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

Uganda Court Annuls Anti-Gay Law

Court says law was passed in parliament without enough members present for a full quorum More

Multimedia Thailand Makes Efforts to Improve Conditions for Migrant Laborers

In Thailand, its not uncommon for parents to bring their children to work; one company, in-collaboration with other organizations, address safety concerns More

In Indonesia, Jihad Video Raises Concern

Video calls on Indonesians to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborersi
X
Steve Herman
August 01, 2014 6:22 PM
Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborers

Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video Public Raises its Voice on Power Plant Pollution

In the United States, proposed rules to cut pollution from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants are generating a heated debate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charged with writing and implementing the plan, has already received 300,000 written comments. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, another 1,600 people are lining up this week at EPA headquarters and at satellite offices around the country to give their testimony in person.
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 China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

The public in China is welcoming the Communist Party's decision to investigate one of the country's once most powerful politicians, former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang. Analysts say the move by President Xi Jinping is not only an effort to win more support for the party, but an essential step to furthering much needed economic reforms and removing those who would stand in the way of change. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
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 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.

AppleAndroid