5 Questions with Local Artist ZERO: ARTWALK Little India 2019

With the theme, Image and Sound of Fragrance, ARTWALK Little India is back for its fifth year running. From 18 January to 2 February 2019, the popular multi-disciplinary arts festival will celebrate the cultural precinct’s rich heritage.

New highlights include an immersive exhibition at UltraSuperNew Gallery, which features works by acclaimed artists such as Tan Ngiap Heng and Bani Haykal, and five more murals to add to Little India’s colourful vibrancy. Furthermore, this year’s ARTWALK sees the event spanned across 16 days – the festival’s longest period yet.

‘A Scent of Lights’ by SONG, at 20 Clive Street

Making first-time appearances are young artists SONG, who will unveil an ambitious mural that captures all the sights and smells of the neighbourhood; and Susanna Tan, who encapsulates her well-wishes for the Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society in a mural along Starlight Road.

‘Stargazer’s Wish’ by Susanna Tan, at 2A Starlight Road

Theatre fans can enjoy a re-telling of Kuo Pao Kun’s The Coffin is Too Big for the Hole by students from LASALLE’s Diploma in Performance programme. This rendition of one of Singapore’s most famous classic plays was staged in France’s Limoges Festival in 2018, which received praise for its inventiveness and stagecraft.

‘Flavours’ by Shah Rizzal, at 120 Desker Road

ARTWALK 2019 also sees the return of well-loved festival highlights, such as master storyteller Kamini Ramachandran who is back to breathe life into back-alley whispers from Rowell Road, and local artists ZERO and Shah Rizzal will be adding their unique signature to the walls of the district once more.

Artwalk Little India 2019: Working Class Hero
‘Working Class Hero’ by ZERO

We spoke to artist ZERO (Mohammed Zulkarnaen Othman) exclusively to pick his brains on his views on the urban arts scene, and to find out why street art is largely misunderstood as the key aesthetics to one’s “Insta-fame” these days.

ARTWALK 2019: Zul Othman

1. What is the difference between street art and graffiti?

Graffiti art or writing focuses on the development of style through letters with techniques such as tagging, throw-ups, and piece-ing (short for ‘masterpiece’), most specifically with aerosol paints. Graffiti writers see themselves as artisans focused on urban calligraphy, and the art of getting (their artworks) up, such that graffiti writers challenge themselves to paint on as many locations as possible. The more visibility one’s piece or tag has, the higher the street credibility.

Street art, on the other hand, is more diverse in its form. From stencils, installations, murals, sculptures, and more, street art could take on many forms. The most popular form of street art is murals.

2. In your opinion, how has the arts scene in Singapore developed over the years?

The arts scene has seen a massive improvement over the years. Even this year, with the cancellation of Art Stage, it makes room for more region-focused events and exhibitions. There is still more to be done though. The “underground” less-popular sector of the visual arts like urban arts should – and could – someday stand toe-to-toe with other contemporary art presentations. I can only hope.

ARTWALK 2019: Zul Othman 2

3. What can the government do to support or help improve the street art scene in Singapore?

I don’t think it should only be the government supporting – we should have more private organisations coming in to support the scene. I think the government has done relatively well over the years, but there should be a safer space for artistic discourse for the arts.

4. Over the years, you have founded two art collectives – RSCLS and ARTVSTS. Moving forward, what are your plans for these collectives?

As of now, I am focused on RSCLS’ position in the larger urban art community in Singapore and also regionally. I am highly passionate in advocating the understanding of the Southeast Asian urban art scene through research and sharing. I have always been interested in the collective identity of this region’s urban art practitioners. We are always seen as a lesser derivative of a Western movement, and that is only because no one takes the time to understand its nuances and its narrative. A lot has been written and discussed with regards to graffiti and street art from the West, but the Asian narrative sorely lacks proper documentation.

5. Lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring street artists?

Be real. Be honest. Painting or making works in the street is a struggle with the elements, space, people, and many other things that could affect your artwork. To be honest, after 17 years doing this professionally, I have seen a lot of people coming into the scene as a street artist as part of a branding strategy.

‘Street art’ is casually used as an attempt to gain street credibility, a social currency of sorts. Whether it’s on social media or mainstream media, there have been many who have used street art as a platform to launch themselves; but not caring about what it truly means to be one. It’s all about the “Insta-fame”. So be honest. Making a couple of works on the street does not make you a street artist. It doesn’t give you the right to hijack the collective narrative of a community that has struggled to sustain and maintain the place in this narrative.

ARTWALK Little India 2019 runs from 18 January – 2 February 2019, with programmes and activities happening on Fridays to Saturdays, 6pm to 9.30pm. Self-guided tours are also available via the Locomole mobile app. For more details, visit

Photos courtesy of LASALLE College of the Arts

Deepa d/o Chevi Vadivelu

Animal and music lover, bookworm and movie enthusiast. #blackismyhappycolour

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