It’s a striking mural that adorns a seven-storey building in Little India, Singapore, and the coming together of two nations and two cultures with a shared narrative of diversity in culture and peoples. Singapore Tourism Board (STB) has partnered with St+art India Foundation (St+art) to unveil a collaborative artwork in Little India, Singapore. The unique mural artwork entitled, “Dancing in Unison” is the result of a shared passion between Indian Gond artist Bhajju Shyam and Singaporean artist Sam Lo. Seven stories high, it is among the tallest art murals in the city.Mural in Lodhi Colony by the Gond Art Residency. Jay Upadhyay
This is the third collaboration between STB and St+art – past projects include Singapore artists visiting Mumbai in 2017, at Sassoon Docks, during the launch of STB’s ‘Passion Made Possible’ brand in India, and more recently, at the Lodhi Art Festival in New Delhi in 2019, a Singapore lane featuring spectacular street art of Singapore was created at Block 13-16 of the Lodhi Art District.
The mural has been several months in planning where both the artists have virtually connected to create this composition. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, it has been painted solely by Sam Lo. (This mural is one of the key highlights of Artwalk 2021, adding to the series of more than 20 murals that had been created during the past six editions of the public art festival in Little India which are a draw for local residents and Indian tourists alike.) This cross-border effort by the two artists resonates with the theme of Artwalk 2021 – “In Spite Of” – where artists overcome limitations and geographical boundaries to come together to realize their creations, united by their passions and hope for a harmonious future.
“In 2019, 1.42 million Indian visitors travelled to Singapore; Singapore’s large Indian diaspora adds to its rich cult fabric,” says GB Srithar, STB’s Regional Director of India, Middle East and South Asia. “STB is happy to partner with St+art India Foundation once again. The limitations brought about by the Covid-19 did not stop us from innovating and showcasing a common passion for art between India and Singapore. We are honored to be able to bring Indian Gond art closer to the audience in Singapore through the collaboration between Bhajju Shyam, a maestro in Indian Gond art and Sam Lo, a Singapore contemporary artist. India and Singapore share many cultural similarities and we want to use this opportunity to strengthen the emotional connect between both countries. As we start 2021, this wonderful artwork will bring a message of cross-cultural friendship, colours and pique the interest of visitors to Little India. It is noteworthy that the mural is one of the tallest ever undertaken in Singapore. Come to Little India and admire the mural in Little India. Celebrate our connection through art.”
Indian artist Bhajju Shyam, one of the primary living exponents of Gond art, was born and raised in the village of Patangarh, Madhya Pradesh, which is known to be the home of the Gond Pradhan indigenous tribe. He was awarded a Padma Shri in 2018, India’s fourth highest civilian award. “I am so happy that our art will find a place on a wall in Singapore for the very first time,” he says. “This is something that took months to plan, over video calls, interviews. I am happy with the way Sam works. I thank Sam and the Singapore Tourism Board, and congratulate them. This is how our traditions will shine!”Mural in Lodhi Colony by Sam Lo
Sam Lo is a self-taught Singapore-based visual artist whose work revolves around social commentaries fuelled by daily observations of their surroundings and research into the sociopolitical climate. Sam has previously visited India during Lodhi Art Festival where they conducted a workshop and painted a mural in Lodhi Colony with their signature sparrows design. Along with another Singaporean artist Soph O, they had given an artsy makeover to the Arjan Garh metro station in New Delhi. “It’s a big honour to be a part of this project. The whole gist was to celebrate two different art forms,” says Sam. “What I love about street art is that it unites people from all walks of life together. I worked with a legend like Bhajju. Everything is connected, and everyone is working together. This is in line with my own belief system. It was initially a challenge. Despite not having met Bhajju, I am happy how the mural turned out. There were a couple of roadblocks that come from not being in the same country. I am happy to collaborate with Bhajju for this. And I hope to meet Bhajju when he visits Singapore after the pandemic.”
“We are delighted to partner with Singapore Tourism Board for the first time in the unique Singaporean landscape, to build on what we’ve been cultivating since 2017,” says Giulia Ambrogi, Curator and Co-founder at St+art India Foundation. “This was our opportunity to bring India to Singapore. The collaboration between Bhajju Shyam and Sam Lo is a reminder that despite differences, we are all connected in inherent ways. It showcases the power in coexisting and breaking boundaries, and thus opens up new horizons to remind us of the healing and liberating power of art.” She says that it was during the lockdown, she was in talks with STB about a collab – and it started with their thinking of the artwalk, and how to transcend the role of public art, and open it to a wider audience. “Art has a healing power. It’s the only way to free ourselves,” she says. “Bajju’s Gond art started on the walls of Madhya Pradesh, and Sam has travelled the digital world. Every element is connected. ”Artist Sam Lo standing in front of the mural in Little India
A Beautiful Symphony
The mural’s design is a symphony of traditional and contemporary visions where India, one of the oldest cultures of the world and Singapore, a modern city-state, come together under a discourse around nature, as a metaphor of what links us. Through this mural on the wall of the seven-storey Broadway Hotel in Little India, both artists investigated our relationshiop with nature, and showed that despite varying histories and cultures, we all are interconnected. This connection is the choice of going beyond geographical and systemic divisions, including what’s prevalent in the art world.
The actual process of creation was not without its challenges. “One of the things we faced was that the proportions of the wall differed from what we had sketched,” says Sam. “We were using the grid system. The tree was way too wide from what was on the sketch. I got hold of some artists here and we put the sketch in proportion. The problem solving process was more challenging without Bhajju. Moreover, the gondola left us with motion sickness. I had to have a stomach of steel! It was an amazing experience, and now I’m not so afraid of heights, as long as I don’t look down!”
Sam adds that this mural is something no Singaporean artist has done before. “Beyond four stories high, I am scared,” says Sam. “The minute you turn and face the wall to paint it, the fear melts and it becomes a beautiful art-making process.” But Sam adds that the most difficult part was the rain. “It rained non stop,” says Sam, “So we only had three days of clear skies.”
The mural motif explores the traditional elements and belief systems that are central to Bhajju’s world, married with Sam’s contemporary one. It embodies respect for nature and the environment and that this is the guarantee our co-existence. Every feature in the work extends on this idea of the necessary dance between our urban living and nature. The tree – an iconic element from Gond art designed by Bhajju – engulfs the urban environment of human dwelling (personified by the windows of the building) becomes a metaphor for the universe where everything is interconnected from the land to the air. Its branches host vibrantly coloured sparrows, an element which reoccurs in Sam’s work, as a symbol of freedom, being one of the most common birds in India and Singapore. The deer, a revered animal in India serves as a tribute to Gond art, symbolizes a connect, where elements from different cultures blend together in our globalized and accessible world. Sam further reinforces this idea by creating a red ribbon, another common element in their work, as a reminder of an omnipresent energy that connects us all, and one which connects their beliefs with those of Gond Art. “The birds represent us – different colours represent all of us as individuals,” says Sam. “The deer is an animal that is used in traditional Gond art, and we gave it a contemporary take.”
Sam says that their first instinct was to use spray cans and wall paint. When it came to tackling Bhajju’s art – there were so many different patterns and textures – it was a meditative process, and that is something they want to continue to learn. They used a stencil, and hand-painted strokes to bring the motif alive, like well-thought out pen work. “Anyone who walks by will be able to enjoy the colours and the textures,” says Sam. “I hope I do the area proud. What comes out of this – I am happy with the result! Public art unites people from so many different walks of life – art can change the world. It can provoke, inspire, offer alternatives that we may not be used to. It’s a labour of love.”
“The idea of having this cross-cultural collaboration – in Singapore with an Indian artist – is something we were toying with since 2019,” says GB Srithar. “This mural will stand the test of time. What Sam Lo has done in Delhi still stands. And Dancing in Unison here in Little India will be there for a few years. It’s a testimony to what you can do, across cultures, in the middle of a pandemic.”
He says that as the world opens up, and when opportunities come up, more tourists will visit Little India and take photos, and experience the food and the artworks that the area is peppered with. “I see it becoming one of the most instagrammable places in Little India!” he says. “I know foodies in India are waiting to return to Singapore to try our Chilli Crab! I hope they will come and appreciate what we have.”
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