A mural on the walls of a corner shophouse in Haji Lane gained prominence when news broke that the art may have to be scrubbed off or repainted. In September 2012, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) announced that it was looking into the mural because it did not meet the stipulated pastel shades for conserved shophouses.
Commisioned by Ms Aileen Tan, business owner of the neighbouring Blu Jaz Cafe, the mural and its colours were one of several cases to be flagged by the URA following the release of new colour guidelines in January that year. Apart from the Haji Lane shophouse, a URA spokesperson noted that several other owners had been told to remove paint covering the original facade tiles of their shophouses.
URA can impose a fine of up to $200,000, a jail term of up to a year, or both, if the guidelines are breached. Said Mr Kelvin Ang, URA’s deputy director of conservation management: “We do have the power to take enforcement action, but the paint colour on buildings can change over time so we have chosen to approach this matter with a lighter touch.” He added that the agency will act only when the paint colours are of “great concern” or “downright objectionable”.
Several days later, however, the URA clarified that graffiti art on the walls of select conserved shophouses would be allowed. The agency announced that it is prepared to make room for exceptions, with the Haji Lane mural being an example, meaning that it would be allowed to remain. In this particular case, the URA decided to allow graffiti art after the Kampong Glam Business Association approached it earlier that year to clarify the new rules, and seek approval on the painting of murals on the side walls of nine other shophouses in the Haji Lane area.
According to URA Group Director, Ler Seng Ann, the agency saw the potential in the Kampong Glam business association and local artists' enthusiasm as having potential for a ground-up initiative and opted to support their efforts by developing a framework for mural art in the area. He added that the URA has learnt at Haji Lane that mural art can be created in an inclusive, collaborative manner to strike the right balance to respect the sensitivity of other stakeholders and the larger community. The mural artworks were also seen as keeping in character with the Kampong Glam area, which had seen a growing number of business outlets associated with the creative community.
In March 2013, it was made known that the Kampong Glam Business Association, together with the National Arts Council, were in discussion with the URA to allow more murals in the vicinity.
The Haji Lane mural (now outside CAD Cafe) can be read as a watershed piece of art which drew attention to the conservation work of the URA, mural art's place in Singapore, and the interest of local stakeholders in shaping the character of the area.