Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Visual art isn’t the only cultural realm that is expanding.

Singapore’s newest arts area has grown to include about a half-dozen galleries in the last few years, including Ikkan Art International and Light Editions that displays regional photography. Housed in a bustling warehouse that serves the neighboring container port but is only ten minutes by taxi from the central business district, the unadorned space with its freight elevators and exposed pipes certainly looks right for the part of avant-garde art hub.

Visitors get to see art that ranges from work by young regional artists to aboriginal masters before slurping down a bowl of the famed, pungent bak kut teh (pork-rib soup) at the Outram Park Ya Hua Rou Gu Cha coffee shop, a five-minute walk away.

A cadre of young Singaporeans is striking out on its own to begin independent boutiques and fashion labels to prove that there is a distinct Singaporean identity, far from the malls, observes Naomi Lindt, The New York Times writer in a travel essay (Expanding the Cultural Realm in Singapore).

“In Singapore, creativity is no longer frowned upon,” said Kenny Leck, who became one of the movement’s pioneers when he abandoned a career as an accountant and opened BooksActually in 2005 with Karen Wai, his business partner. Filled with the pair’s collection of vintage typewriters, cameras, accordions and toys, the shop is the kind of place that can’t keep magazines like Monocle and Granta on the shelves.

With the goal of fostering a salon-type atmosphere, BooksActually regularly invites emerging artists, authors and playwrights to hold events and readings at the shop, recognizing that many of them have nowhere else to go. Events are advertised on the store’s Facebook page and a blog.

Bolstered by its slow but steady success, the store recently moved to Yong Siak Street in the up-and-coming residential neighborhood of Tiong Bahru, also home to the White Canvas art gallery, whose exhibitions are accompanied by artist-led talks and dinners, and Strangelets, a quirky design shop.

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