Preserving Singapore’s Past: Muralist Belinda Low’s Kampung Spirit Revival

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preserving singapore's past muralist belinda low's kampung spirit revival

Every weekend, a modest woman paints the walls of Blocks 89, 90, and 91 in the centre of Tanglin Halt while putting up with the heat and humidity. Meet Belinda Low, a 65-year-old muralist on a quest to create colourful tribute paintings to Singapore’s past to preserve the treasured memories of her community.

Just 12 years ago, when Belinda was 53 years old, her artistic journey began. She was feeling the emptiness of the “empty nest” sensation because her sons had grown up. She turned to art to deal with the void, painting vibrant canvases every weekend with her paintbrush and bold colours. Her artistic expression changed two years later when she created her first mural, a lion in a tunnel at Clarke Quay MRT station. Her quest to document Singapore’s past through her art officially began with this.

Over the course of her work, Belinda has painstakingly painted over 100 murals in various neighbourhoods, converting public areas into living museums that evoke everyday experiences. Her paintings adorn the walls of residential communities in the heartland, including Bishan, Punggol, and Yishun, and enclaves like Clarke Quay, Chinatown, and Holland Village. But Belinda doesn’t simply focus on her recollections; she also interacts with the locals, collecting their stories and incorporating them into her works of art.

She loves talking about her late grandma, who raised her and was one of her favourite subjects. The kampung spirit, the sense of belonging, and the neighbourliness that once characterised Singapore are immortalised in Belinda’s works of art. As the country transitioned from kampungs to high-rise apartments, she lamented the loss of these ties and hoped to resurrect that spirit through her paintings.

Belinda has a steadfast dedication to her profession. She paints in various weather, including blazing heat and torrential downpours. She works nonstop from 9 am to 4 pm and finds comfort in the space where time seems to stop. She welcomes challenges rather than letting them hinder her. Despite hardship, her resilience and devotion are seen.

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Belinda is steadfast despite advice to give up mural painting owing to her age and its strenuous physical requirements. She will shortly retire from her full-time position, but she doesn’t want to stop working on her paintings. Her life’s philosophy, which emphasises listening to one’s inner voice, living in the moment, and facing obstacles head-on, is reflected in her counsel to the younger generation.

The path Belinda has taken has not been without difficulties. She received a stage one breast cancer diagnosis three years ago. She didn’t give in to dread; instead, she found support in her art and community. The discovery of her disease strengthened her commitment to pursue her artistic goals and live life to the fullest.

On the weekends, if you drive by Block 89, 90, or 91 of Tanglin Halt, you’ll see Belinda Low, sun- and rain-beaten, bringing Singapore’s collective memories to life. She revitalises the kampung atmosphere through her murals, establishing public galleries that serve as enduring odes to the country’s past.

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