Look up! Singapore’s giant mural has an Indian touch
Singapore just got a new mural, one of its tallest, and it’s a celebration of India’s Gond tribal art form. The seven-storey art work, 21 metres high, shows two intertwining trees, a flock of colourful sparrows, two deer, and a thin red ribbon entwined through it all. It’s called ‘Dancing in Unison’.
Created on the façade of a hotel in the area known as Little India, the work is a collaboration between Gond artist Bhajju Shyam, 50, and contemporary Singaporean artist Sam Lo.
“It was interesting to work with Sam, because though we come from such different places and have had such varied influences, we shared similar thoughts on our relationship with nature,” says Shyam.
Shyam is an artist who glories in the traditions of his Gond community of Madhya Pradesh. Lo is an urban street artist who combines elements of nature and everyday observations in art that is meant as socio-political statement.
The St+art India Foundation and Singapore Tourism Board paired the two artists, but they were separated by distance and borders closed by the Covid-19 pandemic. So they took their brainstorming meetings online.
“We went back and forth on the design for about a month, adding to and subtracting elements before we came to a balanced image that interspersed both our styles,” says Shyam.
His trees, one blue and one yellow, anchor the artwork in the fluid Gond style. It is also in the Gond tradition to paint and pay tribute to the various trees respected for their different contributions. “With this painting, I wanted to stay true to that tradition, and bring a little piece of India to the people living in Singapore’s Little India,” Shyam says.
The vibrantly coloured sparrows are a recurring motif in Lo’s work. They are also among the most common birds in both India and Singapore. The two deer are Lo’s own tribute to Gond art. The red ribbon, another recurring motif for Lo, represents the interconnectedness of all living things.
Since Shyam couldn’t actually paint his art on the wall, Lo and their team did it for him, finishing the art work in mid-January. “It was the first time any of us had to paint another artist’s parts (and a legendary one at that), on a gondola swinging 8 stories high, through the fickle, unforgiving rain,” Lo said on a social media post. “This mural represents our shared beliefs in interdependence and coexistence, a coming together of two very different people from different sides of the world through our love for creating and the world around us.”
Shyam and Lo were both also part of a St+art campaign in 2019 that put work by 50 Indian and international artists on walls across Delhi’s Lodhi Colony, though they worked on their own separate walls then.
“We wanted to go beyond the usual boundaries in creating this work, given the times in which we were doing it,” says Giulia Ambrogi, cofounder and curator of the St+art India Foundation. “In the pandemic, this tall painting also represents the concept of art as healer.”
Shyam, a Padma Shri awardee, belongs to the Gond-Pardhaan tribe and is credited with taking a niche art form traditionally practiced on the mud walls of homes and popularising it, by transferring it in all its intricate detail to canvas and paper. Over about three decades, Shyam has exhibited his work in Paris, London, Milan and The Hague. He has also illustrated and co-authored 10 books (many of them aimed at children), which have been published and translated around the world.