By Shah Rizzal
The State is the social and cultural controller of the piece of land or islands. The constitutional rights of the nation are most time just a system of arbitrary humanistic solace thus very skewed in Singapore as of present political climate. We question, how do we weigh the voice of the people to deem any issues are fit for the masses to consume over the State’s political self interest and how do we suppress incessant disobedience by the opposing political vagrant for the best of the major population’s ideals? The ruling elites predictably become the official model in how the society is built upon and progression is of the state’s discretion.
I will be researching historical contexts from different alternative voices as a comparative study against the threshold of the present official context. I will also study the possibilities of having liberalized ideals in the given state here in Singapore context. Issues like morality, virtue and ethics are integral in studying why Singaporeans are looked upon as too paternalized in their ways of living. Censorship, self-censorship and morally right, these are the virus plaguing the local arts community.
There have been constant debates, resistance and those who weave out and around the red tape and stern warnings against the perpetrators by the authority, in this case, the State.
We then question, how far and near is Singapore moving towards their ambitious outlook of being Asia’s Renaissance City? Is Singapore Ready to accept art forms that are not manufactured using the mainstream typecast of what is acceptable art? Are artists in Singapore allowed to take on roles of a visual cultural commentator and permitted full political freedom? Has its approach of embracing globalization affects art?
Art has a social function. It functions in parallel with the society and has cultural bearings over the nation of any stature. Art needs the society to serve its function as a commentary, an outlook, a review or assessment of its present state of the State and form a certain level of historical record as alternative to the State’s biased context. And we question, are there revolutionary art movements in Singapore and has art successfully cast a cultural mold for the future generation? Over the past 15 years, I have seen many revolutionary art forms that are adapted from the western cultures like Graffiti Art, Body Modifications, Poster Art and Stencil Art – everything that falls under the umbrella of a culture jamming generation. Most of these art forms fades or are being sterilized in the form of state endorsement and inadvertently killed off its main purported purpose of its emergence.
Why and how does censorship and State endorsement kill the revolutionary art? It is for the greater good of the nation to regulate these Revolutionary arts and is it a consistent cycle where changes are far beyond rational imagination and the balance of virtue and innovation, where the state determine the content suitable for the general good of the population.
Total liberalization of the arts might be too extreme a situation to regulate where possibilities could either be on the undesirable or avant-garde’s end, and as a community whole, this is not the stability that the State desires when art is itself self-moderating. Only time will tell over the progress or limitations of how art would be consumed and from whichever point of view, there are still hopes on negotiating the artistic creative freedom.
“To belong somewhere in this modern world, I believe that one must feel that one is able to contribute, to make changes and to have a voice, to be valued, in that space. Most of my work has been through invitations from art spaces and museums, and this alone provides a voice, no matter how small. I enter as a citizen to work, no matter how small the outcome.”
- Matthew Ngui.
We are human beings, in our physical often-clothed mass of muscles and organs with consciousness, five senses and conscience all jumbled up as a package of being a person. When this being, as animalistic - in Orwellian depiction - as it can be at its purest state, is sited to a civilization, we are involuntarily contracted at birth, a social contract entrenched in a person and inadvertently dictates the manner a human being should exist in a given society; a State law. Man therefore has to exist in accordance to the generally accepted good in the most democratically scrupulous manner.
The State, the government is the social and cultural controller of the piece of land or islands. The power of rule is translated as to how efficient the State protects its territorial claim on both geographical and psychological aspects. What about being human and exercising individual rights? The constitutional rights of the nation are most time just a system of arbitrary humanistic solace thus very skewed in Singapore as of present. As we already know, the constitution was enacted during the British colonial rule of Singapore that needs the Queens Council in the United Kingdom for advice. And then we question, how do we weigh the voice of the people to deem any issues are fit for the masses to consume over the State’s political self interest and how do we suppress incessant disobedience by the opposing political vagrant for the best of the major population’s ideals? The ruling elites predictably become the official model in how the society is built upon and progression is of the state’s discretion.
What about Singapore’s constitutional laws protecting the rights to practice free speech?
“Part IV: Fundamental liberties.
9. Liberty of the person
(1) No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty saves in accordance with law.
14. Freedom of Speech, assembly and association
(1a) every Citizen of Singapore has the right to freedom of speech and expression;
(1b) all citizens of Singapore have the right to assemble peaceably and without arms; and
(1c) all citizens of Singapore have the right to form associations.”
The government has constantly shown its power of being above the constitutional law while maintaning that it is of the best interest of the general population and that already is a portrayal of the State having an iron grip of exercising its rule of law. Even though it has gone through few amendments in the course of the post-independent period (latest Proposed Singapore Amendment of Bill at 2010), the government chose to counter sections, chapters and articles in the Singapore Constitution as so to not benefit any bold confrontational oppositions or any public dissent, thus explains the formation of new laws and regulations and formation of the Internal Security Department and Act to further safeguard its power of governance. It is not much a surprise that Singapore ranks very lowly for press freedom at 136th.
I will be researching historical contexts from different sources as a comparative study against the threshold of present political state. I will also study the frameworks of some notable socio-cultural controllers and the possibilities of having liberalized ideals in the given state here in Singapore context. Issues like morality, virtue and ethics are integral in this study on why most Singaporeans are looked upon as too paternalized in their ways of living by both its citizen and global critical journalists. Censorship, self-censorship and morally right, these are the virus plaguing the local arts community. There have been constant debates, resistance and those who weave in, out and around the red tape and stern warnings against the perpetrators by the authority, in this case, the State.
Given the persistent attention by the authorities, art must have a social function for it to be regulated in such stringent manner. It functions in parallel with the society and has cultural bearings over the nation of any stature. Art needs the society to serve its function as a commentary, an outlook, a review or assessment of its present state of the State and form a certain level of historical record as alternative to the State’s biased context thus being historically and culturally as important as the official State model.
And we question, are there revolutionary art movements in Singapore and has art successfully cast a cultural mold for the future generation? Over the past 15 years, I have seen many ‘revolutionary’ art forms that are adapted from the western culture like Graffiti Art, Body Modifications, Poster Art and Stencil Art – everything that falls under the umbrella of the culture jamming generation pioneered by Ron English and now made popular by Bristol’s street artist that goes by the alias of Bansky. Most of these art forms fades or are being sterilized in the form of state endorsement like the graffiti painted pedestal and graffiti artist waving to the crowd of reds in Kallang stadium for the National Day Parade in 2003 that inadvertently killed its main purported purpose of its emergence. I was very young and very involved in it too.
Why and how does censorship and state endorsement kill the revolutionary art and the artist’s intent? It is for the greater good of the nation to regulate these Revolutionary arts and is it a consistent cycle where changes are far beyond rational imagination and the balance of virtue and innovation, where the state determine the content suitable for the general good of the population.
Singapore needs some form of constant ministerial intervention in every aspect of basic living regulations, I undertake, as history foretold, that we are therefore a very technologically advanced robots that functions in unison with its austere regulations.
CHAPTER 1: The Alternative
The historical context.
Singapore has one form of history, one form of governance; one party and everything that appear in the media are regulated as strict as a country under one strong arm of dictatorship. Through the age of science and technology and the ease of informational access and alternative form of news through wired media, the State still have a strong hold over its citizen’s expressional thoughts and resentment or political debate be it through physical vocal forum or textually. Recently Singapore Publishing Holding’s The Straits Times celebrated its 165th anniversary and had seen many rival publications being banned during the post-colonial period and now virtually no independent alternative press paper that exists to rival its content, choice and propagation of the daily official viable news. This is the only major paper and it is state-controlled. Then now we question the electronic media and how viable or reliable for its perspective and news deliverance or even its political leanings. Is Singapore too small a country that has multi-ethnic society living together therefore to safeguard the stability of the nation that is deemed fragile, multiple views and ideological slant might create social division that the state’s ruling party had been proud of building for the last six decades? With these oppressions, artistic dissents are imminent.
In The Men in White, written by the senior editors of The Straits Times, it showcases the truth and history of the People’s Action Party’s formation. It shows the people who were in and out during the post-colonial period of Singapore. It was encouraging at initial reading but as it ends up just like any other State sponsored books as it does not really tell us the whole story of the people who either opted out or got imprisoned under Internal Security Act (ISA) for alleged involvement in sabotaging the island state. As we can read through foreign journals and videos streamed in Youtube, BBC News Online and Al-Jazeera English online, we have seen interviews and documentaries of former detainees under the PAP administration during the post independence period, which are banned from screening in Singapore. Said Zahari’s documentary film shot by local film activist, Martyn See, was banned from screening in Singapore in 2007. The reason declared by the Media Development Authority (MDA); the testimonies of these individuals might be subversive and falsify the nature and reason for their indefinite detention.
Netizens have frequent websites such as Talking Cock, Temasek Review, The Online Citizens and the Singapore Democratic Party’s homepage for alternative historical context through their forums, overseas news that covered Singapore events and for the SDP’s site, their collection of parliamentary arguments. Singapore unlike many other ASEAN countries, still keeps the parliamentary assembly door shut from the public. Malaysia for example has their parliamentary debate shown live through the television broadcast nationwide in both state and private media channels. This and many other instances such as the Internal Security Act have blown the citizens balloons of fear, when pricked with a whisk of intelligent intellectual revolt might cause an anarchic explosion and rock the boat of nation’s stability and security.
Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew noted the pattern of racial disputes in Malaysia in the recent events where a mosque was splattered with paint and windows smashed and the burning of a church in Kuala Lumpur when issues regarding race and religion are not a taboo topic in parliament and how problems could emerge from such liberty. This has created a needless debate between the two nations and the shaky relationship and fierce dispute ensue. According to UMNO youth wing leader, Mr. Khairy, that the history of the stipulated racial riots was ill informed as the PAP instigated the riot and thus caused the separation of Singapore from the Federated States of Malaya. This is another example of how history is interpreted by different point of views and interest. Without the freedom to access imperative informations on social policies, artists are crippled to negotiate social dogma into their art practices.
Minister mentor Lee Kuan Yew confessed through his recent interview in the Hard Truths book recently published might back up these claimed partially through some brazen revelations. In the book, he told us how he uses his power to eliminate oppositions at its roots. Topics that themed around sensitive issues such as homosexuals, religion and race were brought up too; creating uproar amongst those ethnic groups and individuals he criticized. He might not get sued as much as any other citizen of any academic equivalence who speaks of such and he wouldn’t even oblige to apologize with such statements and accusations, so far at least.
Professor Michael Sandel from Harvard University, United States of America, affirmed that to have a fully functional libertarian society is to trounce paternalism out of the state on matters that are generally agreed as everyday lives’ decisions, such as tax cuts and deeds and its beneficiary. This way, we wouldn’t have the total aspects of a utopian libertarian ways of living but a moderated one that could be categorized politically as democracy. Since the role of the state is to administer peace and tranquility to its citizen and the wellbeing of the economy, matters of the grass root and household should be moderated by the individuals and groups, all these before the intervention of the government authorities. As human beings, we tend to be individualistic and cynical of the general masses yet we want to belong to the society as to function in our daily cycle of life especially in grossing sufficient monthly income to have a sustainable living condition.
“[…]the populace is encouraged to believe in universalism – that the destiny of the members of the society is fulfilled is serving the whole, that the present state of things is natural, and so is irrational, liberal, decadent or western to propose silly alternatives and that the key to maintaining the stability of the present order of things is the People’s Action Party government, who are the natural leaders and who alone know how to run thing.”
- J. Clammer
Alternative voices from within the community or at grassroots level are undeniably an important part of our history, some through ancestral historical experience both in vocal, writing or photographic forms passed down to the younger generations and from oppositions of the early governance and thus collectively are significant in reinterpreting history as oppose to the current mono-ideals of present history books. To achieve all these, we need to relook at censorship laws and its possible derivatives that had or could have govern knowledge.
When knowledge is mentioned in the previous paragraph, I mean to say that knowledge should be free from a prescribed political scripture or being just the State’s diecast of a commonly agreed form of education. Education should not just be a form of the State’s ideal indoctrination process but a freewill learning process without a constrained definitive curve and stiff structures. History should never be recordings from a single opinionated man of State.
CHAPTER 2: Renaissance City
How sure are we?
"I can't. There is a limit."
- Ghada Amer
We then question, how far or near is Singapore moving towards their ambitious outlook of being Asia’s Renaissance City? Is Singapore ready to accept art forms that are not manufactured using the mainstream typecast of what is acceptable art? Are artists in Singapore allowed to take on roles of a visual cultural commentator and permitted full political freedom? Has its approach of embracing globalization affects art other that its economical benefits?
As mentioned in the previous chapter regarding alternative views and comprehension in social hypothesis, art in present has lost its importance of being a tangible historical study of it nation’s culture’s health and ultimately relegated to serve the aesthetic purpose of the states’s aim of having a culturally diverse nation. In Singapore, the stability of its diverse culture is based upon the stability of the nation’s interest and not to create tensions between ethnic and religious groups; generally said as the basis of national security in a very fragile island state. Art somehow, to the State, has the power to provoke or invoke false pretenses of any given situation if artists are given the freedom to meddle with state politics. This general belief does guard to a certain extent against the threat of controversial confutation by artists through their artworks given past examples such as the performance by Josef Ng for the Fifth Passage at the Parkway Parade Shopping Centre in 1994 during its 12 hours New Year’s Eve annual event. In his work, he allegedly snipped off his pubic hair and placed it on a plate before caning tofu as a response to the homosexuals that are detained by the authority for engaging in unnatural sex. That example though was outdated but it is still the best model of how a controversy was manufactured with the help of the media (in this case, Singapore Publishing Holding’s The New Paper) to influence the public an incorrect idea of events and its significance in history. The National Arts Council later cut the funds for The Artist Village as a result of that performance and the performance was deemed not art. The Ministries of Home Affairs and of Information and the Arts responded:
“[…][The Government] is concerned that new art forms such as Performance Art and Forum Theatre which have no script and encourage spontaneous audience participation pose dangers to public order, security and decency, and much greater difficulty to the licensing authority […] The performances may be exploited to agitate the audience on volatile social issues, or to propagate the beliefs and messages of deviant social or religious groups, or as a means of subversion.”
- The Straits Times, 22nd January 1994.
During the course of almost two decade, I have to consider that Josef Ng’s incident amongst many other less publicized controversial art works by local artists and look at contemporary artists during my humble course of engagement in the arts community. I feel that through many recent examples of cuts and censors in the distribution of artistic material, it has two main forces of retreat; censorship and self-censorship.
Censorship and self-censorship is prevalent in today’s Singapore arts community, be it by force, by conscious decision or by gradual subconscious habit through multiple rejections. With Censorship Review Committee (CRC) established to monitor the distribution of both electronic and print publishing by the Government, many films, theatre works and art exhibitions have either been banned or censored and cut thus crippling the artist initial intention and artistic manipulation of their own works of art and thus its integrity. CRC in my opinion should best be consulted by people in the arts community, to act instead of just listening to feedbacks with the artists in consideration. Arts Engage has been the fiercest opposition to the censorship laws governing the media broadcast and art exhibitions and especially vocal against the CRC. Without this freedom and its persistent institutionalizing of the intellectual sector, we are bound to see more art that are tamed and end up as product of national advertisement of its supposed romanticized stability.
Art has partaken waves of changes and movements from the turn of the century and from the period of industrialization in the earlier pre-world war one period to the present globalizing of both economical and cultural aspect. Denying the freedom adopted by most globalizing and globalized nations yet cashing in from its economic gains has produce a culture of institutionalized thoughts where creativity are most times about how the artist dances around the red tape without risking their art career’s pit fall and abiding the stringent guidelines and working from the disinterested standpoint.
"I can't imagine an arts event of the scale of the Singapore Art Show going off without any controversy. In fact, I'll be very, very surprised."
- Lee Boon Yang, Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts.
A coffee table conversation; where are we, who are we and why do we need to? If it’s a financial decision to do art here in Singapore, there are plenty of art-related businesses ready to endorse, like opera gallery, etc. What if it’s a conscious way of living, when art has become a personal necessity and not a commodity, where do artists fit in? Do all these attribute to the artists self-censor approach?
With the current influx of informations from the traveling artists transiting in Singapore, the power of the World Wide Web and online social networks and alternative history easily available to those who are curious enough, artists in Singapore are taking the burden of propagating versions of experiences or point of views. Lets take a step back to some alternative forms of expressions through art and culture that are adapted from the western culture like the Punk Movement, Anti-Rascist Skinheads, Graffiti Art, Poster Art, Metal music, Rap, Break-dancing and so on and explain how have they impacted the social taste of art in the newer generation. How do we censor this influx of informations and the dissemination of contemporary ideals?
Music has always been the point of ignition of many social movements. We have seen the rock’n’roll, beatnik and punk in the past fifty odd years, so do now. We may argue that in the post-modern era, everything have been done, the contemporary cultures work in way that it extends beyond the past glory and reshapes into an intellectual cultural opposition to the current state of rapid globalization. Take for example the Skinhead movement, the counter-culture that started out as a response to the epidemic level of immigrating foreigners into their homeland in the 1970s, it was assumed a fascist movement that glorifies racism and emphasizes nationalistic white power, and for the case in Singapore and Malaysia, Brown Power in the late 1990s. In around the late 1990s, the movement emphasizes on anti-fascism and still active until now called the Skin-Heads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP). That is one of the example that shows how the most extreme of sub-cultures can refurbish their views to adapt to the current social advantage. This is also true when it comes to the Punk movement, which has its roots in anarchy, chaos and disorder. Currently, the punk movements globally have the same disorderly fashion aesthetics but places more importance in propagating messages against the war, slavery and the nuclear enrichment programme. In terms of its influences on art, the crop of artists that I personally surround myself with is dealing with socially charged works of art, which include painting, new-media or music. Local artists in the current generation are well informed or I shall say, informations are more readily available, when it comes to investigating alternative history and are brazen at propagating it to public, this again with the help of social networking through the Internet. Not to assume that the past were not, but the past sensitivities have now become in many ways the form of accepted mass culture rather than just a minority and regarded as sub-culture. This was the struggle past artists have to deal with in a more contented and opinionated society in the 1970s to late 1990s thus their presence in the present art stage are duly respected.
The current crop of young artist in this generation is more receptive to a wider variety of subversive form of expression. As an artist myself, I am very involved in Street Art prior to my formal art education in Lasalle College of the Arts and saw the possibility of this art form becoming more than just a valid artform (not that it has to be validated by any official institution, but for formality sake) but a platform for artists to converse in a manner of spontaneous creativity and thought. Graffiti art is more than just colorful, fancied and elaborated distorted fonts and cartoonic characters but a dialogue of nonconformity and works as an anti-thesis of the pedestalised art forms in the gallery. The nature of how a graffiti works are produced, using spontaneous intellectual aggressive arguments, is implemented to my art practise. This aggressiveness and openness has to co-exist as a balance to generate the culture of the present and cultivate the future dimension of local art scene. One of the fiercest graffiti artists that opposed the strict political system is Rozaimi Sahbi who is coincidently a friend of mine.
Music has always influence Rozaimie Sahbi, a self-taught art and graffiti practitioner who have been in the traits for almost fifteen years and currently teaching students at secondary school level mural art. Rage Against the Machine heavily influenced him and other Hardcore bands that wax lyrical about the struggles of the minority race groups and about the destruction of war on man psychologically. This can be seen in his approach towards his graffiti work both the commissioned and illegal paintings. Rozaimie often preach the slogan, “If artists couldn’t get a space to paint on, then the street is our canvas”, this stated even with him carrying the burden of past arrest. In the streets, he is known under the pseudonym of Slac Satu, for the nature he portrays himself, a slacker. Other than his involvement in the visual aspect of arts, he is also part of the now defunct experimental punk band known as The Distorted, that preaches the harmful nature of silence and living under a veil of purported democracy but has a core ideals of a totalitarian form of governance. Graffiti and the aggressive nature of punk and hardcore music serve as the perfect blend for Rozaimie’s practise; both are responsive towards a repressive and oppressed generation. It is of no surprise that he engages himself in works that are toward the political leanings and being pro-leftist. It is almost impossible though for Rozaimie to engage in the illegal graffiti murals now which the graffiti community termed as “night shift volunteer” or simply “NSV” and Rozaimie declared that those kind of activities be carried out by the younger crop of street artists and he would then practise his art in a more tamed and commercial scope of art.
Rozaimie and I have had a few personal experiences that we shared and have been profiled as graffiti artists by the Singapore Police Force (SPF) and if there is a need to consult matters regarding illegal street art acts, we will be required to aide its investigation. This was what happened when we channel our concern over the treatment of Palestinian children during the cause of the war between the civilians and the Israelis Armed forces and spray paint an awareness mural at the National Youth Council’s wall at Somerset Road. We were not required to submit any draft or proposal then and the result of our troubles was having members of the SPF telling Rozaimie and a group of other muralist to halt our intention to complete the mural. The reason was vague, we were told that it is illegal to paint, when the wall is a free for all wall. We were surprised by the attention we caused by painting an awareness mural that they later claimed a sensitive issue to touch on. We were bemused and the resulting outcome was having somebody tracking our movements and our online activities. This was when the authorities are overreacting and imposing fear to the artists to prevent any reoccurance. A group of other graffiti muralist tried again a few months later to paint the same themed mural we had but were stopped in the same manner.
Rozaimie and several other Graffiti Artists stopped engaging in NSV works for a few years already now because of the attention given and it became too uncomfortable. The discomfort of being tailed physically and psychologically is getting into Street artists through out Singapore. Most street artists still do practice their politically charged works at private venues like the Straights Records and the Substation Theatre in a more exclusive environment. This could be seen as both a transition and the downfall to the former avant-garde movement. It is a transition to some when street art are moved to a more recognized and profiled pedestalized white cube that could deem the artform as a serious commercial and artistic value. It is a downfall to a few who have witnessed this particular art form from being an anti-institutional, direct, aggressive and spontaneous to be sucked into the money-making market and be made commercially appealing by the media.
A more high profiled example, Seelan Palay, an art activist is also on the authority’s radar since his active political involvement with the Singapore Democratic Party. The latest controversy he was embroiled in was for his documentary film on the former Solicitor-General of the Singapore Legal Service (1965) and President of the Law Society (1986), Francis Seow who is now in exile from Singapore and living in Massachusets, United States. Seelan was also involved in Alan Shadrake’s trial by demonstrating in front of the court and was reprimanded for 12 days in jail for unlawful assembly. In Alan Shadrake’s defense of his trial that involves his book, Once a Jolly Hangman – Singapore Justice in The Dock, Shadrake claimed that his book does not only revolve around court proceedings but it is a testimony of the freedom of speech. Personally, the act of persecuting an author that is based on United Kingdom is already the proof that the court is often used as a tool to shut intellectual confrontation out. Another controversial one perhaps could be his documentary film, One Nation Under Lee (2008) that got seized by the censorship officers during a private screening at the Excelsior Hotel on May 17th, 2008. The film was very critical of the dominant PAP leader’s power of rule and his alleged involvements in conspiracy theories that surrounded the Marxist movement and prior to Said Zahari’s detention. After going through his posts online on his personal blog and the Online Citizen website, I could see that he is very much still focused of his intention in producing more controversial artworks. Younger generation is grasping more control with what they consume and which political leanings are of their personal best interest in these few years of testing time to the ruling party. Seelan went on to say before serving his 12 days sentence; “I think life in Singapore would be much better if people started speaking up and standing up for what they believe in.” In the most recent case, the Singapore Police Force probed Seelan along with Mr Jarrod Luo and Miss Rachel Zeng who are members of Singapore For Democracy for coincidentally selling 12 copy of the Alan Shadrake’s Once a Jolly Hangman book.
Martyn See is also another example of local filmmaker being given the slap on their wrist for producing documentary in the manner of Seelan’s works. He was an established feature editor that has worked with prominent directors suck as Jack Neo, Tan Pin Pin and Eric Khoo. His latest of all his pragmatic works, Dr Lim Hock Sew, was banned under the Film Act on July 14th 2010, as it was deemed against the interest of the public in the same manner of his other films such as Singapore Rebel and Said Zahari’s 17 Years. In the report, it was stated that the Ministry for the Information, Communication and the Arts are concern about its portrayal of the arrest and facts in the film could be misleading and went on to comment that the government will not allow individuals who have posed a security threat to Singapore’s interest in the past, to use media platforms such as films to make baseless accusations against the authorities. So are we suppose to consume only one official side of the story again that is government stamped? When asked about why his other film like Speaking Cornered got passed the censors, he chidded; “..if you want to make a political film and don’t want to get into trouble, minimise or avoid any negative mention of Lee Kuan Yew or Lee Hsien Loong.”
It is hard to disagree on such a bold proclamation but after witnessing well-publicized incidents as aforementioned where so many art and social activists are being herded to court for supposed derogatory charges, it could well be a coincidental fact.
The State is constantly concerned and fearful that art will be transformed into a form of political tool and that might rationalize why the constant restrictions and imposing strict guidelines in the arts and entertainment industry.
During the latest political debate conducted by National University of Singapore’s Political Science Alumni that featured Mr Keneth Jeyaretnam (Reform Party), Sylvia Lim (Workers Party), Dr Chee Soon Juan (Singapore Democratic Party) and Mr Michael Palmer (People’s Action Party), the topic of ‘climate of fear’ was brought up amongst many other and it is true to a certain extent that the current generation are more open to discuss on social policies but the fear of ‘defamation suit’ is still apparent in todays’ politics giving the example of the Palestinian mural and Martyn See’s and Seelan Palay’s Documentary films.
Now, I undertake, art could be a form of escapism when the conventional state media and platforms are heavily controlled or endorsed for Singaporean artists. Repressive tactics by the State could only generate more angst instead of comfort to the people in the arts industry. Socio-political works are hard to come by and exist only to the exclusive constraint amongst its aficionados. The hush nature of these kind of works make it interesting to watch performances by Lee Wen, Zai Kuning, Seelan Palay, Martyn See, etc. Making Singapore a regional art hub could see the State practising a more lax approach towards the censorship of art. This could somehow explain its policy of controlled gambling policy in regards to the erection of Resort World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sand. The State has to discount its strict stand on the moral values regarding gambling to accommodate the strengthening of the economy.
This might be just the time when the government will revisit its ideals regarding the Arts industry and so far has approached organizations such as the Artsengage to give a feedback on it through Censorship Review Committee feedback forums. The Artsengage has been working toward total abolishment of the censorship that could take a few years of intellectual battle to finally see the fullest outcome of its benefits and derivatives.
With the three examples I have elaborated, one could certainly see how slim yet visible the cracks are that could trip an art practitioner into being more careful when handling works that are generally stated as taboo or supposed sensitive no matter how vague the guidelines could be. Self-censoring is self-inflicting in nature but in theory, it is a result of constant rejection and psychological harassment. Like an unplugged electric teapot which has ran out of steam, the hot becomes warm and warm becomes cool, and that is when the initial drive of the artist got curtailed at its fiercest intention.
Living in a crowded environment of generally mono-ideals influenced citizens, alternative forms of self-expression are still considered taboo, this in contrary to the State’s rapid globalizing stance, when other first world countries, both economically and culturally are assimilating it into the mainstream. The staunch supporters of these alternatives might be against the commercialization of their lifestyle when some would be glad to be accepted. We might then argue that anything revolutionary would never last to be a form of subversion and gradually be integrated into the norms and what then? The anti-establishment has nothing to revolt against, resistance is by then futile. Integrating into the society will be formality after all the spoils of reform processes. When I mention reform process, I am meaning to assume that gradually with comfort and the safety of acceptance, we could see the need to resist a tiresome task that bore insignificant social change.
When asked about Singapore art, there are not that many that we could tag as revolutionary. So is this really a Renaissance City in progress, an accelerated global economy but just an industrious production or a reproduction of dull art? At present, it is banality at best. Total liberalization of the arts might be too extreme a situation to regulate where possibilities could either be on the undesirable or avant-garde’s end, and as a community whole, this is not the stability that the State desires when art is itself self-moderating. Only time will tell over the progress or limitations of how art would be consumed and from whichever point of view, there are still hopes on negotiating the artistic creative freedom.
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· Wilson, C., Moral Animals: Ideals and Constraints in Moral Theory. Oxford University Press, New York 2004..
· Adbuster, <http://www.adbusters.org/>, March 21st, 2011.
· Artcrimes, <http://www.graffiti.org/ron-english/>, February 2nd, 2011.
· AsiaOne News, <http://news.asiaone.com/News/AsiaOne%2BNews/Singapore/Story/A1Story20100713-226663.html>, April 12th, 2011.
· Banksy, < http://www.banksy.co.uk/>, December 11th,2010.
· BBC News Asia-Pacific, < http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-10849942> , August 4th, 2010.
· Channel News Asia Online, <http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/291925/1/.html>, March 16th, 2011.
· Chronology of Controversy, <http://www.biotechnics.org/Chronology%20of%20a%20controversy.htm>, December 7th, 2010.
· Fora TV, <http://fora.tv/2008/06/12/Art_Censorship_The_Bigger_Picture>, March 4 th, 2011.
· One Nation Under Lee, Seelan Palay, <http://one-nation-under-lee.org/>, December 11th, 2010.
· Popaganda Art: The Art and Crimes of Ron English, <http://www.popaganda.com/blog1.php> April 6th, 2011.
· Reporters Without Borders: For Press Freedom, <http://en.rsf.org/asia.html>, February 1st, 2011.
· Reuters, <http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/04/10/us-singapore-film-ban-idUSSIN29214420070410>, April 2nd,2011.
· Singapore Rebel, <http://singaporerebel.blogspot.com>, March 12th, 2011.
· Singapore Statutes Online, <http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/non_version/cgi-bin/cgi_retrieve.pl?actno=REVEDCONST&doctitle=CONSTITUTION%20OF%20THE%20REPUBLIC%20OF%20SINGAPORE%0a&date=latest&method=part&sl=1>, December 21st, 2010.
· The Online Citizen, <http://www.theonlinecitizen.com>, February 15th, 2011.
· The Online Citizen, Submit Your Boldest Work to the Censors, <http://theonlinecitizen.com/2008/04/739/>, March 2nd, 2011.
· The Online Citizen, Police Investigate Singapore For Democracy, http://theonlinecitizen.com/2011/01/police-investigate-sfd-members-over-death-penalty-book/ January 29th, 2011.
· The Artist Village, <http://www.tav.org.sg/>, January 2nd, 2011.
· TimeOut Singapore, <http://www.timeoutsingapore.com/art/feature/who-is-who-in-singapore-art-scene>, March 4 th, 2011.
 Matthew Ngui – Point of Views, pg 28.
 Termed as how George Orwell depicted humans’ living condition specifically in ways of communism in his novel, Animal Farm(Penquin, 1989) and how humans can be enslaved into State’s robots in his other novel, 1984.
 Extracted from Singapore Statutes Online, Constitution of the Republic of Singapore.
 Singapore ranked 136th out of 175 nations by Reporters Without Borders in the Worldwide Press Freedom Index.
 Ron English is an American contemporary pop artist who delves around satirical works that target advertising posters most and coined his genre of art as Popaganda. He is one of the pioneers of the Adbuster and culture jamming movement in the 1980s.
 Banksy is anonymously a trained Graffiti Artist that has built a huge reputation for being an avant-garde artist of this generation. His works are mostly illegal spray painted stencils and posters on public walls that questions the socio-political climate around the area he is painting. He is also known for painting the Gaza wall in the Palestine and Israel border while dodging bullets fired by the Israeli Armed Forces. He is currently sought after by both art appreciators worldwide and also attracted the attention of the Interpol Intelligence Service for his activities.
 The five major English, Mandarin, Tamil and Malay publishing are either state-owned or co-owned by members of the state. This including The Straits Times, The New Paper, Lianhe Zaobao, Tamil Murasu and Berita Harian. All televised media are state-owned under the umbrella of Mediacorp. Singapore Press Holdings Ltd was formed on 4th August 1984 through a merger of three organizations – The Straits Times Press Group, The Singapore News and Publications Limited and Times Publishing Berhad.
 “Zahari 17 Years” continues to be banned in S’pore – BFC, The Online Citizen. April 17th, 2009.
 A slang for online community.
 Justice: Whats’s the Right Thing To Do? - Free to Choose, Harvard’s Online Lecture, September 8, 2009.
 Race and State in Independent Singapore: Ideology and development in Singapore, J. Clammer, p,265
Art or porn? Artists Push Boundaries in Singapore by Sarah Webb, Reuters, March 7, 2007. - Egyptian print artist, Ghada Amer, on exhibiting her nude print in Singapore during her Singapore Tyler Print Institute residency, that were regarded too erotic for public viewing and the resultant self-imposed censorship due the fear of sensitivity pertaining the state law.
 The Artists Village (TAV) is a contemporary art group in Singapore. Founded by contemporary artist Tang Da Wu, it enabled like-minded contemporary artists to critically re-look and examine existing assumptions, values and concepts of art making in Singapore. The Village as Singapore's first artist colony, enabled artists to explore radical new ways and ideologies in making art that is in synch with the societal changes and state of affairs in the late 1980s.
 Chronology of a Controversy, 15th August 1996. http://www.biotechnics.org/Chronology%20of%20a%20controversy.htm
 Arts Engage is a network of arts practitioners from various disciplines coming together to discuss the policies that govern and impact their respective practices. Started by members of the Arts Community electronic media group, Arts Engage is intended to be used by arts community members who wish to engage in issues of art practice, such as censorship, funding, spaces, intellectual property, making a living as an artist, position of art/artists in society in a more focused manner.
Controversy and Art Go Hand in Hand: Lee Boon Yang, Channel News Asia, August 3rd, 2007.
 Social taste in this sense explains the current general trend or preference of the collective generation targeting those borned beyond the year 1985.
 The more general term used rather than the one mentioned by Jack Kerouc as a term to describe his circle of friends.
 Brown Power - a band of the same name currently propagates a belief that emphasizes the supremacy of the people of the Southeast Asian lineage and its romanticised nationalistic ideals agaisnt the former western colonializers.
 Front, Interview, Arts Central Singapore. 2007.
 In 2001, a group of youths were charge in court with mischief act for doing graffiti in public places including walls of monsoon drains and unhibited street corners like the one near Bedok stadium. The group that calls themselves ZincNite Crew (ZNC) was caught while spray painting near the Sungei Api-Api park connector at Pasir Ris. The news spread like wildfire and Graffiti Art received it early attention in Singapore from the cause of this particular case, both negative and positive reception and the members of ZNC all received fines and a year of probation.
 Shadrake case highlights Singapore censorship battle, BBC News Online, Rachel Harvey, August 4th, 2010.
 One Nation Under Lee, Seelan Palay, May, 2008.
 Arteri, Art and Politicking (and in defence of art), June Yap, June 30th, 2009.
 Ibid22, ‘Speaking up’.
 Police investigate SFD members over death penalty book, The Online Citizen, January 25th, 2011.
 Film on ex-leftist leader Lim Hock Siew banned, Asiaone News:mypaper, July 13th, 2010.
 Censors Ban Martyn See’s film on Dr Lim Hock Siew, Channel News Asia, Claire Huang, July 12th, 2010.
 Ibid, 4th paragh.
 Submit your boldest work to the censors, The Online Citizen, Martyn See, April 18th, 2008.
 GE 2011: What's at Stake for Singapore, Channel News Asia, March 23rd, 2011.
observe, learn and comment.