Indonesia-born Pratama Eka Dharma has a day job as an in-house designer at a public relations agency, but during his free time, the 25-year-old wields spray cans, citing the challenge of the medium and the large scale of the canvas — public walls — as one of the reasons why he chose to create street art.
The former Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts alum first attempted street art in his second year of school, painting on one of the walls allotted for students to express themselves on, then moved on to painting the walls at skate parks. Dharma’s work draws inspiration from tradition, mythology and religion, albeit with a pop culture twist.
“Due to limited space and the increasing community of artists, graffiti and street art are often quickly removed or get covered by other artists. The street art community in Singapore needs to understand that sharing space is needed. Still, we have help from agencies such as the National Arts Council and National Youth Council that provide painting spaces for us. [And] it’s fun to be able to paint and share my artwork with the public, getting to know passers-by when they come up and ask us questions regarding our work.”
A self-confessed full-time nerd (and former DJ, aspiring rapper and engineering student), 29-year-old Desmond Shen finds inspiration whenever he people-watches, imagining himself in different situations to see if it affects his mood. Citing the process that turns inspiration into art as “fantastically intangible magic”, the founder of a web design and developing firm has a strategically located office right next to the only graffiti store in Singapore, The Blackbook, where there are walls available for the street art community to paint freely.
“The challenge [for street art] in Singapore is space and the perception of the public. I feel that graffiti was looked at as the lowest form of art, and it was frowned upon by the general public. Whatever you think, it’s got to be a good thing that people are starting to accept that the creative and talented people involved are seen as artists, not vandals. And that their work, however ‘urban’, is still worthy of being considered art. People are becoming more open-minded to urban and street art and appreciating where this art form has come from.”
With zero art education, 30-year-old Muhammad Syahid bin Abdul Razak considers himself a fairly late starter in the street art scene, holding his very first spray can five years ago. It began when a chance conversation with an army acquaintance led to an invitation to hang out with some of the city’s pioneering graffiti artists, where he witnessed art being created with “just a few spray cans”, something he described as mind-blowing. The former fanboy started from scratch, constantly practicing, attending every street art event and exhibition held, and became an apprentice at The Blackbook where he “worked, cleaned, [and did] anything they told [him] to” in exchange for knowledge. Today, he is a full-fledged member of ZNC, or Zincnitecrew, one of the city’s strongest graffiti collective with 75 members worldwide.
“It’s all thanks to ZNC and RSCLS (pronounced ‘rascals’, another art collective) for pushing me, giving me the motivation to do this, and I won’t be what and where I am today without them. [So,] I choose to create street art to promote the Singapore graffiti scene, to let people know that we’re here, so that they learn that graffiti is not vandalism, but an art form that enlivens the cityscape.”
Comprised of two digital concept artists, 32-year-old Singaporean Muhammad Firdaus Mohd Noor and 28-year-old Indonesia-born, Singapore-based Anastasia Catharina, Studio Moonchild’s work is arresting and distinctive: bright and bold, cyber punk-meets-Studio Ghibli. Catharina, a lifelong artist who competed in drawing competitions regularly as a child and furthered her education at the Lasalle College of the Arts, attributes it to her love for Japanese animes like “Sailor Moon” and Hayao Miyazaki’s repertoire, as well as Disney princesses. Muhammad Firdaus, who used to work for a toy-making company, cites the influence of Marvel comics from the ’90s and the works of legendary comic artists Chris Bachalo, Jim Lee and Joe Madureira. Despite knowing each other from industrial design school since 2010 and working closely together as fellow artists, the two had never collaborated artistically until earlier this year when they decided to “pick up the spray cans and try [their] hand at drawing on walls”.
“There is a stigma that graffiti artists are unruly people, which is not entirely true. Even though the culture is deeply rooted in rebellion and self-expression, everyone [in the community] that I’ve met so far are really nice people.” — Muhammad Firdaus
“We often find ourselves painting over the same few walls for practice. Recently, a new spot opened up [at 369 Tanjong Katong Road], through an initiative by Noise Singapore and Singapore Land Authority. We appreciate when such things happen and try to make full use of the opportunity. We also wish to have more graffiti and street art festivals; it’s a great chance to showcase our local talents, as well as change public perception towards graffiti.” — Anastasia Catharina
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