News / Asia

Singaporeans Traversing Political Boundaries Through Satire, Art

This photograph taken on April 2, 2013 shows Singaporean artist Samantha Lo Xin Hu, 26, arriving at the Subordinate courts in Singapore.
This photograph taken on April 2, 2013 shows Singaporean artist Samantha Lo Xin Hu, 26, arriving at the Subordinate courts in Singapore.
Kate Lamb
— In many ways, Singapore is the ultimate modern society - uber efficient, affluent and safe - but at what expense? The recent legal trials of a young graffiti artist and a cartoonist being investigated for alleged sedition has some Singaporeans saying it’s time for politically uncomfortable art and speech to be allowed.  

Samantha Lo is the street artist responsible for a series of satirical stickers that cropped up all over Singapore last year. She also painted a message that some say was an offensive reference to the country's founding father, Lee Kuan Yew.

Some saw Lo's works as humorous and relevant, but authorities charged the 27-year-old artist with eight counts of public nuisance and vandalism.

She could have faced a three-year jail term, but Lo instead was ordered to perform 240 hours of community service. She says she had no idea what she was getting herself into, but she refuses to believe that art should be censored.

“Back then even when I first started doing the stickers I knew that it was illegal, but I didn’t let that limit my freedom in that sense. I still wanted to do it and I still did it," Lo said. "That is freedom, the freedom to express. That is what art should be, isn’t it?”
 
In a nation where rules are strictly enforced, Lo’s audacious street art has sparked debate about the parameters of free speech.

She is not the only Singaporean pushing the political boundaries.
Authorities are investigating 37-year-old Leslie Chew for alleged sedition after he published a racially provocative cartoon online.

Chew publishes a comic strip on Facebook that has more than 24,000 followers. If convicted of sedition, Chew could be fined and jailed for three years.

Human rights lawyer M. Ravi, who is defending the cartoonist, says because much of Singapore’s press is run by the state, criticism and satire are proliferating online. He says it's a trend that some politicians are attempting to suppress.

“In recent months, the last year or so, there have been threats of defamation suits when political figures are involved, and there have been threats of contempt of court suggestions and there have been sub judice being issued by the attorney general to limit public conversations in the public domain because certain cases are before the court and so on," Ravi said. "So there is a various range of reactions from the state and in particular, bloggers being taken to task on account of defamation and contempt of court, especially an increasing number of bloggers are being taken to task for civil defamation. So that is a worrying trend.”

Terence Chong is a sociologist at the Institute for South East Asian Studies in Singapore. He recently helped produce an ‘Arts Manifesto,’ a document calling for more artistic freedom that has been presented to the government.

Chong says Singapore is facing a dilemma - on the one hand it wants to market itself as a global city for the arts, but on the other there are certain issues like race, religion and homosexuality that remain off-limits.

“How do we tell the world we are culturally vibrant, creative, willing to break boundaries and yet at the same time designating certain areas as no-go areas," Terence said. "I think that is the crux of policies issues right now. I mean where do we go from here? And I think no one really has the answer. I think the government is feeling its way along, and the artists are as well.”
 
Chong believes that Singapore is at a crucial moment in its development - considering what kind of future society it intends to nurture. But he believes that significant progress has been made.

Ten years ago, he says, Samantha Lo would surely have been jailed and Leslie’s Chew’s comic strips would not have been possible.

You May Like

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid