Art in AMK: Murals of the Heartland

Art can have all sorts of power, and in the town of Ang Mo Kio (a.k.a. AMK), it has been harnessed in the name of commerce.

AMK’s pedestrian-friendly Town Centre has a certain 1970s retro appeal, but this part of the island is not exactly trendy, and the Town Council would like to give it a boost.

So how do you attract more people to an older estate smack in the middle of the country? You give them art — in this case, by commissioning Singaporean mural artists to cover walls, posts, and even the ground in gorgeous splashes of color.

While the motivation may not have been artistically pure, the results of this 2018 initiative are a delight. Much of the artwork is steeped in Singaporean history, from the sampans that once plied their trade along the Singapore River and the Straits of Johor …

… to the backbreaking work done by Samsui women and rickshaw pullers …

… to scenes of daily life in Singapore many years ago.

I love the unintentional juxtaposition of these forms of transportation, old and new:

There are many traditional Singapore icons here, including the Merlion …

… orchids…

… and this homage to the National Theatre, which once graced the slopes of Fort Canning:

Another significant theme here is fruit — especially the beloved (and often controversial) durian!

Durians take center stage in multiple murals …

… including this whimsical image of a fruit-seller’s stall …

… while other fruits (and the occasional veggie) grace the sides of a staircase:

Many of the murals focus on the natural world; plants and animals climb up and crawl along the sides of buildings …

… and giant sea creatures swim over the pavement:

In a few recent murals, one artist has really leaned into the COVID-19 situation, depicting National Day celebrants in masks and face shields …

… and giving us a poignant look into social distancing (complete with benches taped over with the now-ubiquitous “don’t sit here” X’s):

This solitary guy also seems to fit well with the mood of the times:

Will people come to AMK Town Centre just to see these works, and will they shop and eat and drink along the way? I certainly would — and while I’m not convinced that this will revive a flagging retail endeavor, the art makes the center of AMK well worth a visit!

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