Aliwal Urban Art Festival 2019: Celebrating Subcultures In Singapore

Written and photographs by Darren ‘Merovign’ Tan, edited by Teo Dawn

Hitting the streets once again in their fifth year, Aliwal Urban Arts Festival 2019 brought in people from different subcultures and passions to Aliwal Street, situated in the heart of Kampung Glam.

The relatively quiet district comes alive for the festivities, with no shortage of activities and buzz. 

Live Graffiti painting & Installation by RSCLS

One can immediately feel the electric atmosphere when coming close to the open air festival grounds. With the space and the right vibes, this is one of the few festivals in Singapore targeted specifically at subcultures such as graffiti, and skateboarding. It is one of the few times where these art forms are able to be celebrated openly, in a space outside those permitted by the law. 

A far cry from the consumerist nature of other festivals that seem to lean towards seeing-and-buying the next best instagrammable food-thing-exhibit, Aliwal Urban Arts Festival focuses on experiencing these subcultures that one may not see on a day-to-day basis, up-close.

Where else do we get these experiences beyond Somerset Skate Park and *Scape? 

The intense passion that these people have for their craft permeated the premises, with the main crowds closing in on the acts for dance and music at the Aliwal Arts Centre multi-purpose hall and car park respectively.

ART IN THE STREETS Pop-Up Exhibition curated by RSCLS and Blackbook

The festival grounds felt like a place where anyone could just park themselves somewhere, and enjoy the works varying from art to performance throughout the day.

One could really witness and appreciate the effort put in by all the individuals who found themselves as part of the festival programming. 

Sun Eater at the Live Music Showcase curated by SGMUSO

Music acts curated by SGMUSO filled the air, gradually gathering a sizable crowd as night fell. Key performances included an especially headbangable set by Sun Eater, and having the Lion City Lockers join Astronauts on stage for the final set.

Streetwear and Art Market curated by InvasionSG

What felt tacked on was the Streetwear and Art Market, as well as the Street Food and Beverages part of the festival, occupying a large part of the Aliwal Arts Centre car park. Sure, these stalls are convenient for bites but I wonder if this large number was necessary.

Also, the unfortunate placement of some stalls blocked most of the seating arrangement from enjoying the view of the music stage and the rest of the festival.

A Sign of the Times curated by Kult Studio & Gallery

From a wider perspective, I have to wonder if all festivals that aim to be inclusive should aim to include everyone from all walks of life.

Walking through the festival has led me to ponder on the varying levels of acceptance and celebration of different subcultures in Singapore. Are we limiting ourselves with receptivity of subcultures only in the art, sports and entertainment genres? It would be a step forward if we could see representation of subcultures of other lesser talked about genres, possibly even sub-subcultures that are scattered around Singapore.

I believe that there has to be a balance between festivals that are inclusive to everyone and others that are exclusive to those that partake in various subcultures. It is about balance, and about letting subcultures have their time of day. KPIs cannot rule everything, right? 

Taking a peek into what brings out the best in the craft of a graffiti artist, musician, or even skateboarder, brings much-needed perspective and levity into the hustle and bustle of modern-day Singapore.

We look forward to even more artistic expression and boundary-breaking artwork in the next edition of Aliwal Urban Art Festival.


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