Abandoned Singapore mall becomes unlikely art haven

  • AFP, SINGAPORE

In Singapore, where graffiti is banned, young creatives have taken over an abandoned mall, spray painting colorful murals and holding art workshops to bring the space back to life.

About half a century old, Peace Centre is scheduled to face the wrecking ball later this year, but fans say it has provided a rare space for self-expression.

Permission from authorities is required for any kind of street art in the Southeast Asian country.

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Photo: AFP

In August last year, PlayPan, an initiative cofounded by entrepreneur Gary Hong (洪逸凡), convinced developers to postpone the mall’s demolition.

The answer the initiative’s backers received was that they could go ahead and use the space for “a social experiment to bring [the] community together,” Hong said.

They were given the space to host performances and workshops for several months, allowing artists, students, charities and small businesses to set up shop for free or at heavily discounted rates.

The eclectic mix of pop-up stores, art tours and musical performances has transformed the once lackluster mall into an unexpected art haven. However, at the end of this month, the mall is to close definitively, bringing an end to the art project.

Peace Centre was once a popular mall, but lost its shine to glitzier shopping centers that mushroomed over the past few years.

In the past two decades it was mostly known for its printing shops and seedy karaoke lounges.

Since its revamp into an art space, young people have attended graffiti workshops, coloring shuttered shopfronts with spray cans while punters browsed through second-hand clothing stalls and exhibits.

“It’s not something you do on a normal weekend, less so inside an indoor area, in a mall,” said Darryl Poh, a 29-year-old sales trader who took part in a spray-painting workshop.

The bathroom walls and mirrors were splattered with graffiti, while a Rage Against the Machine song blared from one of the pop-up stores. Craft cocktails were served on the ground floor and nearby, death metal CDs and trinkets were on sale.

Such spaces are uncommon in Singapore.

“I think you just got to know where to look. The government can curate things, but people are still going to do their own thing,” said Ning Fei, 34, who was selling typewritten poems.

The outer walls were plastered with flyers advertising activities from ukulele classes to pebble painting, while a futuristic mural welcomed visitors arriving at the main entrance.

Gabriel, a 43-year-old photographer who asked to be identified only by his first name, set up a booth to take portraits of passersby for charity.

“The energy here was really exciting. There were a lot of things you don’t typically see in Singapore malls,” he said, describing the vibe as “very non-Singaporean, very organic.”

“I’m going to miss this community very much. I’m glad to have plugged in and participated in this swan song,” he said.

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