Several incidents that happened recently made me think that our local authorities and Singapore need to grow up and start learning how to chill.
The most recent episode is with the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) which has been posting warnings for art exhibits that show nudity or graphic scenes. A newspaper reported that at a recent art exhibition at SAM, there were several such advisories posted either at entrances to galleries exhibiting such works or as remarks at the end of wall labels for the works. The artists, whose works were involved, are understandably upset as it totally goes against the grain of what art represents and what art is meant to do (which is to stimulate the senses). One artist told ST Life! that she found such warnings unnecessary and funny as nudity is normal inside museums.
Indeed, I found it funny that there was a warning sign posted for a mixed media installation which included a video showing Puppies sucking on their mother’s teats. Yes, she was a bitch with teats and not a woman with…(Warning: Four letter word ahead!).. TITS. Geddit? Guess the museum didn’t.
ST Life! quoted a SAM director who explained that these advisories are to make all feel “welcomed and to have a meaningful encounter with art” and to help the public “make informed decision on whether to view the art or not…”. The rule to display these warning signs is imposed at all five museums, including SAM, managed by the National Heritage Board. How considerate. Now, why don’t the magnificent art museums in other places from US to France to Italy and Taiwan have such warning signs?
Imagine if they did, there would be fewer embarrassed parents, blushing beings, corrupted children and the queues to appreciate the statue of David in his naked glory would be so much shorter! And really, where are the parental guidance warnings to protect innocents from the gorgeous graphic artworks housed in the Vatican museum and from the many naked nymphs drawn on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo? Tsk. Tsk. How inconsiderate of them not to have those advisories for people to have “meaningful encounters” right? Or wrong?
One theory on why our art museums are displaying such warning signs is that they are doing it to preempt potential complaints from offended viewers (and we all know what official complaints can do in Singapore) and to shift the responsibility on the viewing to the parents/viewers. “Don’t complain. Don’t say we never warn you!”
But what else do these signs do other than caution the viewers? To me Art is meant to do many things which includes eliciting a variety of different responses – surprise, arouse, enlighten, delight, shock, please, annoy, etc etc. Reading such warnings before viewing an art piece dampens the entire experience and makes a mockery of art. Worse still, it adds to the global scorn that many people have been pouring on us that we are a people who are kiasu, kiasi, lacking in humour and creativity. These kiasu signage in our art museum, of all places, simply makes us look like silly prudes.
Another incident that happened recently involving art was the case of the “Sticker Lady” who made the news headlines when she was caught by the local police for painting the words “My Grandfather Road” on various roads and for pasting stickers with cute phrases at pedestrian crossings. She amused many people with her form of art (though some disagree it is art). In any other country, this incident would have been laughed off as a small amusing news story. But here, whoa, there is a petition online to free her while there are many slamming her for vandalism and asking that she be punished in accordance with the law. The mind boggles.
But I am not going to go on about this sticky situation as I am more disappointed by another incident that happened after Sticker Lady’s case.
A well-meaning activity held last Saturday by World Vision International, a charity organisation, is causing them much concern. As part of its 30 Hour Famine Camp, its youth participants had pasted sticky notes (the easily removable type) with creative sayings to spread the word on fighting global hunger. But they had pasted them on (gasp!) public property! The good folks at World Vision were already mindful of the uproar over “Sticker Lady” and told TODAY that they had been “extremely cautious” and had sought prior advice from the police which gave them a waiver to proceed with the event. And according to World Vision Singapore’s spokesperson, they even made sure they removed all the sticky notes from the pillars and bus stops “within the hour”.
Further complicating matters, it seems that some netizens had questioned and compared World Vision’s activity with the actions by “Sticker Lady”. TODAY newspaper reported on this matter yesterday and through their investigation, they found that World Vision had not obtained permission from the owners of the public properties before posting those notes on their walls (oops!). In response to TODAY’s questions, the police has said they are currently looking into the World Vision matter (as I said earlier, we all know what happens when someone complains).
If all this wasn’t so bloody complicated and so ridiculous, I would be ROFL right now. But I am still trying to wrap my head around what happened and why. How did we end up in such ludicrous situations? Where is the common sense and innate human instincts in our authorities, our media and our people? Have we lost our humour and ability to be spontaneous and to just enjoy the moment without worrying about what others will say and whether we will get in trouble? Those poor World Vision folks who were just trying to help fight global hunger are now worrying if they will get into legal trouble. Is this not ridiculous?
Singaporeans take pride in living in a successful cosmopolitan First World country. On the surface, we seem to have it all from the fancy restaurants to the shiny malls and super cars zipping around the roads. But is the behaviour described in the above examples reflective of an advanced and cosmopolitan nation? Or is it more in line with an overly controlled backward, narrow-minded country? There are so many oxymoronic situations in Singapore that run counter to the spirit and true essence of art and innovation. Just think of our buskers here, they are required by law to apply for a license and their performance must be reviewed and approved by the authorities before they can busk. Do our authorities understand the meaning of busking and street art? This all becoming sadly Uniquely Singapore.
If these situations continue, we can forget about trying to make Singapore a creative hub and Singaporeans a creative lot. What we really need more of is common sense and for our people and our government to grow up. And our rulers and the authorities need to trust that we can make good decisions for ourselves.
Viewing art with nudity isn’t going to ruin the future of our youths (who frankly, can get more gore and porn online) ; and a few quirky sticky notes plastered in the public isn’t going to lead to chaos and ruin for the nation. Yes, we need some laws to keep the country safe but for sanity’s sake, loosen up and learn to chill. It will make us a better people, and our country a happier, cooler place.