Explore the Arts Districts of Singapore like never before

In the five years since I left Singapore (my home for two years) I was amazed to go back and learn how much the government has invested into developing, nurturing and showcasing arts and culture in Singapore. Whether it be giving locals a platform to share their works, or inviting international legends to exhibit on a larger scale, rest assured tourists and locals alike can now invest their time into various arts districts. A country quite often known for lacking in its cultural assets is so not right now. These art districts allow people to get an affinity to what Singapore’s heritage, art and education is, and start to see her develop a character of her own. Below is a snapshot into some of the main hot spots, or more underground if you feel like delving deeper into Singapore’s history.

National Gallery Singapore

At the end of 2015, after 10 years of rebuilding and restoration, the National Gallery Singapore opened to the public. In it, you will find the largest collection of South East Asian modern art, filling a gap in the Singaporean art market. There is a strong focus on 19th and 20th century art with at least four to six exhibitions showing at one time. The mission is to show the world Asian art and how it developed over time. The two buildings, formerly City Hall and the Supreme Court, are now linked with a golden veil which is truly exquisite. Inside this Gallery is an experience guests will never forget.

On this trip, the Yayoi Kusama: Life is the Heart of a Rainbow exhibition was on display and it was astonishing to see her works, and learn about her life. People have flown from all over the world to see this and I understand why. There is something about her art that is self-reflective yet inspiring. Lucky for us in Australia, this exhibition will be housed at GOMA from November 4th until February 11th. For tickets and more info, head here.

Yayoi Kusama’s Pumpkins
Infinity Mirrored Room – Gleaming Lights of the Soul (2008)
The Obliteration Room by Yayoi Kusama

Also showing at the Gallery was the The Children’s Biennale which is an interactive and immersive experience for children and adults alike. There are 10 installations as part of this exhibit, each one encouraging you to discover art in a whole new way. The Biennale is running right now until October 8th.  If you’re young at heart and open to a little bit of colour, then this one is for you. For tickets and more info, head here.

STPI Creative Workshop & Gallery

Established in 2002, local and international artists are invited for a two-month residency at one of the world’s leading print and paper-making institutions. Alongside National Gallery Singapore and the Singapore Art Museum, STPI is one of the nation’s leading institutions in the Visual Art Cluster. The Artist Collaborations programme is one that stimulates new creative possibilities and paves the way for new thinkings in each artist’s practice. There are also various workshops in which the public can participate and learn about these specialised art forms, as well as guided tours to see current exhibitions. Luckily for me, I got a behind the scenes look at the workshop area. It is such a fascinating world.

On display in the gallery was David Hockney: A Matter of Perspective, which quite recently had a retrospective at Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria. While that exhibition showed works from the past decade, this one highlights Hockney’s endeavours into the print medium where he produced works that are iconic and bold. This exhibit is part of the Annual Special Exhibition which is a celebration in many ways for STPI’s 15th anniversary and Hockney’s 80th birthday.

An Image of Celia, David Hockney (1984-6)
4 Blue Stools, David Hockney (2014)

ArtScience Museum

Right next to Marina Bay Sands and perched on the riverfront is a monumental lotus that is home to the Singapore ArtScience Museum. This is a place where you can discover creativity at its best through art, science, design, media, architecture and technology. This museum is one-of-a-kind where you’ll get to see the in depth creative processes at the heart of art and science, and understand their role in shaping society today. With 21 gallery spaces, it has fast become one of the premier venues for major international touring exhibitions.

HUMAN+ The Future of Our Species is a cutting-edge exhibition exploring the possible future paths of our species. It encourages you to question what it means to be human in a world of artificial intelligence, lifelike robots and genetic modification. Some of the research works are quite confronting in that they are extreme in ideology. At the end of the day, the purpose of this exhibition is to broaden your thinking and open your eyes up to the many possibilities in science and technology. For tickets and more info, head here.

Howard Schatz, Beverly Ornstei (2015)

Future World: Where Art Meets Science takes you on an exciting journey of discovery through four key narratives – Nature, Town, Park and Space. Collaborating with teamLab, a globally renowned Japanese group of ultra-technologists and a multi-award winning art collective, means this futuristic world of high-tech artworks and interactive digital experiences will have you spellbound. Unleash your inner child and immerse yourself in the magic of digital art. For tickets and more info, head here.

Gillman Barracks

This has to be one of Singapore’s best kept hidden art gems which launched just as I left at the end of 2012. Set in the former military barracks of 1936,this arts cluster is the destination for international and South East Asian art. You need a good few hours here to walk through the 11 different galleries which really become a creative and lifestyle experience. It is the anchor venue for Singapore Art Week, as well as cultural festivals, outdoor public art, guest gallery exhibitions and many other events. I think this is one of the most well-rounded visual clusters in Singapore, and certainly has that wow factor to it. Even though I only got to see six of the 11 exhibitions, it was enough to wet my palate. I’ll be back for sure the next time I’m in Singapore. To see what is exhibiting right now, head here for more info.

Solteira Bench, Pedro Paulo-Venzon and Driade
Burning Story, SUN Xun (2016)
Masanori Handa: A Palace (2017)
Slow Motion Collapse…, Merryn Trevethan

Fort Canning Arts Centre

The only part of Fort Canning I knew was the Park as I saw The Script play there back in 2011. It’s a beautiful and expansive hilltop landmark making it the perfect venue for concerts, theatre productions and festivals. However the Arts Centre is an aspect I was not familiar with. Originally constructed in 1926 as a British army barracks, this stately building was used by the Singapore Armed Forces before being converted into squash courts and offices in the 1970s. Today, it is an event space for exhibitions such as the UNESCO World Heritage Art Exhibition: Piece of Peace.

What a way to round out a visit of epic art proportions – literally! It’s about promoting peace by bringing awareness of the World Heritage sites to everyone, both young and old. There were 43 reconstructed World Heritage sites from 34 countries and it took three years of planning to make its way to Singapore, but it was well worth the wait. It will blow your mind the attention to detail and sheer perfection of replicating these monumental structures. Collectively, these creative LEGO masterminds took six years to construct the pieces using actual LEGO pieces (which good to know: no one piece was made specifically for a certain structure). If that ignites a little inspiration in you then go forth and get building. This is the perfect way to travel the world without the expense of a plane ticket or finding the time.

Sydney Opera House built by Munenori Hitomi
Kremlin and Red Square built by Tsuyoshi Ito
Taj Mahal built by Tatsuo Watase

I can’t speak highly enough of Singapore as a whole, but this newfound arts scene has me ecstatic. Book your trip now because whether you’re an art lover or not, there is plenty to do. However, if you’re in Sydney,  you’ll also be able to experience Singapore’s arts and culture at Singapore: Inside Out which is happening this November at the Chippendale Creative Precinct. It’s certainly an exciting time for South East Asia and Australia to begin artistic collaborations. For tickets and more info, head here.

The author visited Singapore as a guest of the Singapore Tourism Board. While in Singapore she stayed at the Rendezvous Hotel and travelled from Melbourne with Qantas.