day (15 Apr), a Unesco-recognised international day of observance that seeks to "reinforce the links between artistic creations and society, encourage greater awareness of the diversity of artistic expressions and highlight the contribution of artists to sustainable development", we're kicking off a new series here on Wonderwall.sg about street art.
"Singapore got street art meh?!" is a question you would only ask if you've been living under a rock. Cuz the answer is a qualified "yes!" and our street art and murals, in particular, are super #IGworthy hor.
We kick off the "Walls Of Fame" series with the works of probably the most prolific muralist in Singapore: Yip Yew Chong, whose life-sized heritage murals you might have seen and snapped at various locations around Singapore.
Having grown up in the '70s in Chinatown, the 52-year-old draws inspiration for his murals from his memories of olden-day Singapore. HIs process: he keeps his spirit of wanderlust alive by capturing his experiences in photos and videos, then transforms them into sketches and paintings, splashing them across walls in our hoods.
Here, we turn our attention to his colossal and colourful creations in Chinatown.
Thian Hock Keng mural
Head down to Amoy Street and along the back wall of the 182-year-old Thian Hock Keng Temple, a whopping 40m-long mural shows the lives of Singapore’s early Hokkien migrants. Singapore’s urban city-scape did not come easy – this mesmerising piece of art movingly illustrates the hopes, struggles and sacrifices of our grand elders, and how they shaped Singapore into the country it is today. Sibei ups!
Located at: 158 Telok Ayer Street, Singapore 068613 (map)
Yew Chong depicted this subject as letter writing was a common scene in Chinatown up until the '80s. Letter writers played a huge role in helping migrant Chinese communicate with their families back in China. They also doubled as calligraphers for Chinese New Year couplets and ancestral altars. Fun fact: this is Yew Chong’s first collaboration with his two children! Aww, talk about a cool AF family bonding activity.
Located at: 336 Smith St, Singapore 050336 (map)
Yew Chong has fond memories of following his aunt to watch Cantonese operas all around Chinatown as a little boy. His art is inspired by the dazzling costumes, realistic backdrops and props, and acrobatic fighting.
There are plenty of intricate details to appreciate in the mural, such as the actors' and actresses’ costumes, the backstage activities, the postures and expressions of the spectators, and the mobile food stalls that served hungry spectators.
Yew Chong took three years to discover, navigate and connect with the right stakeholders in Chinatown before the painting of the mural could start. In April 2019, he took 10 days to complete the artwork.
In a bid to give back to the community, Yew Chong collaborated with the Community Chest to make the mural painting a fundraising event for the various charities that the Community Chest supports.
Located at: 5 Temple Street, Singapore 058556 (map)
Meet the Kadir family (of the “Abdul Kadir Mamakshop” mural) and the Lee family (of the “Lion Dance Head Maker” mural). “The Window” offers a glimpse into how different tenant families – regardless of race, language or religion – once lived together in the same shophouse.
Yew Chong’s family was one of five tenants co-living on the second storey of a shophouse in Chinatown Sago Lane. They rented the floor from the Arabs who owned many of the Chinatown shophouses.
The tenants lived together as one big family and he fondly remembers a yellow toy tortoise gifted to him by a co-tenant. Hint: Try finding the tortoise immortalised in this mural.
Located at: 227 South Bridge Rd, Singapore 058776 (map)