Wednesday 13 June 2012

Sticker Lady: What is Art?

Suspect's 'art' has no value
THE recent case of a young woman being arrested for allegedly using a stencil to paint 'My grandfather road' on some public roads has revived the longstanding debate on whether graffiti should be considered art or vandalism ('Artist's arrest revives vandalism debate'; Wednesday).

As a student of the School of the Arts, this particular issue strikes close to home.

It is true that despite the Government pumping so much money into the arts scene, there continue to be restrictions on what 'art' should be.

Censorship is still evident in our local arts scene.

In cases where artists transgress the rules to convey relevant messages or raise issues, I am usually supportive of their endeavours.

However, in this case, the woman's alleged actions should be treated as vandalism.

While the works are humorous, parodying Singaporean culture and Singlish, they seem to have no value whatsoever.

Furthermore, the removal of the 'art' from public property involved spending money, time and effort.

While the suspect's intentions may have been light-hearted, she appears to have had no consideration for the impact that her work may have caused.

Art should serve to enhance and better a community. But the suspect's work seems to be nothing more than a tongue-in-cheek attempt to garner public attention.

So despite the need for the Government to cultivate a more vibrant arts scene, a sense of order and structure should remain in place.

The public should not take an expanding arts scene as an excuse to break the law.

The woman should therefore be held fully accountable for her alleged actions.
Darshini Ramiah (Miss)
ST Forum, 9 Jun 2012

Review each case in its context
WHILE it is true that restoring 'defaced' public property requires resources, I disagree that advocating leniency for the woman arrested for alleged vandalism leads to the adoption of double standards, or that she would be 'virtually let off the hook' if the charge is reduced ('...Sheer vandalism' by Mr Francis Cheng; Thursday).

For her alleged actions, the woman has already become a subject of notoriety, and her future prospects are uncertain.

I agree with Mr Cheng that the Government should act objectively, but it should review each case in its context instead of applying the law broadly. To me, the woman's alleged acts are a tongue-in-cheek statement meant more to elicit smiles and raise social consciousness than to start a public disturbance.

Mr Cheng's comparison of the case to vandalised trains and loan-shark runners is also unfair.

The train vandalism case involved the culprits breaking into an off-limits place to 'tag' a train, while loan sharking is a form of intimidation that has no artistic merit whatsoever.

As for the claim that there is a place and time for everything, I do not think art can always be bridled this way, or confined solely to the galleries and walls of museums and collectors.

A balance should be struck between making a statement and impinging on public 'rights'.

The stencilled phrase 'My grandfather road' works precisely because of its location. So Mr Steven Chua's query ('What if...'; Thursday) about whether it could still be called art if it was transferred to the homes of the suspect's supporters makes little sense.

Aesthetically, it might still be called art, but without context it lacks impact. So there would be no reason for the artist to paint in such locations in the first place.

But if having my wall painted that way could bring about amusement and constructive dialogue, then I welcome it.
Tan May En (Ms)
ST Forum, 9 Jun 2012

Being creative doesn't mean being a public nuisance
THE rules governing the defacement of public property are very clear ('Artist's arrest revives vandalism debate'; Wednesday).

If an adult chooses to take the mickey out of the law, then it is only reasonable that she faces the music as well.

Would those who argue that 'it is almost impossible to talk about developing a culturally vibrant, creative or loveable city, without some tolerance for those slightly messy activities that sometimes challenge the rules' sing the same tune if some cultural anarchists decide to turn their lovely homes into junkyards in the name of art?

What makes artists so special that they deserve the exclusive privilege of painting our town red with graffiti and imbuing us with their smart-alecky sense of humour?

Indulging in messy, critical, chaotic and lateral thinking, as well as one's baser instincts, as part of the creative process does not mean being a public nuisance.

True creative geniuses will be able to produce outstanding works under any conditions.

In fact, some of the greatest art has come out of oppressive societies that liberals have deemed as taboo to creativity.

Take the former Soviet Union, for example. The world continues to be wowed by the ballet, music, literature and films from that bygone era.

Was there ever a need for iconoclasts like Andrei Tarkovsky and Mikhail Bulgakov to vandalise public assets to blow our senses?

These visionary artists dispel the cliched argument that 'freedom', according to certain standards of liberalism, is necessary for artistic expression to flourish.

A few of their so-called peers here can certainly do better, as well as learn how to be mature and responsible adults.
Toh Cheng Seong
ST Forum, 9 Jun 2012

Be lenient, for art's sake...
VANDALS can be fined and jailed, and even caned if they are men ('Suspected vandal in sticky mess'; Tuesday).

I hope for a parliamentary review of the Vandalism Act, with revisions to allow first-time offenders to serve Corrective Work Orders or community service.

Graffiti artists are talented individuals who lack opportunities to express themselves artistically. Currently, there are no 'free' walls in Singapore where anyone can paint freely and independently.

To paint on the former 'free' walls in Orchard Road, artists or organisations are now required to obtain government approval.

As graffiti falls under street art (a crucial subset of public art), I appeal for a multi-stakeholder approach to the promotion of public art by allowing for more 'free' walls and spaces of artistic expression.

Alternatively, unused buildings under the charge of the Singapore Land Authority can temporarily host street artists, while community clubs can host community mural walls.

I work for Social Creatives, an arts organisation that creates public murals, transforms void decks into art galleries, and manages a community studio. We also organise art programmes for fellow charities - examples include organisations for youth offenders and youths-at-risk, and a hospital that meets the needs of the mentally disabled.

Murals can be a source of graffiti prevention. It seems ironic that here in Singapore, we seek to punish artists rather than assist them in honing their skills.

I will personally volunteer to help individuals such as Ms Samantha Lo re-integrate into society. Her traffic light stickers are creative and have great social impact. So I hope for leniency for her if she is found guilty.

Imposing a fine, jail term or caning for 'vandals' will deal a huge blow to their youthful passion for the arts.
Faris Basharahil
Chief Executive
Social Creatives
ST Forum, 9 Jun 2012

...Punish errant artists, no exceptions please
SOME people are supporting the 'sticker lady' because they perceive her work as 'art' ('Artist's arrest revives vandalism debate'; Wednesday). Artists must realise that they do not have special privileges just because they practise 'art'.

Doctors pursuing clinical research are prosecuted if they use confidential patient information or administer medication without the patients' consent.

Environmentalists who climb on planes to protest against air pollution are also prosecuted.

Their goals are unquestionably more honourable than those of artists. But they are prosecuted, and no exceptions should be made for artists.

The plain fact is that artists have no more right to break the law than butchers, barmaids, doctors and the cleaners who have to clear up their mess.
Tan Ying San
ST Forum, 9 Jun 2012

Why society can't turn a blind eye
WHO is to judge what is street 'art' and what is not, or which graffiti is more 'artistic' than the other? If one such 'artist' is allowed to express herself freely on public property with impunity, how can we say 'no' to others ('Artist's arrest revives vandalism debate'; Wednesday)?

Societies do not become big-hearted, innovative, vibrant or expressive by turning a blind eye to people who do whatever they want to properties that belong to or are shared by all. Instead, they become self-centred, reckless, permissive and fractious.
Cheng Shoong Tat
ST Forum, 9 Jun 2012

Social cohesiveness at stake
I AM against anyone defacing public property, no matter how honourable or laudable their motives ('Artist's arrest revives vandalism debate'; Wednesday).

Such acts, which are comparable to vandalism of our MRT trains, should be dealt with accordingly by the law.

What is of greater concern is that netizens are gathering signatures to pressure the authorities to reduce the severity of the offence and, in the process, justifying vandalism as an outlet for artistic and creative expression.

Different arguments, varying from the need to develop an arts culture to the stifling nature of censorship, have been advanced to support their cause.

The concern is that other new trends by various interest groups are going to surface to jolt social norms.

Such trends may splinter social cohesiveness, with different interest groups clamouring for more space.

Each group is able to quote apparently cogent reasons for how it wants society to progress.

In the end, the inclusiveness that we are trying to build will suffer.

While the Government may take heed of such new demands, the rule of law should take precedence, unless the relevant laws are revised to take account of any societal change.
Stephen Chia
ST Forum, 9 Jun 2012

Get vandals to clean up their own mess
APART from fines to cover the costs incurred in removing graffiti, offenders should be made to clean up their own mess under the supervision of cleaners ('Artist's arrest revives vandalism debate'; Wednesday).

To take it one step further, offenders can be assigned to do weekly graffiti clean-ups for six months, so that they can reassess their tolerance levels for vandalism.

And if the artist in this case is found guilty and punished in this way, it would be a good chance for her to document the whole process as part of her portfolio, with the clean-up exercise as a good form of closure.
Tan Chee Seong
ST Forum, 9 Jun 2012

Vandalism: Malicious, senseless defacement
From Benny M Ortega, TODAY, 9 Jun 2012

The ugly side of Singapore has come to the fore again: First, no to nursing homes for the aged, and now the law must be strictly enforced on a 25-year-old girl, says the police - echoed by some strait-laced citizens.

One would think that her "crime of vandalism" is of the same magnitude as the Taliban destruction of the Buddha statues at Bamiyan.

Let us show some class. Some of her witty stickers made me smile, just as I have gasped with delight at 3D chalk art on the roads and sidewalks in other cities. If the artists had drawn their masterpieces on our streets, would the police have arrested them?

Vandalism is malicious and senseless defacement of public or private property, particularly of artwork. The Vandals, an East Germanic tribe, lent their name to vandalism when they looted Rome in 455 AD.

In Singapore, one is a vandal if he or she pastes a funny sticker on posts at pedestrian crossings.

Arrest of 'Sticker Lady' does not stifle creativity
From Yang Yahui, TODAY, 8 Jun 2012

With the arrest of "Sticker Lady", the extent of how much creative expression is too much has come into question, as reported in "Sticker Lady' stirs art debate" (June 6).

Her tongue-in-cheek art expressions and humour appealed to me and other young Singaporeans, but there should be some boundaries.

Considerable efforts have been made to ignite the local arts scene. The arrest and possible punishment of 'Sticker Lady' are consequences of her irresponsibility and disregard for the law. This should neither deter nor stifle the creativity of artists.

I believe local artists and street artists alike have the ability to work around regulations.

The trade-off for an environment where the arts can flourish should not be a vandalised society.

What if...
If painting 'My grandfather road' is art, will it still be if it is painted on the walls of the flats and houses of those defending her actions? Her proponents must note that her scribble is not even grammatically correct.
Steven Chua
ST Forum, 7 Jun 2012

Expression of art...
ALTHOUGH Singapore's intolerance of vandalism is clear, the authorities should exercise discretion in the case of the young woman - dubbed 'The sticker lady' - arrested for allegedly scribbling and pasting quirky stickers on public property ('Artist's arrest revives vandalism debate'; yesterday).

The stickers were creative attempts at humour that is sadly lacking here. How can any Singaporean read Singlish phrases like 'Press until shiok' (press until you feel good) or 'Press once can already' and not laugh? I do not think 'the sticker lady' was ill-intentioned or tried to instigate public disorder. If she is punished punitively, the unintended signal given to the public is that there is no place in this little red dot for the unconventional and quirky. We can forget about being the New York or Paris of the East.

A warning should suffice.

Or perhaps the Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, Mr Chan Chun Sing, could enrol her and other like-minded creative Singaporeans to participate in the next street graffiti event.

A positive outcome is that we now know that there are indeed creative Singaporeans who just need an avenue (pun unintended) to express themselves.

There is hope yet for Singapore's art scene.
Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan
ST Forum, 7 Jun 2012

...Sheer vandalism
THE online petition urging leniency for a young woman arrested for alleged vandalism misses the point ('Artist's arrest revives vandalism debate'; yesterday). Defacing public property is an irresponsible act which should not be condoned or encouraged. It is also a waste of public funds and resources to clean up the mess.

Reducing the act to merely one of public nuisance, as the petition urges, sends a wrong signal which will open us indefensibly to adopting double standards. If the vandals who committed a similar offence on MRT trains in May 2010 - Swiss national Oliver Fricker and Briton Dane Alexander Lloyd - had the book thrown at them - Fricker was jailed for seven months and given three strokes of the cane; Lloyd remains at large - how do we justify virtually letting this young woman off the hook?

An act of vandalism is just that, regardless of the identity of the perpetrator, and the Government must act objectively.

If her alleged vandalism is condoned by reducing the charge, what about loan-shark runners who vandalise the walls of recalcitrant borrowers? Shouldn't we allow them to claim artistic licence as well? If an outlet for creativity is what she and others like her seek, there is the proverbial place (and time) for it; just don't do it at the expense of public property.
Francis Cheng
ST Forum, 7 Jun 2012

Art should be within legal boundaries
From Jason Phoon Wing Oon, TODAY, 7 Jun 2012

The arrest of a 25-year-old woman has ignited a debate online, as reported in "'Sticker Lady' stirs art debate" (June 6), over what should be the right balance between law enforcement on vandalism and allowing room for creative expression.

I am all for the latter, but it must be done in accordance to the law. Imagine if it were to be allowed liberally: There would be so-called creative expression painted or drawn all over the roads and buildings.

The Government has encouraged and placed more focus on the arts in recent years. I believe that the authorities would support art so long as it is done within legal boundaries.

A lesson in 'cost and effect' to every action
From Lynette Tan, TODAY, 7 Jun 2012

I read with interest the report "'Sticker Lady' stirs art debate" (June 6). She was indeed creative and even detailed, as the stickers fitted nicely above the traffic light buttons. They presented a good laugh after a hard day's work.

She has talent. The question: Is there a lack of legal platforms for her to express her creativity?

Even as the arts community tries to support her, it may be good to step back, to tell youngsters that they must face the consequences of their actions.

If I were a judge, I would get her to remove all of her stickers and repaint the roads she stencilled.

If any are not, then she would face a stiffer punishment.

This would educate the young that there is a "cost and effect" to every action.

Imagine the poor cleaners who are tasked with having to remove the stickers. It is in line with the principle that if you litter, you may be given a corrective work order.

An opportunity to engage the public and arts community
From Ngiam Shin-shin, TODAY, 13 Jun 2012

I was happy to read about the fervent debate over "Sticker Lady". It shows that everyone is thinking.

Some see it as a case of harmless, witty street art. Others feel it is no different from vandalism, which is no laughing matter.

As Nominated Member of Parliament Janice Koh said in the report "'Sticker Lady' stirs art debate" (June 6), street art the world over "sits on that uneasy line between artistic self-expression and vandalism".

One would be hard-pressed to make the distinction at times. And given the authorities' strict stance and previous court sentences on vandalism, there would be pressure not to show preferential treatment and not to set a precedent for other arty vandals.

But what is our instinctive reaction when we chance upon wilful defacement - versus a measured, integrative statement - on everyday objects? Could one be shocked, disgusted or tickled into thought?

This response is as good a measure as any of how we could distinguish between vandalism and street art.

The Government, which may wonder why there is a hoo-ha if this is a clear case of vandalism, has an opportunity to engage the public and the art community in this instance.

It often talks about nurturing creativity. It must recognise that true creativity often has an element of testing and pushing boundaries. This is how the box can be expanded.

If the whip were to be cracked hard, it would come as no surprise. There are times when the rod is the best deterrent. But would more people be encouraged to challenge, rather than respect, the decision?

Or "Sticker Lady" could be slapped with a stern warning, fined and ordered to remove her stickers. Her creativity could be engaged constructively in community service, in partnership with the Land Transport Authority, given her propensity for traffic-related objects.

I am reminded of how postboxes around the island benefited from a collaboration between the community and SingPost when they were painted.

I believe that the authorities, too, could come to appreciate the difference between street art and vandalism. After all, just five years ago, some of them took the brave step of rapping: "Yes, yes, y'all, we don't stop. Get creative, can do, rock on!"

My grandfather not a stickler for grammar
By S M Ong, The New Paper, 12 Jun 2012

That's me, my grandfather's grandson.

This is my small contribution to something called My Grandfather Singapore on Facebook, where Singaporeans are asked to take a photo of themselves "all over Singapore, a la Sticker Lady, with a sign reading 'My Grandfather Road/Temple/Stall/etc' to show that Singaporeans can be creative and that we have ownership of what we love in Singapore".

No, wait, I wrote it wrongly. It should be "My grandfather grandson". Actually, I wrote it correctly the first time, but in this case, being right is wrong and wrong is right.

As the people behind the My Grandfather Singapore Facebook thing pointed out: "Yes, it looks like a spelling mistake, but it's how some Singaporeans tend to drop the possessive when speaking in Singlish."

I think it looks more like grammatical error than a spelling mistake, but I quibble.

Did I send Phua Chu Kang to take English classes as directed by then-prime minister Goh Chok Tong all those years ago for nothing? Were 13 years of the Speak Good English Movement for nothing?

Did I do a spellcheck for this column for nothing?

What hath Sticker Lady, aka Samantha Lo, wrought?

Lo was arrested last week for painting "My grandfather road" on public roads. She is also allegedly behind the snarky stickers pasted on traffic lights around Singapore. On Facebook, MP Tin Pei Ling, Nominated MP Janice Koh and non-MP Nicole Seah have written in Lo's defence.

Sticker Lady has since been released on police bail.

So why are slacktivists stepping over themselves to jump on the "Free Sticker Lady" bandwagon when she is already free? Why are her supporters pre-emptively sending her to jail?

Forget street artist Banksy. Sticker Lady is treated like she's Nelson Mendela. (I'm still singing along to the Special AKA's Free Nelson Mendela even though I know he has been free for a while.)

But where were these "let's support creativity" types two years ago when Swiss Oliver Fricker was arrested for spray-painting graffiti on the MRT train?

Where were Ms Tin, Ms Koh and Ms Seah back then? No, wait, Ms Koh wasn't an NMP and no one had heard of Ms Tin or Ms Seah then.

Why wasn't there an online petition to the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (Mica) to recognise Fricker's work as "art, not vandalism" (like the petition to Mica to "review sentence" of Lo, even though she hasn't been sentenced yet)?

Is it because Fricker is a foreigner? And not a cat-loving 25-year-old Singaporean who worked for the National Art Gallery?

It's probably also a good thing Sticker Lady doesn't drive a Ferrari or wear a scarf on the bus.

(The 1994 Michael Fay incident doesn't apply because that happened long before people could put black "Anyhow paste police catch" badges on their Facebook pages.)

And unlike Fricker, Sticker Lady has also sparked more intense discussion about art than the recently- concluded Singapore Arts Festival ever did, just as organisers announced last week that the festival is taking a break next year for re-assessment.

Perhaps if they want to avoid low attendances, as was the case at last year's festival, they should resort to vandalism too.

But don't do what the Singapore Post did in 2010 when it had postboxes around Singapore spray-painted with graffiti for a publicity campaign. That just upset people.

SingPost's gaffe was that the graffiti wasn't in Singlish. They should've spray-painted the postboxes with the words "My grandfather postbox." Remember to drop the possessive.

Which brings me back to My Grandfather Singapore project on Facebook to get Singaporeans to show that they can be creative by following her instructions to basically copy what someone else did. Do what you're told and copy.

And that, ladies and xenophobes, is the state of creativity in Singapore in a nutshell.

By the way, why is Lo called Sticker Lady and not Grandfather Lady? I guess it's all relative.


What the Vandalism Act was meant for
by Chan Wing Cheong, TODAY, 11 Jun 2012

Much has been written for and against the case of the "Sticker Lady" in the media in the last week. There is widespread agreement that her acts of scribbling and pasting stickers on public property are wrong, but there seems to be two camps as to what should be the appropriate legal response.

Should it be considered as "vandalism" where the punishment is a fine of up to S$2,000 or imprisonment of up to three years, and mandatory caning of between three and eight strokes (if the perpetrator is a male and indelible substances are used); or as a "nuisance" where the punishment is only a fine of up to S$1,000?

In deciding what is the appropriate law to be used, we should turn to the origins of that law - what were the motivations behind the law when it was passed? What was the mischief the law was meant to target?


The Vandalism Act was passed by the Singapore Parliament in August 1966, just one year after independence. The world then was a very different place from what Singapore is now.

A clue to what the Vandalism Act was meant to do is given by its "long title" which says that the Act was "to provide for exemplary punishment for acts of vandalism". In other words, the harsh penalties were to serve as an example to other like-minded people to warn them against similar behaviour.

What was the behaviour that was targeted? The parliamentary debates show that the concern of the Act was not so much "vandalism" in the sense of destroying or mutilating public buildings and other public property, but more as a tool to curb public political campaigns.

Reference was made in the parliamentary debates to "writing of slogans, drawing of pictures, painting and marking ... even the sides of drains by anti-social and anti-national elements in the name of democracy". It must be remembered that Singapore in the '60s was caught up in the Cold War between the superpowers and the main opposition party, the Barisan Sosialis, had vowed to "take the fight to the streets".

The Prime Minister at the time, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, gave further examples of the type of behaviour and person that was targeted.

It was for actions "like taking a pot of paint and going to every bus stand and chalking up anti-American or anti-British or pro-Vietcong slogans" and "the vicious petty slogan-shouting hooligan".


While it is true that other than stifling left-wing dissent, there were references to damage to public property in the parliamentary debates, what was envisaged was on a wholly different scale.

References were made to "theft of fountain heads made of copper, copper tubes outside Housing and Development Board premises used for boilers" and "vital parts from electric switch-boxes and substations". The theft of the copper items will need to be replaced, resulting in unnecessary public expenditure; while interfering with electric power supply may lead to loss of power supply or fire and loss of life.

The acts of the "Sticker Lady" may show a degree of preparation and deliberation - and even a large dose of creativity - but they are surely not on the same scale as what was intended to be caught by Parliament when the Vandalism Act was passed. She is also not of the same category as a hooligan or a member of a street gang painting leftist slogans.

It will be useful in the public discussion on whether any, and what, charges are appropriate in her case to remember what the Vandalism Act was about.

Chan Wing Cheong is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore. He teaches criminal law and family law.

Vandalism or art?
Editorial, The Straits Times, 10 Jun 2012

The case of the young artist who was arrested on Sunday, for allegedly painting 'My Grandfather Road' on some public roads and putting quirky stickers on traffic lights, has revived an old debate: Should certain graffiti be seen as art, calling for some leniency, or vandalism that has to be dealt with strictly? The vandalising of public property is the bane of most cities, requiring needless effort and cost to make good the damage. When signage is defaced, safety issues also arise. And when there is criminal trespass, security concerns will loom large. None of these issues can be taken lightly. But what if the graffiti amuses more than it riles?

Singapore Post painted graffiti on some of its letterboxes in 2010, to raise awareness of its sponsorship of the Youth Olympic Games. The public was alarmed by the stunt and SingPost had to make an apology. The same year, there was a flap in Brisbane when the city council's graffiti reduction unit painted over the work of street artist Anthony Lister, who has held exhibitions of his work in New York and London. Such tension between exercising some control - to prevent indiscriminate work - and fostering a vibrant urban culture is managed in different ways around the world. Melbourne, for example, touts the street art of Hoiser Lane to visitors and at the same time lays down rules for street artists.

Supporters of the arrested Singapore artist argue that for the nation to come of age as a world-class cosmopolitan city, it should be confident enough to tolerate 'slightly messy activities that sometimes challenge the rules'. The flip side should also be considered before giving a free hand to every young artist aspiring to be, say, British graffiti artist and political activist Banksy. The young should be unfettered during art classes - where any mess is cleaned up afterwards - but they should also learn to appreciate the social context of creative freedom.

Art is not a nuisance
In calling for the 'Sticker Lady' to be charged with public nuisance instead of vandalism, supporters actually trivialise her work
By Huang Lijie, The Straits Times, 12 Jun 2012

I am one of more than 14,000 people who regard the recent graffiti, allegedly done by a young woman dubbed the 'Sticker Lady', as art.

The graffiti artist had pasted circular stickers with cheeky Singlish phrases such as Press Until Shiok and Press Once Can Already on buttons of traffic lights at pedestrian crossings. The Singlish phrase, My Grandfather Road, was also stencil-painted on some roads.

The person behind the graffiti is believed to be Samantha Lo, 25, founder of online magazine RCGNTN, which is dedicated to showcasing local art talent.

The stickers and stencilled writing are art because they articulate an individual's intention to express a personal idea to an audience.

As well-known American conceptual artist Sol LeWitt says adroitly: 'A work of art may be understood as a conductor from the artist's mind to the viewer's.'

The messages on the stickers are pithy comments on the Singaporean quirk of impatiently jabbing at traffic light buttons in the hope that doing so will make the pedestrian light turn green faster.

The stencil painting borrows a colloquialism to remark on obliviousness towards the obnoxious behaviour of road hogging.

While the aesthetic value of the stickers and stencil painting is debatable, it has no bearing on its legitimacy as graffiti art.

So as an art lover, I was crestfallen when the other 14,000 supporters chose to sign an online petition to have the graffiti artist's charge - if or when it is filed - reduced from vandalism to public nuisance.

The police had earlier classified the case as vandalism. Anyone convicted of vandalism can be fined up to $2,000 or jailed for up to three years. Men can also be caned.

The offence of public nuisance, however, carries a maximum fine of $1,000.

I empathise with the call for leniency by those who support the artist and the works of graffiti as art.

But as someone who is excited by graffiti art - I once waited three hours in the cold in New York to get into a dilapidated building to see works by well-known graffiti artists such as Shepard Fairey and Swoon - I am bewildered at how the Sticker Lady's supporters have no qualms trivialising her art by welcoming it to be charged and labelled as nuisance.

The petition argues that if the graffiti is recognised as art, it should not be considered or charged as vandalism.

Does putting it on the same level as other nuisance offences such as spitting or bathing in public, however, legitimise the Sticker Lady's work as art?

The petitioners' position of defence indicates that they cannot reconcile graffiti art with vandalism.

It is true that not all graffiti art is vandalism.

Kosher variants have appeared in sanctioned public spaces as well as museums and art galleries around the world. Here, graffiti art is permitted at the Somerset Skate Park and it has also been commissioned by businesses such as SingPost for its mailboxes and OCBC Bank for the wall of a branch in Bukit Timah.

For an artist producing a piece of graffiti art, though, negotiating the issue of vandalism is an integral part of making the work, regardless of whether or not it ultimately contravenes the law.

This is because the practice hinges on appropriating property that does not belong to the artist, either with or without permission, and deliberately causing the property to lose its normal form.

It is a discomforting reality but graffiti art is associated with vandalism, directly or indirectly. Its illegality does not disqualify it as art. Nor does any amount of euphemism, such as calling graffiti art by a more benign name, 'street art', or wishing away the inextricable and messy relationship between this genre of art and transgression.

Indeed, graffiti artists, supporters of the art form and the authorities will have to come to terms with how things are - that graffiti art treads the delicate ground between art and vandalism.

Graffiti artists who choose to work without permission on public and private property, including the Sticker Lady, must be prepared to stomach the risk, face the music and make sacrifices in the name of gaining credibility for their art.

Supporters of graffiti art need to realise that it is acceptable to have a love-hate relationship with graffiti art, to simultaneously appreciate its aesthetic value while abhorring it for breaking the law.

They should also not mollycoddle graffiti artists, including the Sticker Lady, by appealing for them to be charged under public nuisance instead of vandalism when caught, simply because the former has a lighter maximum penalty.

The authorities, on the other hand, should handle incidences of graffiti with discernment. There are many types of graffiti and vandalism, and the level of punishment meted out should be commensurate.

The wide-ranging spectrum includes toilet graffiti as mindless mischief, graffiti as a form of art that is at once transgressive and socially conscious, and malicious graffiti that gratuitously challenges the laws of the land and seeks purely to humiliate the establishment.

For me, the petition, though misguided, has not been without its silver lining.

The groundswell of petitioners fighting for the works of graffiti to be recognised as art is proof that there is a mature audience here that is able to appreciate this form of art. There is hope yet for Singapore's graffiti art scene.

* 'Sticker Lady' and friend to perform community service
By Elena Chong Court Correspondent And Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 9 May 2013

A GRAPHIC artist and her friend were spared jail yesterday after a judge imposed community-based sentences on them for mischief.

Samantha Lo Xin Hui, 26, dubbed the "Sticker Lady", and Anthony Chong Tze Chen, 31, a partner in a creative design business, were each placed on a day reporting order (DRO) for three months and a community service order (CSO).

Lo, who pleaded guilty to seven of 15 charges of mischief, will have to perform 240 hours of community service within 12 months.

Chong was given 160 hours of community service. He had faced seven charges, but admitted to only three. Two were of abetting Lo to commit mischief by acting as her lookout. The other was of jointly affixing a sticker that read "So Kancheong For What" on a "Scramble Walk" pedestrian sign. Kancheong is a Cantonese term for anxious. The offences were committed in the Central Business District last May.

Under the DRO, they must report to a reporting centre on a regular basis for supervision and undergo counselling and rehabilitation.

Chong's lawyer Kenneth Pereira said details of the community service will have to be ironed out.

Lo had spray-painted the words "My Grandfather Road" on Telegraph Road, Maxwell Road, Robinson Road, Mariam Way in Changi and Old Tampines Road.

With the help of Chong, she also spray-painted in red the words "My Grandfather Building" on the wall of the Realty Centre. The graffiti was removed and the wall was repainted at a cost of $3,500.

The cost of removing the adhesive stickers and paint was about $30 to $40 in each case.

Circular stickers with phrases including "No Need To Press So Many Times" and "Stop Looking At Your Phone" were also found on traffic-light controller boxes and pedestrian walkways.

Passing sentence, District Judge Christopher Goh noted that both did not agree to be placed on a DRO as it could disrupt their work and daily lives. "I found this unacceptable. I am sure that there is enough flexibility in the DRO scheme to cater for most of the concerns that either accused person may have," he said.

Lo's lawyer Derek Kang and Mr Pereira had urged the court to impose a CSO and not a DRO, and cut the community service to 180 hours and 120 hours respectively.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Lee How Khang had no objection to a stand-alone CSO or a combination of the two orders, but would object if only a DRO was given.

After the sentences were handed out, Lo, in a slim-fitting grey suit, said she did not have anything to say about the sentence. Asked what she intended to do with her art, she shrugged: "We'll see how it goes."

Chong, who donned a khaki army jacket and cap on leaving court, thanked Mr Pereira and his MP, Law Minister K. Shanmugam, for interceding on his behalf.

He added that he would have to "fine-tune" his travel schedule to meet his DRO obligations.

The maximum penalty for mischief is one year's jail and a fine.

'Sticker' Lady -Hri Kumar
as a SOTA student... -Ruby Thiagarajan

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