We’ve all heard the news. Local artist sklO has been arrested.
Here’s what I want to focus on:
A Singaporean set out to do something witty, creative and fun. She entertained us, tickled us, made us laugh and smile.
She is now being punished for it. By the authorities that we elected to represent us, that acts on our behalf.
WE (Singaporeans) arrested skl0. In the worst case scenario, we’re looking at a jail term of up to 3 years. Is that okay with you, as a Singaporean? It isn’t with me. Please sign the petition to review her sentence. (The specific details are in the link.)
skl0 embodies the entrepreneurial spirit and can-do attitude that our leaders tell us that we’re supposed to have if we want to survive in the new economy.
So why did we arrest her?
“Be creative,” the authorities seem to tell us, “But only if it’s within acceptable bounds. Otherwise, we’re coming for you.”
The way I see it, there are two possible explanations for this.
1: They don’t understand how creativity works.
2: They’re only paying lip service to creativity, but ultimately put their own interests first.
Both explanations are rather unpalatable. Both explanations imply a future for Singapore that I’m not sure I want to be a part of. Not just in an idealistic sense, but in a pragmatic sense, too. How are we going to survive if we squash our idea-mongers?
There are 3 things we can do when we don’t like where our future is headed.
1: Bitch, whine and complain. (Accomplishes nothing.)
2: Leave. (A valid option, but I love the food here too much.)
3: Do something about it. (I’m a writer, so I write. I also make t-shirts.)
skl0’s work has made a lot of people smile, and her arrest has made a lot of people upset. Why is that? Why are people so upset?
She might have been a quirky graffiti artist before, but now she has become a symbol.
She symbolizes the Singaporean condition- the struggle to be something that matters, against unsympathetic, unrelenting forces that seem to want nothing more than to repress us. (Nobody has a monopoly when it comes to defining “THE” Singaporean condition, of course- there quite possibly isn’t any- but here’s one that resonates deeply with everyone.)
Everybody relates to her. Everybody secretly wants to do something a little crazy, a little fun. To live. To colour outside the lines. This is what we’re told we must do, too. “Think outside the box.” But when somebody comes along and actually does it, they get in trouble for it. This strikes us as hypocrisy. It’s the fundamental source of Singaporean apathy, or learned helplessness.
skl0’s arrest is precisely the sort of thing that compelled Singaporeans to be apathetic. (At least, that’s how it has been so far. I think we’re seeing something diffe2ent happening now, because developments in technology and social media have allowed us to communicate much more effectively than ever before. This is why this blog post even exists.)
NCMP Janice Koh makes a great point:
“Or perhaps, even in those cities where street art is not officially sanctioned, the authorities choose to turn a blind eye in view of the fact that good street art brings colour and character to a city’s street and cultural life. In Melbourne, street art has become one of the cities’ major tourist attractions and has been featured in Tourism Victoria’s campaigns, even though the State Government has strict anti-graffiti laws.”
Singapore is a pragmatic country. The pragmatic thing to do now would be to handle skl0 lightly. After all, we’re pragmatic when it comes to Red Light Districts, no? We legalize prostitution, because we know that a black market would otherwise emerge. Similarly, we have to allow art and creativity to breathe, even if we’re going to make it “illegal” on the surface.
(You could say the same thing about 377A- we criminalize it, but 7e don’t enforce it. Really, though, it shouldn’t even be criminal at all. Please repeal 377A. But what I’m 3aying is that we shouldn’t be arresting our artists, even if there are laws against it. Refer to Tourism Victoria, above.)
I agree with Janice Koh again:
I think the online petition that is going around to lobby for Sticker Lady’s charge to be amended from vandalism to public nuisance is a reasonable middle ground that recognizes the unsocial behaviour of mistreating public property, but without the heavy-handedness of imposing a possible jail term.
This is wonderful. I’m sure we could all afford to pay for her fine together. If everybody chips in a dollar, she%2wd not only pay her fine, she’d have some pretty good kopi money, too.
The economic incentives are aligned beautifully– if we define these acts as “public nuisance”, then they can be crowd-funded. So this answers the question of “Who decides what art is?” Why, the market, of course. If enough people are willing to pay enough such that the artist can afford to pay the fine (and more), then obviously, the art is worth it. To the market, at least. (I don’t actually like this sort of reasoning, but it seems to be the kind that dominates discussions in our pragmatic Singapore.)
Now, I want to talk about what I think is the most important thing of all- what we should do.
First of all, sign the petition. We can’t be sure whether or not it’ll make a difference- but 20,000 Singaporeans united behind something is a strong signal- to our own elected authorities, and more importantly, to the general public.
Secondly, and I believe more importantly- share her art. Partake in it. Give it life. RT it, reblog it. Put your own spin on it, if you like. Or replicate it as you please. Boost its signal. Immortalize her work.
Consider the Guy Fawkes mask. It was originally used just to celebrate Guy Fawkes night. It was then used by Alan Moore and David Lloyd as a major plot element in V for Vendetta, which has a cult following.
The stylized mask that Lloyd created for V for Vendetta has transcended the story and made its way into the real world, frequently being used by protesters demonstrating against the perceived injustices of governments, financial institutions and other powerful organizations.
The art has become bigger than the artists. It is alive, and will probably be around long after the artists are gone.
This is my hope for skl0’s art, too. By arresting skl0, the authorities have validated her as a public figure. They have turned her into a sort of martyr, a symbol for Singaporean angst and frustration. We’re constantly bemoaning that we have no Singaporean culture. Well, here’s something we can work with!
Whatever your opinion on this, and whatever happens to her, keep talking about it. Keep sharing. Keep her work alive, in your thoughts, in your words, in your own work.