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Channel 4 News | Feb 23
When a graffiti artist tags a wall, it's called vandalism. When the graffiti is made by world-famous provocateur Banksy, it's called art and makes ...
Now over in Singapore, artist Samantha Lo is under investigation for possible charges of vandalism. She had been painting and pasting stickers in public places without permission. Her case raises questions about artistic expression in the city state. For more on this story, here's our Singapore contributor Trinh Hoang Ly.
Trinh Hoang Ly, Nanyang Technological University:
It all started after a 25-year-old artist, a former curator at the Singapore National Art Gallery, Samantha Lo, pasted several stickers at traffic lights and advertising billboards, as well as painting on road surfaces. The stickers feature "Singlish" phrases poking fun at Singaporeans' English accents, as well as other local features and eccentricities.
For example, one sticker read "Press Once Can Already" referring to locals' habit of pressing traffic light buttons over and over in the hope that the walk signal will appear sooner. Sticker Lady also stencil-painted phrases, like "My Grandfather Road," on the street, which is thought by some to refer to Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister of the country. But is the Sticker Lady a vandal?
Singapore is notorious for its strict vandalism law and its use of corporal punishment. Michael Fay, an 18-year-old student at the Singapore American School made international headlines in 1994, when he was sentenced to four strokes of the cane on his backside for vandalism. Fay was convicted for damaging cars with hot tar, paint removers and hatchets. He was also sentenced a fine and jail time. But it was the caning that caught public attention.
Samantha will escape caning, however, because it only applies to males under 50 years old. But her case certainly stirred up debate.
First, is the government restricting creativity, something it has been trying to promote? A gag sprang up on HardwareZone.com highlighting the irony between an ad in a local newspaper for Nippon paint along the creativity theme and the fact that Sticker Lady's work is considered vandalism.
Jessica Chua, on the newspaper TODAY's website, compared Sticker Lady's work to those of other artists, such as the internationally known street painter Kurt Wenner. She said:
"Kurt Wenner invented 3D street painting and illusion art. Why then was this 'vandal' invited by Changi Airport to doodle on its shiny clean floors?"
Chua went on:
"We are too narrow-minded to appreciate art out-of-the-box."
Winston Tan disagreed, however:
"It is vandalism, because relevant authority consent was not obtained. If this is not properly kept in check, everyone will try to make art."
Images have also surfaced online comparing the Samantha Lo case with other incidents of destruction of public and private property.
This one, posted on local socio-politico website "The Online Citizen," contrasts Sticker Lady's work with Singapore's loan sharks, who commonly splash paint on debtors' doors to shame them. Another on the same page shows illegal advertisements on lampposts that sometimes go unpunished.
Netizens also took to Singapore's citizen journalism website "Stomp" to discuss the issue and report on copycat cases. A quick search of key words "sticker lady" yields 10 pages of results with articles detailing the case followed by hundreds of comments from contributors.
The court's ruling is likely to set a legal precedent for future cases involving street arts in Singapore.
For LinkAsia, this is Trinh Hoang Ly in Singapore.
Samantha Lo has gained the support of several members of Singapore's parliament. One of them, Janice Koh, said, "It is almost impossible to talk about developing a culturally vibrant, creative or lovable city, without some tolerance for those slightly messy activities that sometimes challenge the rules."