Portraits on the Singapura Club
Street Art Break in VR
These are striking portraits, no matter where we come upon them. Most of us are probably viewing them in a browser now.
These portraits can also be viewed in a VR headset, which creates a feeling of being right there at #36 Haji Lane in Singapore.
Just mentioning Singapore adds a layer, doesn’t it — a city-state not known for strong public expressiveness. Does being in Singapore make them look different?
The portraits are in a significant district, not an out-of-the-way corner. The Malay Cultural Heritage Center is nearby, as is a large Masjid. There are luxury Hotels within two blocks.
Cultural heritage is very important in Singapore. It is a point of civic/national pride that people of different ethnicities all co-exist smoothly in a small densely populated area.
The portraits show distinct individuals, each one identifiable as a member of a group.
The person in the center-left is a Samsui Woman. Samsui comes from the Mandarin term for ‘red headscarf’ and refers to female Chinese immigrants to the Malay peninsula in the 1920s up until the second World War, who came specifically to work construction and heavy industrial jobs. They were not considered to be typical Chinese laborers. Samsui Women were tougher, better workers and more independent. They also had hard lives.
The man on the right is Malay. Officially, Singapore is a meritocracy. But somehow the same people with the same kind of background always hold the power and they usually aren’t Malay.
Singapura is the Malay term for Singapore.
The third portrait on the side of the Singapura Club is a man wearing a turban, maybe an Arab man. This view is from the intersection of Haji Lane and Arab Street.
Singapore was built by the British using imported labor and independent Singapore still imports its labor today. Middle class people in Singapore have domestic helpers. Almost invariably the domestic helpers and the hard manual laborers have families somewhere else who they send money to, as much as they possibly can. It’s why they are in Singapore.
Graffiti is considered criminal activity in Singapore. Defacing public or private property is vandalism. The Vandalism Act imposes mandatory penalties that include caning.
Remember Michael Fay? I’ll bet he hasn’t forgotten the six strokes he received back in 1994, when he was 18.
An artist who goes by Ceno2 painted the portraits. He is a Singaporean and he still lives in Singapore without being anonymous like Banksy.
His name is Mohammad Azlan Ramlan and he is not in prison.
He went open and legit, the opposite direction from Banksy. And they both got to the same place.
Ceno2 formed a business, a company that provides street art services for projects, commercial or otherwise. The company is called Artkhalytis and it’s given him a way to paint in public and stay out of trouble
It also gave him a way to be noticed by other artists around the world and when he was invited to paint at a festival in Chicago in 2012, his work sent him into the top ranks of public artists.
Artists don’t always fit into established categories. They make their own way and make up their own terms for what they do.
Mohammed Azlan Ramlan, Ceno2, calls himself a Graffiti Fine Artist.
How do the portraits look now?
I have a black belt in learning and I’ve been meditating for so long you’d think I’d be enlightened but I’m not.