Painting my childhood, sharing your stories, showcasing our heritage.
I grew up in the 1970s Chinatown. Living with my family on the second storey in an old coolie shophouse, I have fond memories of those childhood days. The house was actually quite dilapidated - with leaking roof, creaky floors, dark corridors and lots of mosquitoes and rats. The street below was a hustle and bustle of noisy funeral parlours, coffin and effigy shops, alongside food hawkers and a busy street market. During festive seasons, the streets brimmed with colourful activities such as Pasar malam, street operas and processions. These sights, sounds and smells etched deeply in my mind, inspiring many of the artworks I created today.
I wasn’t an artist until 2015. But even then, I was a weekend artist while working as a full time accountant. I juggled weekday finance with weekend art for almost 3 years. Weekends were spent on the hot and wet streets. I missed spending time with my family. In 2018, after 25 years, I retired from my accounting career and am now spending more time to explore and develop my artistic skill.
My first public mural was painted in late 2015 after I spotted many murals sprouting in Singapore and Malaysia. I cold-called on a house and managed to convince the owner with just a paper sketch even though I had no art training and no portfolio to show him. Lucky me, my first mural was well received and went viral on social media.
Since then, I’ve painted over 50 murals, mostly on commissioned basis, and mostly depicting lost scenes of Singapore. In each scene, I painted intimate and realistic details of yesteryears’ way of life, including the food, the dress, the furniture and even the postures of the people. They were inspired by my childhood memories and supplemented by archival researches. I’ve noticed that many Singaporeans and even foreigners from the older generations could resonate with these scenes and their details. The younger generation loved the murals too, for they are life-sized and 3D realistic - great for Instagram!
Singapore has developed its economy and infrastructure rapidly in the past few decades. In the process, it inevitably lost quite a lot of its heritage infrastructure and traditions. I hope that my murals help evoke fond memories for the elders so that they’ll in turn share their own stories with the young. The young will learn about our heritage through the murals and the stories retold. Because my murals also depict people from many races going about in harmony, they also help promote the appreciation of Singapore’s diverse multi-racial culture. I think my murals help create a sense of Singaporean identity.
I feel very encouraged and motivated by the public’s appreciation of my artworks, and their impact on the community. I’ve received feedback that my murals have brought diverse communities together as they become talking points; have helped patients with memory loss, or just made people happy, or even cry!
The murals don’t last forever. They’re transient. They’ll fade under the natural elements, just like the historical scenes the murals aim to depict. Nevertheless, I hope that my murals have inspired some people, be they inspiration to share their own stories, or inspiration to pursue their own art. I’m happy to have made that little difference.
Yip Yew Chong