On Tuesday June 12th 2012, a group of 80 people, comprised of people from the Singaporean art community and members of the public, gathered at a town hall meeting at Emily hill. The meeting was organized by concerned members of the art community who wanted to discuss the recent arrest of Samantha Low also known as (aka) SKLO aka Sticker Lady. T Sasitharan (Sasi), Director of Intercultural Theatre Institute, spoke passionately at several points during the town hall about the issues this case raises and the implications behind it for Singaporean society at large. The following are excerpts from various points of the town hall when Sasi spoke during the town hall.
Many times in the past artists have found themselves in the positions where they transgress the law. Whatever that law is taken to be… I want to encourage this meeting…it’s not an expert panel; we’re not here to judge whether what Samantha did was art or not art, whether she ought to be punished or not punished. Those are not a purview of a meeting like this. What I want to do is consider what the act is and what our response as fellow artists should be.
One of us, a fellow artist, has acted in good conscience, done what she thought was an artistic gesture and as a result of this she is now facing punishment. The point is what do we make of this gesture as a community? How do we respond? I don’t want to trivialize the fact that a law may or may not have been broken and I certainly do not want this meeting to be prejudicial to Samantha Lo’s position. But I think we as responsible people, as citizens, and most importantly as artists…we have a moment here where we need to consider what is happening. And we need to think through this because the media, public spaces and opinion has already run ahead. And certain positions have already been formed. Which do not help any of us. It doesn’t help furthering the understanding of the situation. We owe it to ourselves to try to come to terms with it.
I want to get beyond the juvenile notion of whether what she did was art or not. My own position is it is art. And it is art because: 1. Samantha Low thinks its art. 2. It has clear aesthetic qualities. 3. It challenges us to think about private and public spaces and the ownership of private and public spaces in Singapore.
I hope the mainstream media will get beyond the nonsense about whether this is art or not or whether we should allow it or not. I think its art.
The issues SKLO’s case raises and the implications for Singaporeans
The other thing is this: Singapore has made or staked a claim for the fact that there is a space here for contemporary art. That this is seriously a city state which has space for contemporary global art. It has an ambition to be a global art center.
What does that mean for the artist? What does it mean for the artists who are particularly practicing forms of art like street art which are edgy, which are transgressive, which are challenging and which are asking difficult questions of the establishment?
Either we are open to these questions and open to these challenges therefore we embrace this kind of criticality in our public sphere or we’re not. And I think one of the problems that this whole incident has thrown up is the fact that there are so many mixed signals about graffiti art, about street art, about edgy art. If there is going to be a line to be drawn, draw it clearly so we know. And if there is no line drawn and you want to be taken seriously as a center for contemporary global arts then let’s be honest about it and embrace them. Let’s not be hypocritical.
I think the artist has to be responsible for whatever he or she does. Nobody is making a special plea here for Samantha Low. I think Samantha and the people that she worked with knew exactly what they were doing and they were taking a risk. This is what it is to be in the arts: You take risks. But at the same time we need to respect the fact that this is an artistic risk. This is an artist who is making a serious statement. And if a law has been broken and if it is deemed that she is guilty then I think she should pay the price. But let us understand that it will have a consequence. Let us understand that it sends a signal: A line is being drawn. The question we have to ask ourselves is where we want to draw that line. As free citizens, as artists, and people belonging to a city state that claims it respects art. We need to know where that line needs to be drawn. And that is what this meeting is about. I want to invite you talk about where that line should be drawn.
There is no respect for the artistic process
This case has thrown up the fact that in Singapore, there is no respect for process; the process of the artist, no consideration towards why and how street art affects people. There’s no consideration about the aesthetic of street art. Singapore claims it wants to be an edgy contemporary state where all of this expression is possible. But it only wants the end products. It wants the graffiti after it’s done. But why people are compelled to transgress is not of interest. And this does not just apply to street art. This is the way all art in Singapore is considered. There is no respect for process. Nobody truly understands or wants to understand street art and the value of that aesthetic in our society.
The important thing is whatever it is (sklo’s work and the message behind it), it’s about humor. It’s about claiming the space. It’s about saying this is valid. This is an opinion that I can talk about.
My grandfather’s road; anyone who is Singaporean has come across that phrase as a child: “What are you trying to do? Is this your grandfather’s road? How are you going to cross the road?” Our parents have said that us. And that’s what she’s doing. She is touching upon something that is fundamentally Singaporean. I think people have talked about it. I think the problem is not so much that people have not talked about it. The problem is that the conversation is constantly cut by the mainstream media. It’s constantly undermined by the mainstream media. And the whole issue then becomes some kind of cognitive dispute: Is this art?
Well frankly I think that’s not the point. The point here is that we THINK its art. The questions then arise: What do we do with this artist? One of us. Someone is expressing what they feel, what they think; who’s been craving something which is anonymous. For us that’s what the value is. I think we know that. I think we all know that. But the mainstream media claims that’s not the case.
The mainstream media thinks that this is a dispute…its not. That’s the point. That is what’s so frustrating. Because we know that this is valuable: That this makes a special point…that this is about our conscience. This is about expression and freedom and ourselves as Singaporeans.
“Press until shiok.” We know what it means. But it never gets AIRED that way. We never talk about it that way because we’d all know...except when it has to be spoken. There is no rhetorical decision for this kind of art.
Why? Because the rhetorical spaces are also controlled by the state…the media is controlled by the state…And as long as it remains in the control of the state, this theme is not going to get out. And so the conversation becomes moot. It appears as if we’re talking about the same thing…but we’re not. We’ve gone past it. We’ve gone past it since 1990. And that’s why it’s so frustrating.
I think we’d like to put together these views and put it out to the public sphere. I think if each of you can write about what happened today and what you thought was discussed and what it was of value, it would be a great thing if you can put it out. The important thing is to put the word out that there is not one single way this issue needs to be looked at. And that the state does not have a monopoly in judging what is art or what is not art; what is acceptable or what is not acceptable. What is free space…that we as citizens…as people of Singapore…have a voice and a say in claiming this space.
I think the most valuable thing this girl has done is that it was beautiful. It was funny. It made us think. It made us feel. I can’t look at a pedestrian crossing the same way anymore. When the sticker is not there I miss it. It’s made a difference. It’s added something to our lives. And that’s something we should cherish and encourage. That’s what it is for something to be art. It makes a difference in everyone’s lives. So if you could do that if you could write 3 things that you think was important from this event, from this evening, from the views that you’ve heard and put it out there so that people can hear I think it will make a difference. And I think on behalf of the arts community, could you take the word and tell her we respect her as an artist. Thank you.