Sungei Road Thieves Market, one of the oldest and largest flea market in Singapore, was closed in 2017.
The Story of Sungei Road Thieves Market
Sungei Road Thieves Market was located at Sungei Road, which means river road (sungei is river in Malay), as the road runs along the Rochor River.
The flea market started in the mid 1930s. Its first nickname was "Robinson Petang", meaning Robinson in the afternoon. It was cheekily so named as the flea market operated in the afternoon and Robinson was a upmarket department store at that time.
During World War II, the flea market was where one can buy essential items in short supply in the black market.
After the war, the flea market slowly became a place where stolen and smuggled illegal goods were peddled, which gave it the nickname "Thieves Market". It was joked that if you "lost" something in the morning, you will be able to buy it back in the afternoon at the flea market.
From the 1950s, the flea market became a second hand market where peddlers were mainly karung guni (rag and bone men) selling a wide range of old products. The peddlers did not pay rent for their make shift stalls and goods were sold at low and very competitive prices.
The flea market started to decline in the 1970s as the government tried to move the peddlers off the streets to make way for re development plans in the Rochor Canal area.
The tug of war between the peddlers and the state continued until 2017, when the Sungei Road Thieves Market was officially and permanently closed.
The Story of the Painting
Famous Singapore artist Low Hai Hong experimented painting oil on paper and loved the effects. Painting oil on paper meant he could leave white spaces, similar to Chinese ink painting and even watercolour painting.
In this painting, there is a delicate balance of frenzy and calm. The road is messy, filled with crates and goods, canvas roofs and pedestrians. The shophouses are chaotic too, with poles of clothes protruding from the windows.
We are saved by the precious white space, giving us room to breathe.
Title: Sungei Road Thieves Market (1988)
Artist: Low Hai Hong
Medium: Oil on Paper
Dimensions: 56cm x 42cm
Rent: $24 per week
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Rent Sungei Road Thieves Market because
it is nostalgic.
Learn more about the painting.
This painting was part of the "This is my Country" art exhibition held at ARTualize art gallery in July to August 2021.
"This is my Country" National Day exhibition continues, with The Stalls at Sungei Road Thieves Market.
Stand up for Singapore
Do the best you can
Reach out for your fellow man
You've got to make a stand
Recognise you can play your part
Let it come right from your heart
Be prepared to give a little more
Stand up, stand up for Singapore
- Stand up for Singapore, NDP 1984