13 Times Street Art in Little India Amazed Us

Often misunderstood as vandalism, or aesthetic backdrops for the latest #OOTD, street art hardly gets the credit it deserves. Not just a pretty face, street art often carries deeper messages and can even serve as a commentary on culture and current affairs!

Here’s a challenge if you consider yourself pretty woke: hit up these Little India works by our Singaporean clan of street artists and see if you can decode the meanings hidden in plain sight.

1. Future Reminiscence by JABA

A fresh addition to the gallery of street art pieces in Little India, this colorful masterpiece is the work of artist JABA, whose real name is Didier Jaba Matthieu. Created for Artwalk Little India 2020, Jaba’s eyecatching handiwork highlights the incredible style and diversity of ancient Indian architecture. In true JABA style, these elements are given a touch of surrealism, resulting in a delightful mix of past, present, and futuristic temple designs.

The real beauty of the work though, is that JABA managed to preserve the work that originally inhabited this section of wall. Local street art afficionados will know that the painting of the man in the centre is the work of prominent American artist Elmac, who created it for the Singapore Night Festival in 2010. By now an iconic work in the neighbourhood, Jaba took on the challenge of building his piece around it and we’re absolutely loving the result!

2. Mayura by BAKED

Another 2020 addition, this mural is practically impossible to capture in a single photograph because it is a whopping 70 meters long! Nestled in a narrow alleyway, the sheer scale of this ambitious yet clever piece is mindboggling.

Titled “Mayura” (literally “peacock” in Sanskrit), the mural was conceptualised by artists Boon aka BAKED and JABA, and features three of the elegant birds parading down the alley. Peacocks are culturally significant and often symbolise the cycle of time in Hindu epics, so one could see this as a visual statement on the long march of time through Little India’s storied streets.

3. Working Class Hero by ZERO

Fancy yourself in a meet and greet session with larger-than-life Tamil superstar actor Rajinikanth, right on Hindoo Road? Portrayed through the eyes of ZERO, one of Singapore’s street art pioneers, Rajinikanth is a Working Class Hero who came from a humble background himself and has always championed the commoner.

One of the iconic murals of Little India, this 3-storey tall portrait pays homage to the Indian community in Singapore, for whom Little India is an important cultural enclave. Originally planned with a two-week working timeline, the mural was completed in an incredible 24 hours and is the largest painting that ZERO has created.

4. Alive@Clive by TraseOne

At one of Little India’s busiest junctions sits this mural by local graffiti pioneer and award-winning artist TraseOne. The artwork is a riot of colours, just like the colourful sights and atmosphere of Little India itself.

Capturing the culture of the Indian community through a dancer in mid-performance, the classical jewellery and detail are a tribute to the dozens of Indian traditional dance styles. If the puffs of colour remind of you Holi, you’re spot on — the colours are reminiscent of the Hindu festival where powdered colour is thrown to celebrate the arrival of Spring. They’re also a part of TraseOne’s signature style, seen in his various commissioned works and, most recently, at Gillman Barracks.

5. I Am Still Here by Dyn

Lurking in the shadows further along Clive Road is the likeness of a girl in a dupatta (a traditional Indian scarf), partly hidden by palms. She’s normally blocked by a performance stage this time of year, but since mass gatherings aren’t a thing this year, this Deepavali is the perfect chance to meet her face-to-face.

This is the creation of local artist Dyn, whose works explore the coexistence of old and new, examining memory and absence by chronicling Singapore’s changing architectural landscape. Titled “I Am Still Here”, the camouflage print on her scarf represents the concealment and mélange of cultural identity in Singapore. Through her watchful gaze, she reminds us that Indian culture is still present here; we simply have to look for it.

6. Book-A-Meeting by Eunice Lim

This kitschy piece was artist Eunice Lim’s contribution for Artwalk Little India 2018, and commemorates the 30-year-old history of Siyamala Bookstore. A familiar sight to residents of the area, the bookstore is stocked with Indian magazine paraphernalia and pop-culture titbits. The mural shows us how heritage and tradition is discovered through books and stories that are written or collected over time.

The best part of this mural is that it doesn’t just commemorate the bookstore; it connects to it! Walk down past the doors in the picture and you’ll actually encounter the real life shop itself, complete with display racks and owner. Remember to follow the mural and greet the owner (yes, that’s him!) “Nalla”, which means “hello”!

PS. If you’re in the area, hop across the street to discover another JABA work, “Kathak”, right opposite.

7. Loops of the Precious by Priyageetha

No one’s ever really seen streets paved with gold, but how about an actual wall of gold? Hidden in a little alley just past “Book-A-Meeting” lies the towering “Loops of the Precious”.  And yes, the wall is literally gold — gold foil, that is.

Singapore’s ‘golden girl’ Priyageetha d/o Diayalan created this work as homage to her grandfather, who was a jeweller and goldsmith – one of the traditional trades found in Little India. The trade of jewellery-crafting is a dying one, and here Priya commemorates it with white necklaces intertwining against a backdrop of her signature gold foil, displaying the spectacular beauty of intricately-crafted Indian jewellery.

8. Cattleland 2 by Eunice Lim

Right outside Little India MRT station (Exit E) sits a dreamy land of multi-coloured buffaloes, whimsical clouds, and flowers. Perhaps because of its location, “Cattleland 2” is quite possibly also the most Instagrammed mural in the neighbourhood.

Another Eunice Lim work, the mural’s popularity with locals and tourists alike is a fitting continuation to its beginnings as an interactive collaboration. While the cows were painted by Lim herself, members of the public especially children and young adults were invited to try their hand at painting the small flowers surrounding the animals.

“Cattleland 2” was inspired by stories from the residents about the precinct’s history and how it used to be a street filled with buffaloes due to cattle trading. It is also a nod to the nearby Kerbau Road (kerbau is Malay for buffalo), capturing the reverence that Hindus accord to cattle with traditional motifs that adorn the coloured buffaloes.

9. Madan Mogra: Jasmine of the City by Nadiah Alsagoff

With the migrant worker community thrust into the spotlight in recent months, this mural is a must-visit.

Titled “Madan Mogra: Jasmine of the City” by interdisciplinary artist Nadia, whose work explores identity and existence, this piece looks at migrant workers as individuals and how their lives are affected by the circumstances they are born into. The jasmine is symbolic of their growth, longing and determination for the families they sacrifice so much for.

A tribute to the migrant workers who have contributed to the construction and growth of various districts in Singapore, the alley where the mural is located at is also popular with workers who are taking a short break from work.

10. A Ride Through Race Course Road by Jaxton Su

Hang on tight to a racehorse like artist Jaxton Su, or sit yourself alongside a garland maker in this alley at Race Course Road. A community mural painting project, this mural is titled “A Ride Through Race Course Road” and tells the story of popular activities in Little India of the past, including horse racing and garland making.

Jointly created by Jaxton, migrant workers staying and working in the area, and Raffles Institution Art & Photography Club students, the completed work is a platform for everyone in Singapore to explore the heritage of Little India whilst enjoying photo opportunities.

11. Untitled by sobandwine

Confession time? Here at the corner of 2 Dickson Road stands “Untitled”, a love letter for everyone, from anyone. Just like how a picture says a thousand words, creator duo Leow Wei Li and Dominic Khoo of sobandwine hope to reignite connections between people through the language of flowers.

When words are lost, the language of flowers can express love, hopes and dreams through their grace and beauty alone. The flowers used here are marigolds, which are believed to have supernatural powers and often picked for garlands and weddings as love charms in Indian culture.

12. Layers by Shah Rizzal

The fun and quirky appearance of this mural, aptly titled “Layers”, belies a more serious message. Created for Artwalk Little India 2018, it conveys artist Shah Rizzal’s belief that the necessity of preserving the architecture of a space outlasts the need for progressive urban development.

The mural masterfully depicts Little India’s complexities and mélange of architecture in it entirety. The signature dhaba, or Indian restaurant, can be seen next to the classic produce store, and the contrast in architecture styles is clearly visible. Dotted outlines playfully make room for future developments. Shah also highlights the contribution of brick makers through his depiction of the shophouses in Little India, both of which are valuable to the precinct’s rich history.

Fun fact: Each of the buildings shown can actually be found in Little India!

13. Daily Delivery by JABA

We’ll round off this list where we started — with a JABA work! Taking up the entire wall of a two-storey shophouse, this huge piece is titled “Daily Delivery” and features JABA’s signature futuristic take on the traditional tiffin trade aka the original food delivery service.

A tribute to the delivery drivers that brave the traffic on their carts to deliver fresh ingredients and food to the restaurants and people of Little India, this mural contains a fictional narrative of the future in Little India. The man carrying tiffins, or stacked metal containers with food, pedals a cart that is really a hovercraft in disguise. In fact, all the antiquated vehicles hover above the ground, in a juxtaposition of tradition and modernism in Little India. If you look closely, you can make out that the wheels of the cart are also equipped with turbo-engines!

Unlike museums and galleries, street art has the distinction of being accessible to everyone, so what better time to plan an art tour around Little India than this Deepavali? Grab your posse of (up to four) friends and head down because nothing beats seeing these works for yourself.

Do remember to observe the appropriate social distancing and safety measures for a safe and enjoyable street art experience!