CULTURE, LITERATURE, CENSORSHIP AND ART IN SINGAPORE

CULTURE AND THE ARTS IN SINGAPORE

Singapore has a reputation for being a cultural ghost town. Some say that Singaporeans too preoccupied with material comforts to worry themselves with cultural matters. Artists have to operate in an atmosphere of censorship and self-censorship. Two performance artists who snipped off some of their pubic hair at a New Year’s Day event in 1994 were banned after that from doing any more performances. “Everybody plays it quite safe here,” one artist told the New York Times.

In the 1990s things began picking up. By the late 1990s, Singapore hosted 3,000 cultural events a year. A director for the arts council said, “Every night there are about five or eight events going on, which is quite marvelous for such a small island.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said he wants Singapore to a “vibrant and cosmopolitan, throbbing with energy.” In the late 2000s the government decided it was important for Singapore to have a lively cultural scene for the city-state to mature as a society and the government began initiating policy to encourage the development of the arts.

American culture in common place. Singapore has Strabucks, Borders bookstores and the last Hollywood movies and most Singaporeans speak English. Japanese culture is also very big. Fights broke have broken at some McDonald’s over Hello Kitty dolls. Housewives began camping out at 4:30am at the same restaurants to get their hands on the dolls. In recent years Korean culture and K-Pop music have become very big.

Censorship in Singapore

Pornography is strictly banned in Singapore, and the government blocks many Web sites deemed obscene. Home satellite TV antennae are outlawed. Imported videos are carefully screened and edited by government censors. Bookstores are prohibited from selling books on communism, pornography and religious cults. Censors with the Ministry of Information Communications and Arts say they act on two main objectives: “to protect certain core values” and not inflame “peculiar sensitivities within our society, a reference to maintaining racial harmony. Just the threat of censorship is enough to instill fear and cause self-censorship.

Cosmopolitan and Playboy were banned as threats to common decency. In 2003, the ban on Cosmopolitan was lifted but the one on Playboy remained in place. In the 1990s, the government of Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong tried to get the restrictions on Playboy lifted but canned the decision after it was found that three quarters of Singaporeans opposed the move.

Under the Official Secrets Act, the government can classify any documents its wants on the grounds of national security. In the early 1990s five people were found guilty of breaking the term of the act by publishing "flash estimates" of economic growth. Under an amendment to the Films Act in 1998 the use of political films or videos is banned. Anyone who makes, imports, reproduces or distributes a film, “made by any person and directed toward any political end in Singapore” can be fined or jailed up to two years.

One artist told the Independent, “We’re always trying to see how far you can go. We don’t really know what the ground rules are any more but we soon find out if we’ve gone too far.”

Film Censorship in Singapore

Jake Lloyd-Smith of Associated Press wrote: “Such movies as The English Patient and Titanic have been censored, and Nicole Kidman's lesbian kissing scene in The Hours was cut. The government says its conservative citizens want censorship — and other restraints — to preserve order and family values in a multicultural society. But officials also insist they have been easing up to suit the demands of a younger, more open generation exposed to overseas influences. They point to dropping a ban on bungee jumping and bar-top dancing as evidence of the softer line. A ban on the sale of chewing gum also was eased this year. [Source: Jake Lloyd-Smith, Associated Press, July 24, 2004]

According to Reuters: “Kate Winslet's disrobing scene in the film Titanic was deemed too daring. Scenes of women kissing each other in the award-winning film The Hours were also cut, as was a brief glimpse of nudity in recent Oscar honouree Lost in Translation. The cuts are easily noticeable, giving movie scenes a disjointed feel. [Source: Reuters, March 26, 2004]

In May 2006, censors barred viewers below 16 years of age from watching ‘The Da Vinci Code’ because they were afraid some children might see it as a factual movie. The blockbuster film poses the explosive idea that Jesus Christ married his follower Mary Magdalene and started a bloodline that still exists in secret. AFP

The 1982 film The Year of Living Dangerously, with Mel Gibson, was banned until 1999 because it dealt with a failed political coup in Indonesia in 1965. Zoolander—the Ben Stiller comedy film about a self-absorbed male model who is brainwashed to kill the prime minister of Malaysia because of his threat to the fashion industry was banned for “controversial elements.”

The name of the film Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me was changed to Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shoiked Me. "Shoik" means "treat nicely" in Singapore slang. Even though "shagged" means "tired" in Singapore slang, film censors didn’t want confusion with the British definition of "shag" which means sex. Later the ruling was changed and the film was allowed to keep its real name and was shown largely uncut.

Eyes Wide Shut—the Stanley Kubrik film with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman—was banned. Scenes cut by censors have included Kate Winslet disrobing in Titanic. In 2003, the Singapore government decided that films with homosexual themes could be show in commercial cinemas while movies such as Gladiators could be restricted to audiences over 18 because of violence.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show was banned for 28 years and finally shown in 2003. AFP reported: “It has taken 28 years but Singapore authorities have finally succumbed to the charms of alien transvestite Frank-n-Furter and approved the screening of one of the world's most famous cult films, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The film got a one-time screening at the end of a three-day film festival to celebrate Halloween, ticketing agency TicketCharge said. "There is also the exclusive premiere of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, 28 years after it was banned in Singapore," it said. The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a musical sci-fi satire centred on sexually ambiguous Frank-n-Furter, was a cinema flop on its release in 1975 but quickly became a cult with audiences loving the camp humour and addictive soundtrack. Other horror flicks to be screened during at the festival include the acclaimed Japanese production The Ring. [Source: Agence France Presse, October 29, 2003]

Self-Censorship in Singapore

Mark Jacobson wrote in National Geographic, “Self-censorship is rampant in Singapore, where dealing with the powers that be is "a dance," says Alvin Tan, the artistic director of the Necessary Stage, which has put on dozens of plays dealing with touchy issues such as the death penalty and sexuality. Tan spends a lot of time with the government censors. "You have to use the proper approach," he says. "If they say 'south,' you don't say 'north.' You say 'northeast.' Go from there. It's a negotiation." [Source: Mark Jacobson, National Geographic, January 2010 /+\]

“Those who do not learn their steps in the dance soon get the message. Consider the case of Siew Kum Hong, a 35-year-old Singaporean who thought he'd be furthering the cause of openness by serving as an unelected NMP, or nominated member of parliament. With only four opposition MPs elected in the history of the country, the ruling party thought NMPs might provide the appearance of "a more consensual style of government where alternative views are heard and constructive dissent accommodated." This was how Siew Kum Hong told me he viewed his position, but he was passed over for another term. /+\

"I thought I was doing a good job," a surprised Kum Hong says. What it came down to, he surmises, were "those 'no' votes." When he first voted no, on a resolution he felt discriminated against gays, his colleagues "went absolutely silent. It was the first time since I'd been in parliament that anyone had ever voted no." When he voted no again, this time on a law lowering the number of people who could assemble to protest, the reaction was similarly cool. "So much for alternative views," Kum Hong says.” /+\

Singapore: the Land of Uncreative People?

Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, “Apple co-founder Steven Wozniak, who contributed significantly to the microcomputer revolution, said recently that a company like Apple could not have emerged in a society like Singapore. The reason: Society is structured and the people are not taught to think for themselves. “Look at structured societies like Singapore where bad behaviour is not tolerated, (and one is) extremely punished,” Wozniak told BBC in an interview. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, February 25, 2012 /^/]

“Wozniak questioned the existence (if any) of creative people, great artists, great musicians and great writers in Singapore. About Singapore, he said that although many people are educated, have well-paid jobs and nice cars, “creative elements” in society seemed to have disappeared. “Inspiring creativity was important to a company like Apple,” he added. “When Singapore’s civil servants were ranked as Asia’s best several years ago my reaction was one of cynicism, dismissing it as another self-glorying headline.But, on further reflection, I felt the ranking wasn’t entirely irrational. If fact, I thought, if there were one group of people in this world who possessed the best ingredients for good civil servants, it was Singaporeans. These are sticklers to regulations, obedience of superiors, have a good general education and are largely corrupt-free.” /^/

“The government wants to see an innovative workforce, but on the other hand it doesn’t want workers to be too outspoken or become too experimental. The same applies to schools, where teachers demand blind obedience from students. There have been reports of students who used a different method to solve a Mathematics solution found it marked as “wrong” even though they got the answer right. Occasional views of employers are polled about the Singapore worker: In one, they described him as reliable and diligent but lacking in creativity and leadership. Another polled found Singaporeans, though highly educated, neither expressive nor articulate. /^/

“A few enlightened principals, however, are allowing the children a more expressive environment. Wozniak’s views found ready agreement from many Singaporeans. Said Tatiana Ann Xavier: “He is quite right that a company like Apple is unlikely to emerge in a society where polishing apples helps to win promotion. “Creativity lies with the non-conformists; never with the conformists. The government should ponder over his (Wozniak’s) hard truth.” /^/

“Partly because it reflects the Singaporean’s general reluctance to take too personal initiatives, more people want to join the civil service. In some years, more than half the Singaporeans polled said they wanted to make a switch from the private to public sector. It has prompted Professor Eugene Tan to ask: “Have we become a template nation, one so reliant on templates that we suspend our sense of judgment, common sense and initiative?” /^/

Singapore Becoming More Creative and Fun?

David Lamb wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “Truth be told, Singapore may never have the edginess of Bangkok, the flashiness of Shanghai or the cultural charm of Hanoi. The over-50 crowd, conservative and cautious, wants neither to see the social order turned upside-down nor the pursuit of fun become too much of a distraction. As Chan Heng Chee, Singapore's ambassador to the United States, puts it, "We are fun-loving, but not recklessly fun-loving. Everything is just so." Some artists, too, are skeptical, saying the evolution of art and culture needs to bubble up from the people rather than trickle down from the top by government decree. Can creativity, they ask, truly flourish in a society where there are limits on freedom of expression, politics and policy are not openly debated and the state-controlled media tiptoe around controversy as gracefully as ballet dancers? "I remember when the government decided we needed a biotech industry and one sprung up overnight," says Adrian Tan, a 29-year-old theater director and orchestra conductor. "But arts and culture and moral norms are not things you can put $10 million or $100 million into and just make happen." [Source: David Lamb, Smithsonian magazine, September 2007 **]

“Glen Goei, who spent 20 years in theater and film in New York and London and starred with Anthony Hopkins in the play M. Butterfly, is one of the artists who has returned to test his homeland's new frontiers. His adaptation of Little Shop of Horrors was to open three nights after I met him at the Victoria Theater, a handsome Victorian Revival building that once served as the British town hall and was the site of war-crimes trials that followed Japan's World War II occupation of Singapore. Goei runs the Wild Rice Theater; wearing flip-flops, shorts and a polo shirt, he sat alone among a sea of empty red velvet seats while workmen with hammers and paintbrushes put finishing touches on the set. Advance sales had been brisk. Goei looked at his watch. It was nearly midnight. **

"Have things changed in Singapore?" he asked, then answered his own question. "Yes. Fifteen years ago we didn't have a single actor surviving full-time as an actor. Today, we've got 60, 70, 80, and a bunch of theater companies. But having said that, we've still got censorship on a lot of levels. We're still not allowed to talk about politics, race, religion, which is really what good theater is all about—an examination of social issues and values. But I can understand our paranoia and insecurity." It comes, he said, from being surrounded by Muslim countries, from being small and vulnerable and not wanting to do anything that threatens stability and ethnic consonance. **

Tommy Koh, the arts patron, remembers that in 1968, when he was Singapore's ambassador to the U.N., the mission in New York City was decorated with cheap posters. He pleaded with then-prime minister Lee Kuan Yew for $100 to replace them with some original work by a Singaporean artist. Lee did not see it as a chance to promote Singaporean culture. "What's wrong with the posters?" he asked. Koh eventually got his money and bought an ink-brush painting by Chen Wen-Hsi, Singapore's most celebrated pioneer artist. It hangs in the Singapore U.N. Mission to this day. From that modest beginning, the Foreign Affairs Ministry has built a significant collection of Singaporean art to display in its far-flung embassies, and the Singapore Art Museum has put together the world's largest public collection of Southeast Asian art. **

"I went to London when I was 16 and had no intention of ever coming back," says Beatrice Chia-Richmond, artistic director of the Toy Factory theater ensemble. "I was determined to breathe the air Byron and Keats breathed. But in a sophisticated place like London, no one is surprised by anything, because everything has been done. That's not the case in Singapore. You can make mistakes of the most dire kind, and you can live to direct again. That makes this an exciting time. Suddenly, it's no longer cool to be an uptight country." **

“There was also the abstract: the realization that it is architects and artists who make a city great, not computer engineers and civil servants. In loosening up, the government recognized the convergence of economic progress and cultural and individual innovation. The anxiety with which Singaporeans viewed the future has been replaced by confidence. "In my parents' time, the mind-set was work hard and make a good home for your family," says Choo-sin Nong, a recent university graduate. "For my generation, it's let's get out in the world and see what we can do." The question remains whether Singapore can keep getting the pace and mix right and give birth to a truly vibrant and creative society.” **

Literature and Books in Singapore

Employees at the Border's superbookstore on Orchard Road told the Los Angeles Times that books on military history, science fiction and business sell well in Singapore while romance novels and crime stories don't. One of the store's bestsellers in 1998 was Robert Greene's "The 48 Laws of Power."

Writers like Noel Coward, Somerset Maugham, Graham Green and Paul Theroux either lived in Singapore and visited the island frequently when it wasn't so squeaky clean. Popular Singapore writers include Catherine Lim and Famien Sim.

Singaporeans are allowed to read pretty anything and everything, except things that are blatantly pornographic or anti-government. The Borders book store in Singapore was regarded as the best stocked English-language bookstore in Asia.

Singapore Recasts Itself as Newest Asian Art Hub

In 2012, Katherine Tarbox wrote in the New York Times, “For decades Singapore has concentrated on developing its reputation as a global financial center, a focus that only recently expanded to include its cultural growth as well. “The Economic Development Board realized that in order to make Singapore a world-class city, they needed to establish more of an artistic infrastructure,” said Sundaram Tagore, president and curator of Sundaram Tagore Gallery, which opened its fifth global location last month in the city-state. [Source: Katherine Tarbox, New York Times, October 12, 2012 ==]

“The gallery is in Gillman Barracks, a former army site dating from the 1920s that has become a centerpiece of Singapore’s artistic plan. In 2010, the development board committed 10 million Singapore dollars, or about $8.18 million, to turning the 4,200-square-meter, or 45,208-square-foot, barracks into a contemporary art center. Also on the horizon is the National Art Gallery, a 60,000-square-meter building that will be the largest visual arts space in the small country. When Gillman Barracks held its opening night in September 2012, more than 1,000 people visited the Tagore gallery alone, which featured “The Big Picture,” a collection of iconic photographs that included works from Annie Leibovitz and Robert Polidori.“Two years ago, the board invited galleries from around the world to open here, and we wanted to be a part of that movement,” Mr. Tagore said. ==

“Leow Thiam Seng, the director of JTC, the state property developer and management group, which oversaw the barracks’ conversion to gallery space, said: “Singapore stands a chance of becoming an arts hub in Asia, given its status as one of the region’s most developed cities and the progress it has made in developing its visual arts space.” Today, a visitor to the barracks can stop at galleries from 10 countries, including China and Indonesia. Six more galleries are to be added in phase two of the redevelopment, set to be completed this year. ==

“At the Ota Fine Arts Gallery, which initially opened in Tokyo in 1994, whimsical metallic paintings and abstract trees by the artist Yayoi Kusama are almost sold out, despite price tags of $250,000 and more. In between the gallery spaces are exhibits like Donna Ong’s “And We Dreamt We Were Birds,” an installation of 12 beds hanging from the ceiling, which is intended to inspire viewers to dream. Even though the barracks’ focus is contemporary art, a much larger collection — more than 4,200 paintings and sculptures — decorates the Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore. ==

“Anyone is welcome to enter the 608-room hotel and take a 30-minute iPod tour to view “Moby Dick,” the commissioned Frank Stella fiberglass sculpture that hangs in the lobby, or the Dale Chihuly glass blowings that flank each end of the hotel. The collection, valued at more than 5 million dollars, includes work by Andy Warhol, David Hockney and Henry Moore. The hotel is owned by Pontiac Land, a business of the four Kwee brothers, one of Singapore’s wealthiest families. “When the hotel opened in 1996, the owners wanted to showcase their private collection and commissioned another 350 pieces specifically for the public spaces,” said Tang Wenxian, an e-commerce executive with the hotel. At that time, much of Singapore’s art scene was limited to art fairs; collecting fine art was a rare pastime for residents. ==

“Today, Singapore has the greatest percentage of millionaires in the world — prime targets for art dealers and artists seeking wealthy patrons. According to a recent report by Boston Consulting Group, 17 percent of the country’s resident households have more than $1 million in disposable private wealth, which does not include property or businesses. And, as the population’s wealth has grown, so have art fairs, like the Singapore Biennale, held at the Singapore Art Museum. In 2012, the works of more than 63 artists from 30 countries attracted a record 913,000 viewers. And in January, the country was host to Art Stage, an inaugural contemporary art fair that drew 32,000 visitors.Both attractions were made possible by millions of dollars from the Singapore government, which also finances the city-state’s School of the Arts, which opened its permanent campus in 2010. ==

“Even as Singapore pours money and effort into building its reputation as an artistic destination, observers question whether expression can really flourish in a place where the government is known for censorship of a range of political, social and religious topics. For example, all exhibits at Gillman Barracks must be approved before display by Dr. Eugene Tan, program director at the economic development board. Mr. Tagore said he did not believe that the approval process would restrict the display of provocative artistic work on themes like sex. “The board is committed to making this a cultural destination for some of the greatest modern art in Asia,” he said. ==

Louvre Masterpieces in Singapore

Due to the refurbishing of the Classical Greek and Hellinistic Art rooms at the famed Louvre Museum in Paris, some Greek masterpieces are on display in the National Museum of Singapore for the first time outside the Parisian museum’s walls for a unique exhibition from 9 December 2007 to March 2008. [Source: Embassy of France in Singapore, March 19, 2008]

The Embassy of France reported: “124 items from this Greek collection are in Singapore for the exhibition, such as for instance, the marbles from the Nointel collection, and statues from the royal collections. In addition to these, a selection of some of the most beautiful ancient Greek vases will be put on display. The first part of the exhibition tells the story of Athens in the fifth and fourth centuries BC, its topography and political organization, through portraits of its leading figures, depictions of its founding myths, and artworks from the Acropolis and necropolises.

The second section tries to give an accurate portrait of the ancient Greeks’ way of life, with a special emphasis on the social consequences of categories such as citizenship or gender. The third section underlines specific features of ancient Greek culture and civilization, emphasizing the three defining cultural practices: sporting events, the symposium and the theatre. The final section of the exhibition shows how religion permeated the lives of the ancient Greeks.

Botero in Singapore

“ 'I'm of the old school," says Fernando Botero. "I believe art should give pleasure." Michael Vatikiotis wrote in the New York Times, “So, has this Colombian master, one of the most successful living artists in the world, chosen the right place to mount one of the biggest exhibitions of his work? Singapore, the nanny state that banned chewing gum and demands a permit even for free speech, doesn't exactly conjure up images of pleasure. But things are changing in this balmy city state, where in contrast to many contemporary Asian cities, the palm trees are real, old buildings are preserved and culture of all kinds attracts the sort of funding that many western capitals are starved of. "We see ourselves as the Louvre of Asia," gushed a Singapore Tourist Board official at the launch of some 20 of Botero's monumental sculptures and almost 80 paintings in early December. [Source: Michael Vatikiotis, New York Times, December 23, 2004 <>]

“Indeed, Singapore is trying to brand itself as a "global arts city." The exercise is part of a lurch toward liberal creativity that Singapore's leaders believe is imperative for attracting the kind of talent it needs to build its economy on banking and biotechnology rather than relying on the cheap chips and circuit boards that sustained it through the 1990s. The Botero show is a dry run, it seems, for a more ambitious Singapore Biennale in 2006. The cynics still carp about the superficiality of it all. The imported cultural extravaganzas come across as forced, as ersatz western in a city populated for the most part by Chinese immigrants who excel at math and find little time to have sex, surveys show, let alone enjoy art. <>

“Some visitors wondered how easy it was for Botero to persuade conservative Singaporeans to parade giant bronze images of a woman being raped by a swan, or a reclining nude with a cigarette in hand. Nearby, a bronze figure from another era, the city's founder, Sir Stamford Raffles, looks on with an unamused air. But then this is the city that has recently allowed gay bars to operate openly and even produced a brochure advertising gay entertainment in the "pink city." <>

“Kwok Kian Chow, director of the Singapore Art Museum, is quick to dispel the old stereotypes. He points to the public interest in outdoor art generated by a recent exhibition of the Taiwanese sculptor Ju Ming. Botero's monumental sculptures are not just being shown in the park, they are dotted around prominent public places like Changi Airport, where a giant standing woman now greets visitors approaching the immigration desk. Botero himself sees his art as conveying a whole range of Western civilization, from the geometry of the Italian Quattrocento, to the luminous extravagance of the Spanish masters Goya and Velázquez. His paintings, he says, "speak in a language that is universal and transgress the barrier of locality." The compression of civilization Botero achieves in his art is perhaps just what busy Singaporeans and other Asian spectators need — a quick and easy take-away. <>

“As a Latin American, Botero is acutely aware that rather like the wealthy Asians who now quest the artistic imagery of the West for their investment portfolios or growing acreage of real estate, he is more of a spectator than a participant. "When you are from a third-world country like I am, you have a panoramic view of Europe." This perhaps explains why Botero's images seem to go down so well—and why talk of healthy sales is already in the air. After Singapore, Botero's sights are firmly set on China, where he has already had some success. The other day, a Chinese buyer walked into his atelier in Florence and paid cold cash for a monumental statue (which can go for up to a million dollars). Botero says with surprise: "He wanted it for his garden." <>

Art or Porn? Artists Push Boundaries in Singapore

Singapore has spent handsomely on arts venues such as theatres, concert halls. But its art scene still veers towards the safe, rather than the controversial, and artists avoid subjects deemed sensitive in the city-state, including politics, religion, race and sex. Unsurprisingly, there is little public debate on modern art.

In 2007, Sara Webb of Reuters wrote: “Egyptian artist Ghada Amer says her work is inspired by erotica, pornography and the empowerment of women. Amer and Iranian-born artist Reza Farkhondeh collaborate on delicately coloured but unsettling works. She takes blown-up images from porn magazines, then he paints or prints birds, flowers, and pale washes on top, obscuring the underlying forms. The final layer is embroidered by Amer. But as artists-in-residence at Singapore's leading print institute, Amer and Farkhondeh wonder whether their works -- juxtaposing oral sex and floral patterns, or a quote from the Koran framed by images of Wonder Woman -- will ever be seen here because of government restrictions. [Source: Sara Webb, Reuters, March 7, 2007 /*/]

“Singapore bans pornography and has an ambivalent attitude to nudity. The government wants to encourage the arts so that Singapore can compete with cultural centres such as London and New York, but only last month stopped a commercial gallery from showing a painting of a female nude in a public space. "When they invited me, they knew my work. In Egypt, they can't show it. I have no idea if it will be shown in Singapore," said Amer. Within days of arriving in Singapore with her erotic images of women, she says she felt a frisson and wondered "do they want me to do something else?" "All my work is about love, sexuality, the empowerment of women, it shows children with porn or erotic messages, because even when you are young, you are taught the same message, that one day the prince will come for you," said Amer. "The power of woman, I am fascinated by this power. Is it power or not power, what are the limits?" /*/

The Ministry of Information and the Arts (MICA), which is responsible for encouraging Singapore's development as a "Renaissance City", sent a clear message that it was unacceptable to show a painting of a nude in a public space last month. When MICA took over new offices a few years ago, it encouraged commercial galleries to open in the same building. One gallery wanted to display a large painting of a female nude by Chinese artist Chen Xi in the atrium, but was told this was not allowed because children and young people might see it. "It's a piece of art," said gallery owner Chua Soo Bin of the painting, which is as explicit as a Botticelli or a Rubens. "We never go for erotic things, it has a beautiful line, a thing of beauty." A coffee-table book with photographs of Asian celebrities was also banned this year, because it showed "excessive nudity." "Current guidelines do allow for nudity in artistic works, including photography publications, provided they are suitably depicted and not excessive," Minister for the Arts Lee Boon Yang said in a written answer to parliament. /*/

“Both Amer and Farkhondeh say they don't want to break the law or show work that is unacceptable, and apply self-censorship when it comes to citing religious texts. Farkhondeh says much of his inspiration comes from the Koran, particularly poetic descriptions of landscape. In one work, he has taken a quotation from the Koran "out of darkness, into the light" which Amer has embellished with images of Wonder Woman. "For me, it's to free the woman, Wonder Woman, who is empowered instead of bring in the darkness," said Amer. But she said she would never combine porn images with such works. "I can't. there is a limit." “ /*/

Street Artist Arrested for Vandalism in Singapore

In 2012, Kirsten Han wrote in the Huffington Post, “A Singaporean street artist has been identified by authorities as a vandal and arrested. If convicted, she could receive up to three years' imprisonment or a S$2000 (US$1553) fine.Over the past month or so, stickers began appearing on traffic lights, buildings andvehicles. The simple, round black-and-white designs carried slogans like "no need topress so many times," "press once can already," and "so kancheong for what," (translation: "why in such a hurry"), familiar phrases to any resident of Singapore and speaker of Singlish, a popular Singaporean creole. The phrase refers to a common saying in Singaporean culture; when a pedestrian crosses a road particularly slowly, or jaywalks, drivers often yell, "Hey, your grandfather road ah?" implying that the pedestrian is acting as if he or she owns the road.[Source: Kirsten Han, Huffington Post, June 6, 2012 <=>]

“These pieces of street art that intrigued, amused and entertained many Singaporeans were the work of an artist who calls herself SKL0, who shares her designs for free on her blog. Officers from the Central Police Division and the Police Intelligence Department investigated and identified SKL0 after the Land Transport Authority reported the spray-painted words and stickers. In Singapore, vandalism is seen as a serious offence. Even if convicted, SKL0 will not receive caning as corporal punishment is prohibited for women.” <=>

Upon hearing the news, Singaporeans began tweeting with the hashtags #freeskl0 and #freestickerlady to protest the authorities' action, identifying SKL0 as an artist rather than a vandal. "The authorities must understand, if #freestickerlady is convicted, a part of Singapore culture dies along with it," tweets Pat Law. "How is Singapore's culture supposed to grow creatively because of fear?" "It seems you can only create art within boundaries in Singapore. I see no harm done. PRESS NO CHARGES!" Rafi Dean adds. Although SKL0 is still under investigation and no charges have yet been laid, the fact that she has been arrested at all has angered many who see it as a stifling of artistic expression, and hypocrisy on the side of a government that has often spoken of promoting arts and culture.” <=>

Swiss Man in Singapore Caned for Spraying Graffiti on Subway Car

In 2010 Swiss national Oliver Fricker was convicted of vandalism after he spray-painted a Mass Rapid Transit train. Fricker was sentenced to five months' imprisonment and five strokes of the cane. When he appealed his sentence, his jail term was increased to seven months. Associated Press reported: “ Oliver Fricker, 32, pleaded guilty earlier in the day to one count each of vandalism and trespassing for breaking into a train depot with an accomplice and drawing graffiti on two subway carriages in May 2010. Fricker's lawyer, Derek Kang, said his client would appeal the punishment. "He feels the sentence is too high, and so do I," Kang told reporters. [Source: Associated Press, June 25, 2010 \~\]

“Fricker, who had been free on bail of 100,000 Singapore dollars ($72,000), was immediately taken into custody by court police. The information technology consultant didn't speak to the media. He was silent and motionless throughout the hearing, but sighed heavily as he was led away. "The offenses were planned and carefully executed," said Senior District Judge See Kee Oon. "These were not impulsive displays of youthful bravado." Vandalism in Singapore carries a mandatory three to eight strokes of a cane and a fine of up to SG$2,000 Singapore dollars ($1,437) or up to three years in jail. \~\

“Prosecutors said Fricker, who has worked in Singapore since 2008, committed the crimes with Lloyd Dane Alexander, a British national based in Hong Kong. Police issued an arrest warrant for Alexander, 29, earlier this month, and prosecutors said he fled last month to Hong Kong. Fricker and Alexander cut through a security fence and caused about SG$11,000 ($7,900) of damage by painting "McKoy Banos" on a train car, prosecutors said. Kang said Fricker agreed to pay all damages. The "McKoy Banos" slogan has appeared on graffiti found throughout the world. Fricker's lawyer said his client had copied the name after seeing it elsewhere. Fricker and Alexander first met in Australia in 1997 and during his time in Singapore, Fricker spray-painted at one of Singapore's government-sanctioned graffiti walls, prosecutors said. \~\

“Prosecutors didn't specify how Fricker was identified, saying only their evidence came from police investigations. Kang argued during the sentencing hearing that Fricker was by persuaded by Alexander to commit the crimes "while inebriated" after consuming "several beers." "It was committed for fun, not malice," Kang said. "It was purely graphic art." Prosecutors pointed out Fricker admitted to bringing the wire cutter used to breach the fence and joined Alexander in scouting the location earlier in the day. \~\

“Fricker and Alexander were involved in "graffiti tourism" as part of a group of international underground artists who travel the world seeking new places to tag, said prosecutor Sharon Lim. "The defendant acted brazenly to add Singapore to his trophies," Lim said. "This is not a mere prank." Singapore's subway operator, SMRT Corp., didn't report the incident to police for two days because staff thought the brightly colored graffiti was an advertisement. \~\

Nike Graffiti Ads Anger Singapore

In 2004, Associated Press reported: “A series of Nike ads in Singapore designed to resemble graffiti have stirred emotions in the Asian nation known for its obsession with cleanliness and civic order. The small, page-size posters featuring anime-style images of NBA star LeBron James were pasted helter skelter over the ad panels of 700 bus stops, shocking commuters who are used to the ultratidy shelters. At least 50 commuters have called or written to complain, said officials at Clear Channel, which owns the advertising rights to the bus shelters. "The idea is to do something naughty like wild-postings to disrupt the neat environment of Singapore and stay in line with the street-feel of this LeBron James basketball campaign," Nike spokeswoman Ann Kositchotitana said in a statement. [Source: Associated Press, November 25, 2004 ><]

“Public spaces are immaculate in Singapore. Vandalism is especially taboo in the island republic, where American teenager Michael Fay was flogged with a cane after spray-painting cars in 1994. Clear Channel said Nike took a calculated risk in its effort to create a buzz among Singapore's basketball-crazy youth. "It was a deliberate act, meant to give viewers the impression that some street punk had hijacked somebody else's ad campaign. It looks kind of cheeky and kind of naughty -- and it got noticed," said Henry Goh, Clear Channel's sales director in Singapore. ><

“Nike's "Chamber of Fear" campaign in Singapore starring James includes TV, print and outdoor ads, all of which pay homage to various Asian film styles including the 1970s Hong Kong kung-fu movies and Japanese anime. While some officials and adults took offense at the simulated graffiti, the campaign seemed to touch a chord with young people, many of whom rushed to grab the posters off the bus shelters as souvenirs. "It's super cool," 14-year-old Gilchrist Goh told The Straits Times newspaper. The sneaker maker is ramping up its effort to win over Asian basketball fans at a time when over half the hits on NBA.Com, the league's main Internet site, are coming from outside the United States. Two weeks ago, Nike signed a $100 million marketing agreement with the NBA in an effort to increase the sport's popularity overseas, especially in Asia.” ><

Government-Endorsed Graffiti in Singapore?

Belmont Lay wrote in The Flipside, “There will be a new programme to teach the public how to create graffiti art in public places approved by the authorities. This is very likely the government's attempt to make the public think that it can be cool, funky and forward-looking for endorsing street art. Technically, it's a project of the Singapore Street Festival, which is supported by the National Youth Council. This new programme was even announced to coincide with the court case where the Sticker Lady and her accomplice pleaded guilty to several counts of mischief for illegally spray painting and pasting stickers on public property. [Source: Belmont Lay, The Flipside, April 5, 2013 ||||]

“So the most important question then: what are the real effects of such government-endorsed "vandalism"? Hopelessly uncool By endorsing graffiti, young and hip Singaporeans who are in the scene are going to increasingly view the government and themselves as hopelessly uncool. Graffiti art -- or any kind of young people movement -- is hip precisely because it's forbidden or frowned upon by the old fogies. Why do young people smoke? Drink? Have sex? Because it is bad for them. And it makes old people uncomfortable and offended. ||||

“To legitimise graffiti and to set up specific spaces for it will only make the government look like control freaks. The government might think that it's very clever in being able to subvert the norms of a defiant street art form for its own agenda. But they might want to think twice. Look, this is not going to work. Particularly for any self-respecting graffiti artist with street cred who will undoubtedly feel alienated by such a move. Graffiti is no longer graffiti when it's endorsed by the authorities. Graffiti is not just about creating colourful pictures. It is a way of life, a form of politics at its rawest and it's something that cannot be taught. You either have it or you don't. Its principle is about subverting norms. Government-endorsed graffiti, therefore, just takes the fun out of it. And it is through initiatives like these that the populace can't help but feel they are living under a government of convenience, rather than conviction. No amount of spray paint can obscure this feeling.” ||||

Architecture in Singapore

Singapore is famous for its shophouses—blocks of buildings with the owners residence on the upper floors and a shop or businesses on the ground level floor. They are generally two- or three stories and have colonnade—covered walkways, roughly five feet wide, that run the entire block. They often contain a range of architectural elements, including Malaysian-style wooden saloon doors, European arches, and Chinese fanlights.

Singapore has some showcase modern buildings. See Places.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Singapore Tourism Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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