Belfast: Stunning Street Art

I can’t recall the first time I fell in love with street art but visiting cities renowned for outstanding murals such as Penang in Malaysia and Brisbane in Australia only grew my fascination for them. And although my primary reason for visiting Belfast recently was for Game of Thrones related interests, the fact that the Northern Ireland capital is also filled with stunning street art certainly made my trip much more memorable.

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Building-high mural located opposite the Albert Memorial Clock in Belfast Cathedral Quarter [Photo: Marguerita Tan]

Everywhere you turn in Belfast, you are likely to spot a mural or two on a building close to you. There is actually a black taxi tour that brings you (I think) to every notable mural in the city but if you are not that fussy, a thorough walk around the city centre or Cathedral Quarter will offer you a good number of outstanding paintings on the walls.

2018-05-21 19.10.21 (640x640)This lively mural, for instance, is located close to Kelly’s Cellars in Bank Street – where you can find “the best Guinness in the city”, according to my Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus guide. There are many other eye-catching murals in this area on and around the popular pub’s outdoor premises too.

2018-05-24 12.37.45 (620x640)Located in an empty parking lot close to the Belfast Cathedral (a.k.a St Anne’s Church) is this amazing larger-than-life caricature of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, one of my favorites found on this trip. Various murals can also be found on other buildings around  the magnificent church.

2018-05-26 10.32.58 (640x640)There are also tons of colorful murals to be found all along the nearby North Street. Whilst trying to find a reported mural of Game of Thrones‘ King in the North, Jon Snow, I walked all the way to the northern most end of the street, which although also showcased lots of intriguing murals and graffiti, the buildings were also rather isolated and creepy even in broad daylight, so I quickly walked back towards the city centre.  Only after a Google search later did I learnt that the Jon Snow mural has been painted over as the building it was on is undergoing renovation. Sob. Oh well, luckily there were other fun murals to see.

2018-05-25 11.12.07 (640x640)Like this cool Dali-inspired mural I found in a covered alleyway close to another famous pub, Duke of York, reportedly the oldest pub in Belfast. The mural, which features many Belfast landmarks and of cos the famous Guinness, is very long – covering the entire alleyway which was too narrow for me to photograph the whole painting in one shot. Just glad I stumbled onto it while taking a shortcut.

2018-05-22 16.39.09 (640x597)Most of the murals in Belfast are also very political. One of the city’s main attractions is the main Belfast Peace Wall located at Cupar Way and which you can get to easily via a Hop-On, Hop Off Bus (which is also a good way to give you an idea of where the notable murals are across the city).

There are reportedly about 100 “peace walls” throughout the city – majority which are six metres high with barbed wire on top and with colourful artwork painted on the side, most of which do not necessarily contain messages of peace however. The walls are still up – with gates at certain junctions that are locked at night – to divide communities (mainly Catholics and Protestants) that were responsible for a very troubled warring period in Belfast’s history infamously known as “The Troubles” where thousands were killed and many more injured. The walls run for kilometres so if you want to cover it all, best to ask for a detailed map which alas I was unable to find for myself.

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Murals with political overtones are also aplenty along the Falls Road and Shankill Road areas. Thanks to the city tour bus, I was able to catch most of them ‘cos I don’t think I could or would possibly see them all on foot. (There’s a lot of ground to cover.)

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You need to be extremely flexible, agile and seated on the top of an open-top bus if you want to capture them all on camera cos the guide will rattle like a machine gun with instructions such as “over your left shoulder, and over your right shoulder, and back to your left, and now right!” while the driver sped on as if he’s late for an urgent family matter. Still, a very good (and cheap) way to see and learn about the history and significance of some of the murals in the city.

If you love murals as much as I do, Belfast is a great city for it. Just wished I could have found at least one Game of Thrones mural though…

All photos by Marguerita Tan. No text or images from this post are to be used without the blog author’s permission.

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Brisbane – Street Art “City Roos”

When in Brisbane: Look around everywhere you go as it is likely you will find various forms of street art – on the walls, on the roads or on the pavement like this pair of kangaroos. Made out of scrap metal by local sculptor Christopher Trotter, these City Roos – including another pair just a stone’s away on George Street (off Brunett Lane) – are said to be the most photographed street art in the city, especially the one on the bench. Well, if you dont have time to see one in a zoo, this metallic pair will have to do!

Photo by Marguerita Tan

Penang: Street Art in George Town

When in Penang: One of the must-do things is to check out the fabulous street art, most of which were commissioned under the Marking George Town Project that helped brand the precinct as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Most popular are the enchanting murals by Penang-based Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic such as the ones above of “Boy on Motorcycle” and (part of) “Boy Walking His Dinosaur” located on Ah Quee Street. The adjacent Armenian Street, the busiest tourist hotspot in the city, is where you will find his other famous work “Kids on Bicycle” and a host of other murals by other artists.

The other type of street art to look out for are these super cute life-sized, steel-rod sculptures on sides of buildings, mostly ground-level, which feature historical facts of Penang history and its people written with much wit and humour.

To find all 15 murals and 51 sculptures easily, pick up a free Marking George Town brochure at the airport or selected hotels as it has a map showing exactly where each artpiece is. (It also show the routes of free city CAT (Central Area Transit) buses which will help you to move around easier.)

Take note that there are also many other fascinating murals in the precinct that are not listed in the map. Just look around every building or shophouse to see if there’s any street art or mural lurking on or behind it. For instance, I stumbled upon this gorgeous three-storey high rooster in splendid colours along “Chicken Alley” off Lorong Che Em, after stumbing upon steel-red sculpture #32 “Duck” off Beach Road!

Meanwhile, the popular painting – and not a mural – of a Minion executing a kung-fu kick can be found hanging behind Quay Bar along Weld Quay, close to local deaf artist Louis Gan’s adorable “Brother and Sister on a Swing”.

So, if ever you make it to #Penang, Malaysia, do check out the #streetart in #Georgetown. You won’t regret it!

All photos by Marguerita Tan. No text or images from this post are to be used without the blog author’s authorisation.

Encyclopedia Madonnica 20: Updated Edition

2016-08-14 18.33.06August 16 marks the birthday of the woman the world over know as the #QueenofPop. So, thought it would be timely to recommend that if you are a huge #Madonna fan and if you were to (somehow) only buy just one book about her in your lifetime, then let it be Encyclopedia Madonnica 20 by Matthew Rettenmund.

EM20 is the 20th anniversary edition (hence the “20”) of the New York-based author/blogger’s 1995 best-seller which many fans have long regarded as the ultimate Madonna book as it lists everything and everything about the singer “from A to Z” – from all her likes and dislikes to who she was dating during when and at where. To say Matthew’s intensive research and knowledge about the woman he admired most (next to his mum, ie) is amazingly comprehensive is an understatement.

2015 STANDARD EDITION

EM20cover_standard2015The 2015 version (standard edition, pictured above) is just as outstanding, if not much more,  as it is jam-packed with new fascinating insights, insider info, exclusive interviews, lavish illustrations and mostly rare photographs of the music icon. Weighing in close to 2kg and  the size of a phone book, the tome covers her illustrious career as a singer/dancer/actress/author/film director/fashion brand and fitness gym owner, as well as of her personal life as daughter/sister/lover/wife/ex-wife and mother-of-four, over the past 30+ years.

2015 LIMITED EDITION (500 COPIES)

2016-08-14 18.38.18The 2015 version of EM20 also has a cool limited edition (500 copies only) which has a different cover – a striking Andy-Warhol like illustration by Pegasus Street Artist. Each copy is also accompanied by a special bookplate personally autographed by the author along with  a serial number. My copy, for instance pictured above, is numbered #127/500. And there are five different bookplates featuring illustrated versions of the megastar in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, ’00s and ’10s.

2016 UPDATED STANDARD VERSION

2016-08-14 18.33.47Forward to 2016: If you haven’t gotten a copy of EM20 yet, this is a good time to get it as the meticulous Matthew – whom I’ve known for years and even went to see Madonna’s London’s West End play, Up For Grabs, together in 2002 – has updated the standard edition to include new sections on the critically acclaimed #RebelHeartTour and the exclusive #TearsofaClown show held in Melbourne, Australia. There are also a few revised entries to include, for example, the deaths of David Bowie and Prince. The new edition also boasts a gorgeous new cover illustration by Alejandro Mogollo (who also has a dozen other lovely illustrations of M in various stages of her career sprinkled throughout the book), as well as many great images from RHT and TOAC.

5 REASONS TO GET THE 2016 UPDATED VERSION

2016-08-09 03.24.22Even though I already have a copy of EM20, there were 5 reasons why I’m glad I decided to get the 2016 updated version:

1. The stunning new cover illustration by Adejandro Mogollo.
2. The Rebel Heart Tour update is essential as it is by far the best tour La M has ever done.
3. Tears of a Clown too as it was seriously a one-of-a-kind performance which I was blessed to be able to see it live in person.
4. Images of Tears of a Clown (example above) that are by my longtime M pal and fellow Singaporean, Richard Se. (You go, boy!)

And #5, most gratifyingly…

2016-08-09 03.25.28… there’s a pull-out quote under the TOAC entry which is me commenting on Tears of a Clown taken from my March 11 blog review of it, which I only found out about after my purchased copy arrived! (Much appreciated, Matthew!) You can read the original post at this link: https://musingsonthem49.wordpress.com/2016/03/11/tears-of-a-megastar-clown/)

La Vie En Rose

So there you have it, #EncyclopediaMadonnica20, arguably the tour de force of all Madonna books (and most of them are not worth a dime, seriously…).

EM20: Updated & Revised edition – a must-have in any M fan’s collection.

Available at Amazon US (and other Amazons worldwide): http://amzn.to/29QQStD

And oh, Blessed 58th Birthday, Madonna! Here’s to many more!

 

 

 

The Executioner’s Apprentice

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THE EXECUTIONER’S APPRENTICE
The entertainment and production quality of Singapore films have been improving by leaps and bounds in recent times. Last year’s SG50 film, 7 Letters,  was a delightful and thought-provoking piece that highlighted works from seven of our best homegrown directors. This year, one of the seven – Boo Junfeng of 2010’s Sandcastle fame, arguably just delivered the best local film of the year (thus far) with Apprentice, a fascinating, heartfelt and well-directed dramatisation of the uniformed personnel who work behind the walls – and gallows – of a fictitious prison in Singapore.

Here’s my  newspaper article, “Hangman’s Tales”, which features the Apprentice director and cast’s thoughts on the bright side of working on a dark film:

SINGAPORE — In Singapore, if a person murders another person, he or she could face the death penalty. Within the prison system, however, there is a person whose duty is to take a life. And it was this desire to understand the psyche of a prison executioner that drove Boo Junfeng to make his latest film Apprentice.

“In many societies where the death penalty is practised, we often forget that there is a person, a human being, who is empowered to kill,” the writer-director explained. “I was curious to see how he sees himself in the moral and ethical equation. To me, that is what was interesting — the human story behind the job, more than the (death penalty) issue itself.”

The 32-year-old took four years to research his sophomore film, including interviewing former executioners and people who have had family members executed. “The conversations I have had with these people can be made into a lot of other films. But I had to distil all of them out to make the film I wanted.”

What resulted was Apprentice, which focuses on soft-spoken correctional officer Aiman, who finds himself taken under the wing of the prison’s charismatic chief executioner Rahim, and the man who pulled the lever on Aiman’s father, who was on death row.

Masterfully played by Malaysian actor Wan Hanafi Su, Rahim is a person who takes no delight in his job, but who handles it as professionally as he can. Aiman, played by Singapore actor Fir Rahman, wears his uniform with equal pride, but being a casualty of the death penalty, he is constantly grappling with authority and morality.

Filmed primarily in Singapore and partly in Australia, the film is an earnest dramatisation that offers a chilling and fascinating look at the human stories of the people working behind the walls, and especially in the gallows, of a fictitious local prison.

Mild-mannered Boo is to be credited for coaxing fine performances out of his leads, who have nothing but praise for the director.

“He may be soft-spoken and sentimental, but he was very firm on set,” said Wan. Apprentice is the first overseas film the Malaysian veteran has starred in.

Singapore actress Mastura Ahmad, who plays Aiman’s older sister, concurred. “The film has many layers for each character yet Junfeng will make time to come to you, telling you exactly what he wants. He gets things done not by yelling or shouting, but with much patience,” she said.

Fir recalled what it was like filming the prison yard scene in a defunct prison near Sydney, Australia, during winter. “Junfeng was telling us to ‘imagine you are in Singapore …’ to which we cried, ‘But Singapore isn’t this cold what!’” the actor-cum-physical trainer said with a laugh, confessing they had to pile on heavy blankets the moment filming stopped. “I also have to make sure I have the right haircut and that I don’t put on weight. I have to look the same as I did, like, two weeks ago!”

In May, Apprentice held its world premiere at the 69th Cannes Film Festival. It was one of two Singaporean films at the prestigious event this year, the other being K Rajagopal’s A Yellow Bird, which premiered at International Critics’ Week. Fir felt “very honoured” to hit the festival in his first lead role and first feature film, while Mastura was overwhelmed by “the amazing response from the public and media”. And Wan not only held the distinction of being the first Malaysian actor to grace the red carpet at Cannes, he was also widely recognisable because of his signature long white hair and was “treated like a superstar”.

Apprentice did not win its Un Certain Regard category, but Boo is not losing any sleep over it. “If we start defining how good a film is purely by awards, I think we will miss a lot of good films. If you understand how competitions work, it is quite often decided by a jury and is entirely subjective,” he reasoned.

What was most important to him is having the right platform to show his film.

“The reviews have been very positive and very encouraging,” he said. “In the four years making Apprentice, I learnt a lot personally — not only as a film-maker but also as a person. I’ve grown to understand things that I never understood, seen facets of humanity that I haven’t seen before.”

Apprentice opens in Singapore cinemas on June 30.
(Other cities worldwide – UK, Poland, France, Turkey, Hong Kong, etc – please check your local arthouse listings.)

This article was originally published in TODAY newspaper on June 28, 2016.
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http://www.todayonline.com/entertainment/movies/apprentice-director-boo-junfeng-and-cast-bright-side-working-dark-film

Melbourne – F1 2016 Schumacher arty tribute

Photo by Marguerita Tan

Photo by Marguerita Tan

When in Melbourne: Formula One 2016 kicks off this week with the Australian Grand Prix. If you are in the vibrant city, do check out the F1 travelling fair at Southbank where you can find this amazing sidewalk portrait of Michael Schumacher, done in chalk by this brilliant artist last Sunday. #keeponfighting #FormulaOne #streetart #sidewalkart

21/3 Update: Thanks be to God that Fernando Alonso walked away safe and sound! And congrats to Rosberg for his first win of the year. #safetyfirst

Tears of a Megastar Clown

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10 Things about Madonna’s Tears Of A Clown Show at The Forum, Melbourne, Australia (10 March)

1. Only 750 fans from around the world got the chance to win a pair of tickets to attend this exclusive showcase. Thanks be to God that I was one of them!

2. Yes, 1500 of us waited 4 hours in a drizzling rain around the block of The Forum before the show started half an hour past midnight, but ultimately the amazing, one-of-its-kind, 2.5 hrs long performance by the Queen of Pop was utterly worth it…

3. Madonna on stage in total clown make-up and costume is for sure a rare sight. That a Madonna in full clown get-up presenting herself as a performance artist-cum-standup comic is even rarer.

4. Tears of a Clown has a delightful raw, casual and candid aura to it, unlike the regimentated feel of most of her world tours. The fact that it was held at the renowned Forum in Melbourne, a small but initimate venue certainly value-added to the entire experience.

5. The show set list was also a hardcore fan’s delight – rare hardly-sang-in-concert hits and gem album fillers were sang with aplomb, albeit with a few miscues requiring restarts. These ranged from X-static Process to Easy Ride, from Mer Girl to Take A Bow. It was great to be in a room filled with people who actually know the lyrics to each song!

6. The star performer was candid throughout the show and the personal stories she told of the loved ones in her life – father, late mother, first ex-husband Sean Penn and of cos Number One son Rocco, underlined the fact that there are probably more significant tears in the life of the megastar clown than what the audience was seeing…

7. A truly touching moment is when the mother-of-four dedicated Intervention to Rocco with a gorgeous pix of him on screen, and in mid-song she momentarily broke down for a second or two. This is the exact moment where you can literally hear her heart breaks…

8. But a clown needs to entertain and the woman did try her best to tell jokes as if her life depended on it. To be fair, most on this night were reasonably good. But one fell so badly that ONE kind fan upfront gave out a nervous laugh amidst the silence which only irritated her and made her threw peanuts at the fans in front. To that, we at the back applaud!

9. Some rag papers been saying she was a boozing mess on stage. No,  she wasn’t. Madonna never drinks while on tour or when she’s performing. She only – shocker alert – act like she’s drinking during the show. The venue has a bar in the premises (this is Australia!) What’s a clown to do?

10. All in all, 15 songs including one from the Rebel Heart album, the very personal and heartfelt Joan of Arc, were packed in this wonderful presentation that despite “only two full rehearsals” was a truly incredible and entertaining showcase by one of the greatest performers on this planet.

Here’s hoping Tears Of A Clown won’t be a one-off. Ok, we know she hates Vegas with a venom… (She again said so adamantly in TOAC.) How about a residency in Broadway in your beloved New York then, Madonna? *wink*

In the meantime, thank you for Tears Of A Clown. A truly cool and insightful experience for any M fan…

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Set list for Tears Of A Clown
1. Send in the Clowns
2. Drowned World/Substitute for Love
3. X-Static Process
4. Between the Bars
5. Nobody’s Perfect
6. Easy Ride
7. Intervention
8. I’m So Stupid
9. Paradise Not For Me
10. Joan of Arc
11. Don’t Tell Me
12. Mer Girl
13. Borderline* – check out my video of this performance below!
14. Take A Bow
15. Holiday