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

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid