To celebrate Singapore’s 50th Anniversary, and under the ’50 Bridges’ programme, the Australian High Commission arranged for Australian street artists to paint murals on walls in 50 heartland locations across Singapore.
One of these artists was Melbourne based Mike Maka aka Makatron. Makatron has traveled and created work around the world, painting the Berlin Wall to the River Ganges. Makatron’s work is preoccupied with the interface between man, beast and machine. Presenting a visual riot that stimulates the mind, his art conveys an imperative message to those confined in the concrete jungle to stay connected to the natural world.
Damo: How did you get involved with the 50 Bridges programme? Who else was involved?
Mike: I was actually a late invite to the event, the idea came from an old friend, Regan Ha-Ha, on a visit to Singapore some years earlier. The other artists involved were Adnate, Yok + Sheryo, Vexta, Tom Civil and locals artists Trase and Zero.
Damo: What was it like painting in Singapore? It is a country known for its strict rules – did this affect what you were able to paint in anyway?
Mike: Yeah, Singapore is a very strict society, everything is so regimented and clean – which are not really words that describe my art. To be honest, I don’t think they really wanted 50 murals, at least not the type we wanted to paint. So the gift of the mural from Australia was a bit of a subversive one.
Someone working at the Australian Embassy told me there are currently two German 20-something year old tourists doing nine months in prison for tagging a train, and the usual punishment for that is both jail and lashes from a cane. So the whole 50 murals thing I guess was some kind of encouragement for them to catch up to the rest of the world – which I think most people in Singapore want to do.
The day before I landed, Yok + Sheryo painted a 3rd eyeball on one of their characters, which resulted in the Singapore Government revoking all permissions for murals until further notice.
The Yok, who is from Perth, and Sheryo who is from Singapore, are a couple based in NYC. They are both awesome artists whose murals are like an animated acid freakout brain splatter. Unfortunately, a 3rd eyeball can be seen as demonic in Islam, and the law in Singapore doesn’t allow artists to even get close to displaying any religious symbolism in their work… let alone publicly paint something that some people may see as (potentially) “offensive”.
When I got to Singapore, I was supposed to get off the plane and go straight to a wall to paint all night, so that everything was ready for the Australian politicians arrival for the official event. That one small thing stopped everything in its tracks – so I was totally fine to chill in the Embassy pool until they sorted it out!
Then, my vague concepts for walls were all rejected. My “circus-y” elephant could be considered a Hindu symbol, they said. The tiger concept now couldn’t happen as the tiger is a symbol of Malaysia (which they are touchy about), but maybe I can paint a tiger if it was friendly(???)… so, I thought, “how about some flowers?” – but apparently one of my flowers looked like a dick….
Anyways, after a few days and a few phone calls from some people higher up in the food chain, the murals started going up.
Damo: Tell me about your murals…
Mike: Before I put any paint on any walls I spilt 10 litres of bright yellow and red paint in the High Commission basement, making a bright orange puddle. This was probably the best place in Singapore to spill paint than any other location, though, as the country is so clean.
My first of 5 murals was a Merlion – a half fish / half lion, painted in the Australian International School. This mythological creature is the symbol of the country, a deeply spiritual animal symbol for many Singaporeans ever since it was developed by the Singapore tourism board in the mid sixties.
My most fun piece, though, was a big dual wall of a peacock theme in a market place called Tiong Bahru – anyone living in Singapore for a while will know the place, because of its amazing Hawker centre.
Damo: Is there a scene in Singapore? Being based in Melbourne and part of the prolific Everfresh crew you would be used to getting up a lot. Is that even possible over there? If so, what’s it like?
I went to a lot of places around the island. In my short time there I only saw a few illegal things, but a local scene does exist.
Walls are really hard to come by over there, there’s a constant fight for space and with such harsh laws its difficult for a growing number of local artists, and the government doesn’t do much to provide extra spaces or any kind of encouragement – but it would definitely help having embassy support when asking for permission.
I went to a party under a freeway called “Off The Rails” at a local spot known as the Railway Corridor, one of only two places you are allowed to paint in Singapore, which had a graffiti jam happening along the walls. Old friend Drew Funk was visiting from Malaysia, with another great artist Kenji Chai – alongside locals like Zero, Antz and Soph O – and the locals were really impressive. They had a wooden scaffold set up tied with thick twine – most things in Singapore are super modern, but this wasn’t. Still strong enough to jump up on, though.
Another artist by the name of Clog Two works out of Singapore, and his work is pretty amazing.
Damo: What was it like representing Australia, on a government-initiated project? All those years that ‘street art’ was considered a crime….
Mike: It was fun playing the piano at the High Commission and having dinner at the official residence. Being in those kind of places I had a feeling of nostalgia for Australia – which was strange, I’ve never really been overly proud to be Australian, being born a white guy in a privileged society, in a land that in my opinion is not close to having resolution with the indigenous people.
Its funny how much has changed, now that governments are backing street art, and how its being taught in schools. Whenever anything becomes mainstream it kills off some of the initial alchemy of something that, well, didn’t really have a name when I was a teenager. Whenever anything becomes mainstream, the haters are also sure to follow, and so will the cool mums who’ll buy tshirts for their kids. I guess now we are in the stage where large scale murals are the big thing, they’ve almost become a sub genre of street art.
Overall, it was a great project to be a part of. It was really well organised by the Australian High Commission crew, and I met some great people over there. I was so amazed at how much greenery is found within the city. I went around the island a bit and it seemed like everywhere was new multi story apartments, and the jungle is growing out of freeways and all over multiple levels of buildings.
Damo: What else can we expect to see from you this year?
Mike: I’m making a book called “In Ten Cities,” which will be ready early December. It’s a visual adventure of the colourful life that I’m really grateful to be living. Its mainly images of the last 5 years of travelling around the world – mostly walls, but some canvases, some installations, some sketches, and other things like an amazing pyramid in Mexico I helped build. Of course, there’ll be some stories… some of which might even be true…