The Murals of Chinatown

There’s a lot to see in Singapore’s Chinatown, from temples to tea shops to Michelin-starred hawker stalls — it’s one of few neighborhoods in Singapore that can easily cause sensory overload. So blank walls are hard to come by; but when you do stumble on one, you may be lucky enough also to find some amazing street art.B111DD51-A348-4752-9052-101E75CF9061_1_201_a

That’s part of the “Old Trades” mural on Mohamad Ali Lane by Yip Yew Chong, a local artist who seems to be responsible for over half of Chinatown’s outdoor art. It’s easy to see why — he captures old Singapore beautifully. In addition to his depiction of the paper mask and puppet seller above, Chong uses this mural to show us snapshots of a lion dance head maker …


… a mamak shop (convenience store) …


… and these samsui women (Chinese immigrants who worked in Singapore’s construction industry from the 1920s through the 1940s):


You can find a very different take on samsui women in one of the murals hidden at the back of the Amoy Street Food Centre:


This string of murals, designed and painted by students at the Anglo-Chinese School, explores themes from Amoy Street’s history and mythology:

Almost all of the paintings in Chinatown connect to the neighborhood’s history in some way; you can see an impression of a traditional Chinese roofscape …


… this woman in fancy Chinese dress (with Singapore’s Marina Bay juxtaposed in the background) …


… and even Bruce Lee!


Traditional Chinese lanterns are a common theme, both on the walls …


… and strung all across the streets of Chinatown:


Reflections of the neighborhood’s heritage are everywhere. Indeed, I only found three pieces of street art that appeared not to have any connection to China or days of Singapore gone by: this bit of optical fun …


… these very active stick figures …


… and this tag, some of the the only street art I’ve seen in Singapore that appears to be unplanned (and, therefore, probably illegal).


All of the other street art harkens back to another time (and pretty much all of it is by Yip Yew Chong). There’s this mural of a letter writer, an occupation that would have been common in Chinatown a hundred years ago when many immigrants could not read or write … 


… an image of Singapore’s mid-Autumn festival in days of yore…


… and a glimpse into Yip Yew Chong’s own childhood home in Chinatown …


… complete with his mother’s kitchen …


… and a table fully stocked with Singaporean delights:


A more playful mural combines old and new — here’s a traditional fruit seller plying his trade with Detective Conan, the star of a Japanese magna series:


Yip Yew Chong’s most recent Chinatown mural is this rendering of a Cantonese opera performance, which I happened to see him painting just over a year ago:IMG_4605

The opera mural is complete with backstage activity, and mischievous boys can be found under the stage…


… hanging out near the rojak (an Indonesian fruit and veggie salad) vendor …


… and lining up for ice cream:78109832-6A5C-4411-90BA-10A8E8BBAC31_1_201_a

The largest Chinatown mural is just at the edge of the neighborhood, in Telok Ayer, painted on the back of Thian Hock Keng Temple.


This mural portrays a father and his daughter looking out across the Singapore River at a long row of scenes of old Singapore:

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Just next to this mural is a piece of art titled “Chinese Precessions [sic],” which celebrates 19th century lantern parades:

3EC55E75-0CEE-4415-ACDA-85FC8C02D1A3_1_201_a If you find yourself wandering the streets of Chinatown and in need of a snack, I recommend stopping by the upper floor of the Chinatown Complex for a treat from Old Amoy Chendol — yum!


And if you want a bit of a smile, there’s this sign not far from the MRT to end your journey:


5 responses to “The Murals of Chinatown

  1. Oh wow there murals are stunning!! Ispent 2 days in Singapore years ago…not nearly enough time to explore what this place has to offer. I would love to go back and explore the place properly someday.

  2. Hi Tina!

    I’m a design consultant from Oxygen Studio Designs (Singapore). I’m writing to ask if I can use your photo of the samsui woman mural (by Anglo-Chinese School) in a lifestyle magazine by the People’s Association of Singapore. We are doing a short article on local art and culture in Singapore and want to feature this mural.

    Could I seek your permission to use the photo (and if available, a high res one)? We will credit it to you.

    Thanks in advance for your help!


    PS: If you’re interested, you can view some past issues of the magazine here:

  3. Hi Tina,

    Actually we are also featuring 2 other murals – My Chinatown Home (by Yip Yew Chong) and Mural of Bruce Lee (by ACS), and I find that your pictures are the better ones out there 🙂

    Could I get your permission to use them as well?

    Thanks in advance!


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