Saturday, June 9, 2012

graffiti debate in singapore

singapore is both lauded and loathed for its criminal justice system, and vandalism in form of graffiti, is one of the targets.  getting caught tagging or doing any other form of street art will get you a $2000 fine, a jail sentence, and if you are a man, a caning.  There have been 3 foreigners caught in the last year or so, and it reminds of an episode in the 90's when bill clinton had to plead for an american kid who spray painted some guy's car.

National Youth Council wall...there were 2 in this same style, this was the better of the two

the best one on the NYC wall

on the *scape indoor skate park...super weak and filled w/ propoganda

you really have to look hard to find graffiti here.  there are no tags, no stickers, no paste-up, no nothing.  when banksy wrote, "blank walls are criminal," he hadn't yet seen this. there is corporate advertising everywhere you look enticing you to buy whatever bullshit they are selling, but there is very little in the way of artistic or aesthetic expression.  There is *scape and the National Youth Center who have walls with what looks like graffiti, but it is mostly just really bad paintings that people must apply to legally do.  and they are quite weak paintings, with mostly social propaganda phrases and images that tell how great wonderful and 'world-class' everything is.  but the work is a joke.  i was hoping to paint on these walls, and even contacted a few different people to do it legally, but i only got one response and the guy said he's out of the graffiti scene these days.  all my other inquires have been ignored.  then i read this and it made me smile:

close up of some of SKLO's stickers from wednesday's Straits Times

more images from wednesday's ST (the stickers are in Singlish, which the govt is trying to stamp out)

an artist, SKLO, was arrested for putting cleverly phrased stickers on crosswalk signs, curbs, ketchup bottles, advertising signs, etc.  also spray painting 'my grandfather road' (which is a local tongue-in-cheek expression used to describe inconsiderate drivers and/or pedestrians) on roads.  this article appeared in the Straits Times and the responses are incredible.  they are so divided, some in unapologetic rebel support, others in total disgust.  SKLO is a woman and the first Singapore national to be this high profile of an arrest for graffiti.  Mindy and i had hoped to find some of her stickers, and when we went to visit the LaSalle college of the arts we found one on a crosswalk.  But we also found several others in response to her arrest.

SKLO sticker and 2 response stickers in support after her arrest

Singapore pumps money into 'the arts' but it does not support art or the freedom that creates it.  It supports the traditional arts.  Lee Wen (recognized worldwide for his performance art series yellow man), who was a panelist at a conference on multiculturalism in singapore, criticized the Singapore Art '97 show for its refusal to accept more experimental and controversial art in lieu of the 'traditional' arts of watercolor, ink, and calligraphy.  His response was incredible.  He delivered a scathing lecture indicting his homeland for their close-minded vision of art, then he stripped off his clothes, donned his yellow man paint and jumped in a tub filled with water and washed it off.  Then he bottled the now yellow water and gave it to attendees of the conference, proclaiming, "now i'm a watercolorist, too."  genius.

The best thing about the SKLO arrest is the support she's received from other artists.  The first thing mindy and i saw at LaSalle was a new sticker, that looked like her stickers, that said 'revert before sticking' and included an image of Singapore's civil defense chief who was recently accused of selling IT contracts for sex.  then we saw another placed on a crosswalk that read 'pressing on.'  i'm happy to see that this could mobilize a whole community of artists and i hope that it does.  Singapore is a place wrought with commercialism, but there is no subculture response to it, because of the strict nature of the law.  corporations are free to post their propaganda all over buses, trains, taxis, buildings, and billboards, but if individuals do it, it's vandalism.

saturday's straits times forum articles

another from saturday

The same holds true in the US.  most people frown on graffiti, while they purchase street art inspired clothing and home decor for the children.  It is a ridiculous double-standard.  I'm not advocating for vandalism, but let's face it: art galleries are dead spaces and public spaces are alive with people.  Art is not something you can own, products are things you can own, and the only thing that people really hate about graffiti is its ability to challenge the norm in a very 'in your face' way.  Singapore will always battle this so long as the government believes it has the authority to define art.  An article from today's Straits Times (which is owned by Singapore Press Holdings, aka the government) states that the artist's work has 'no value.'  Just the fact that it has received this much attention proves how much value it does have.  Maybe street art doesn't have product value in the GDP, but it certainly has life value.  Maybe it doesn't build up the establishment.  Maybe it even tears it down, but that is called progress.  Singapore is known for its foresight and ability to stay ahead of the rest of the drowning western world, but when it comes to culture, it is astonishingly lacking.

p.s. to read more about the SKLO case and/or to lend your support, sign the official petition here.

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