Aliwal Arts Night Crawl celebrates art of wayang kulit, street goes car-free

At Sri Warisan's performance in Aliwal Street, audience members can play with the performing arts troupe's shadow puppets or those they make themselves at a workshop.
At Sri Warisan's performance in Aliwal Street, audience members can play with the performing arts troupe's shadow puppets or those they make themselves at a workshop.PHOTO: SRI WARISAN

Roads will be closed to vehicles for Saturday's Aliwal Arts Night Crawl, where the art of wayang kulit will be celebrated

Artists reinvent and celebrate the art of wayang kulit at the Aliwal Arts Night Crawl: Rasa Wayang this Saturday. It is the fifth edition of Aliwal Arts Centre's free annual arts festival, which goes car-free in a big way for the first time.

Supported by the Urban Redevelopment Authority's Streets For People initiative, roads from Aliwal Street to Bali Lane will be closed to vehicles from 5pm. Night-crawlers can roam freely around the nearly 200-year-old neighbourhood and watch or participate in close to 30 performances and workshops.

The Kampong Glam heritage area will host a shadow puppet show by Sri Warisan and audience members are invited to take part. They can use traditional puppets or make their own earlier in the Cool It With Kulit! workshop hosted by street art collective RSCLS and How To Ink Studio from 6 to 10pm.

RSCLS designed contemporary puppets, such as a skating dragon, for the workshop and members will operate a roving, 2m-tall shadow lantern meant to project superhero stories on building facades.

The facade of Aliwal Arts Centre will be transformed by Light & Shadow play, a live projection by film-maker and visual artist Amanda Tan, aka Empyreal.

It is her first time at the Aliwal Arts Night Crawl, though she was involved in music and arts festival Neon Lights last year.

  • BOOK IT / ALIWAL ARTS NIGHT CRAWL: RASA WAYANG

  • WHERE: Kampong Glam, including Aliwal Street, Baghdad Street, Bali Lane, Haji Lane and Arab Street

    WHEN: Saturday, 5pm till late

    ADMISSION: Free

    INFO: www.aliwalartscentre.sg

She is thrilled to be given space at the night crawl. "I love being involved in places where different art forms collaborate," says the 32-year-old.

"The theme is also something for me to reflect on personally." She grew up learning about batik because of her grandmother's Indonesian heritage and this aesthetic will inspire the patterns in her work.

Live performances of dance, theatre, Chinese opera, Western opera and storytelling are joined by live music from gamelan, Malayan drums and brass band at various locations. DJ KoFlow will turn Arab Street into a street party with a set showcasing his new single, Arab Street.

Many participants are residents of Aliwal Arts Centre, such as New Opera Singapore, the Chinese Opera Institute and Teater Ekamatra.

Most activities are free, except for photo and cyanotype workshops offered in Baghdad Street from 2pm onwards by mobile darkroom, House Of Photography, by Deck.

Aliwal Arts Night Crawl is big on interactivity this year, says Ms Natalie Tan, senior manager for place- making for Aliwal Arts Centre. "We learnt from feedback from the arts community that a lot of arts events and night events were a spectator sport. You come here and clap and go home and have learnt nothing."

Last year's night crawl paid homage to the sarong. This year's aims to return wayang kulit to its former star spot as a much-loved form of art and entertainment.

Performing arts troupe Sri Warisan hopes for this as well. The troupe, which has offices in Kerbau Road, will have three puppeteers (dalang) and nine musicians performing in Aliwal Street on Saturday. A facilitator will help audience members play with the troupe's puppets or insert their own into the performance.

Sri Warisan's managing director Adel Dzulkarnaen Ahmad, 41, says Saturday's wayang kulit will retell the stories of the Ramayana with a contemporary touch. For example, heroes similar to Marvel's The Avengers might help defeat the evil king, Ravana. "We want to be educational and entertaining for the next generation to transform this art in their own way," he says. "The purist will say it's not traditional wayang kulit, but that's okay."

Similarly, in its shadow lantern, RSCLS blends figures of Asian myth with those from Western comic books.

The collective's co-founder, Mohammed Zulkarnaen Othman, 38, says: "Everything is a myth. The Mahabharata is Indian myth which came because of our Hindu roots. We've also created global myths through comics."

Members of RSCLS have occupied a studio at Aliwal Arts Centre since 2013 and are better known for graffiti and murals. Their shadow lantern - The Fantastic Mythluminator - is an extension of the same idea, Zulkarnaen says.

Shadows are specific to a time and place and able to highlight "the spaces which people forget, such as dark alleys".

"This is also about the usage of urban space and its ephemeral nature," he adds.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2017, with the headline 'Shadow play in the streets'. Print Edition | Subscribe