Echoes of Little India

Little India's streets have turned colourful and vibrant with the images and sounds that emanate from the nine-day multidisciplinary public arts festival Artwalk, which ends on Sunday.

The ninth edition of the popular event explores the theme of echo - how our culture, heritage and traditions reverberate like soundwaves and are in constant flux.

This year's Artwalk, part of Singapore Art Week, is organised by LASALLE College of the Arts and Singapore Tourism Board, and supported by the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association.

It presents Singapore's cultural heritage in a fresh light. Through the reflections and impressions of contemporary artists, the event has brought the spaces and histories of Little India and Katong-Joo Chiat to life.

Artwalk offers a multi-sensory experience through wall murals, workshops music and other performances.

Adding to the line-up of Little India's murals this year is artist Laurie Maravilla's (better known as SPAZ) Baoli Reverb at the Indian Heritage Centre.

It contextualises the architecture of Baoli stepwells (subterranean architecture in western India from 7th to 19th centuries) and restores these heritage structures to their original function - bringing water to all.

Another new mural is Tapestry of Saree 2040 by the creative studio Mural Lingo. Painted along 68 Serangoon Road, it depicts a narrative about culture, legacy and the future, drawing inspiration from Little India.

Also engaging in a dynamic new performance is Damaru, a group of enthusiasts and professionals who are passionate about lifting the craft of traditional Indian drumming.

They focus on the folk, street and classical drumming traditions from various states in India, presenting them in a contemporary style that is unique to Singapore.

Damaru returns to Artwalk for the third time by showcasing a new art form called parai from Tamil Nadu.

"It is an art form that is ancient but has faced many challenges socially, being labelled an outcast drum," said Akshara Thiru, founder of Damaru and an Indian folk and street percussionist.

"We have focused on celebrating traditions and upholding the heritage of the drum, presenting the parai's sounds and movements as it has been played over the centuries.

"We are also showcasing how the parai can play alongside martial arts, dance and songs and become the integral pulse for all these art forms."

Damaru's 50 drummers, who also use other accompaniments such as the damaru and thudumbu (bass drums), thalava (shaker), kombu and thiruchinnam (horns) and semmakalam (bell), take inspiration from the Brazilian batucada in the way they perform, move and engage the audience, providing a constant exchange of energy and joy.

"Ponmozhi and Lokesh from Kalari Academy will be doing silambattam (hand combat), Suren from Manimaran Creations will be leading the audience in parai dance steps in a zumba fashion and a group of us will be playing to live singing and tracks of Tamil traditional folk and movie songs," said Thiru.

Watch Damaru drum up a lively performance at Campbell Lane today at 7.30pm and tomorrow at 4.30pm.

Also at 4.30pm tomorrow you can experience the experimental piece Liminal States by students from the diploma in dance programme at LASALLE at Poli @ Hindoo Road. It reflects Little India's constant state of transition.

The fixed installation is an incomplete structural piece made by an artist. Throughout the festival, dancers - physical manifestations of a sound wave - perform and leave imprints on the murals.

"The dancers will be performing to a structured improvisation score. This means that each performance will be different according to how they respond to each other, the space and the sculpture," said Ms Melissa Quek, Head, School of Dance & Theatre, LASALLE College of the Arts..

"Each dancer also has the ability to bring their own interpretation into the mix.

'With that in mind, we decided to have different casts of dancers performing the various roles, so that the performances will be very different each time."

Also interesting is the site-specific piece Origin by musician, performer, composer and writer Mark Nicodemus Tan. Origin brings to life mythical characters through music, dance, poetry and theatre at various stops in Little India.

You can catch it today at 7pm and 8.15pm at 109 Desker Road.

A pair of dancers and a pair of percussionists will bring to life mythical characters as well as explore metaphysical binaries ubiquitous in myth.

Through the telling, retelling and recreation of myth through various performance modes, this piece examines the role of narratives and stories in the placemaking of Little India and Singapore.

The performance is framed with the dancers and musicians performing in pairs, enabling dialogue and conversations between classical and contemporary forms.

"It will generally be in English, although there is a sprinkling of Bengali at some point," said Mark.

"We start at Desker Road before moving on to Bangla Square and ending in the shadow of the beautiful Angullia Mosque.

"Some characters from the Ramayana will make an appearance and they will be joined by Sang Nila Utama (the founder of the Kingdom of Singapura in 1299).

"As this piece aims to explore the nature of myth-making and the sometimes deific evolution of historical characters, we will also portray a visit from (Singapore's first prime minister) Lee Kuan Yew and the people who gave the sites we are visiting their names and identities."

Other highlights of Artwalk in Little India include sessions with storyteller Kamini Ramachandra (tomorrow 6.30pm), who will lead a cultural tour and experience that centres on the harvest festival Pongal.

Audiences will get to experience not just the sights and sounds of the surrounding area, but also a curated gastronomic experience with dishes traditionally made during Pongal.

Vijaya Mohan will also be conducting a rangoli workshop at Tekka Place at 1pm today.

Fore more information, go to the Artwalk website


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