The hottest talk in Singapore now is the plight of the Sticker Lady, aka SKL0, aka Samantha Lo. She is a content curator for the National Art Gallery's Canvas project and the founder of online magazine RCGNTN dedicated to local artists.
The Sticker Lady is in trouble.
She has been arrested for pasting stickers and writing words at the wrong places. As such, she was arrested for vandalism charges.
These are some of the humorous stickers that were pasted onto pedestrian crossings at various places. They were pasted onto the button Singaporeans have to press for the green walking man light.
When I first saw these photos online, my instant reaction was "OMG! That person is going to get into so much trouble!" Before the humor could get me, the alarm bells were already blaring.
Singapore has no sense of humor.
This is another one with words "MY GRANDFATHER ROAD" stenciled onto a road.
So the Land Transport Authority (LTA) made police reports and a few days later the Sticker Lady was arrested. That's efficient. Too efficient, actually, considering that they can't stop property agents or tuition centres from constantly pasting and re-pasting their advertisments at bus stops, MRT pillars and housing flats.
The news was big enough to be covered by mainstream media. People online are also debating about this, and most actually see it as creative street art.
The thing is, street art doesn't exist in Singapore.
Due to the nature of the work, technically speaking, street art is vandalism. That's unless you have the license (literally) to do so. By the way, a person who is convicted of vandalism shall be punished with a fine of up to S$2,000, or jailed up to three years and caning.
In 2010, SingPost had a marketing campaign to paint their mailboxes. The public was alarmed and called in the police. Get this, SingPost can't even paint their own mailboxes. Although I must say that their mailbox art was quite atrocious during the campaign. But It doesn't matter whether it's good art or bad art when it comes to street art, or should I say vandalism, in Singapore.
People online are saying that this is a form of art censorship. It's suppresses creativity. Someone commented "You call this vandalism?… This is encouraging art and creativity, do we need a licence to be creative?"
It's sad but we do need a license to be creative. Sometimes we need degrees and certificates as well.
Even an entrepreneuer blog is talking about it, saying how it's going to affect our entrepreneurial future. In a way, I agree. "Singapore is far too straight-laced", said Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple. Singapore is a tech-savvy country, but I don't expect to see a blockbuster internet/technology company from Singapore anytime soon. You just don't find the level of creative companies you see in other countries.
If Sticker Lady had asked for permission, it won't have happened. She would be better off doing graphic design on her computer, like every other creative person. I guess that's the risk you have to take when doing street art.
The ultimate problem with our society is we have a need-to-ask-for-permission culture rather than a we-can-give-ourselves-permission subconsciousness. That doesn't encourage creativity.
Few months ago, our trains broke down underground. Station staff with any common sense, or the ability to exercise basic creativity, would stop passengers from entering the already crowded station. But the staff can't do it because they had to wait for permission. Our government encourages creativity but our education system rewards those who get correct answers using the prescribed model of problem solving.
I hope Samatha Lo gets away with just a fine. A jail sentence will be outrageous.