Student Research for Singapore Street Art Culture

Students often approach me for guidance. I am happy to oblige if they are polite and does not ask questions that has already been addressed in this blog. As a rule, I will publish my answers or their essay for the benefit of future scholars.
Richard Kua, a 4th year student at the Singapore Management University Lee Kong Chian School of Business sent me an email.

Hi Kamal,
I’m Richard, 4th year student from SMU, currently working a project regarding on the Street Artist, Banksy. Recently, I’ve found an article regarding on an interview about the street art in Singapore with you which I found truly insightful. Hence, I hope that you can guide me with the following questions we have for our project.

1) Do you think we have “Singapore Banksy” over here? If not, why?
Why do we need to imitate? To expect a Singapore “anything” is rather regressive. As an artist one should strive to be original rather than become a copy and walk behind that shadow. However, I do understand what you are trying to ask. Someone as original, enterprising and internationally successful like Banksy, I doubt there is an artist in Singapore that even come close. Probably because Singapore is a small place. We have a small population that is very diverse thus we lack critical mass in our domestic audience. There are many other reasons that I could blame for our lack of original talent but I shall not elaborate on that here, it would be lengthier than a PhD dissertation.


2) As an Artist in this area, do you face any difficulties in Singapore? Compared to any peers you know, will it be alot easier in the foreign countries?
There are difficulties everywhere. Do not assume that graffiti is legal elsewhere. Off course in some places you may get away lightly if caught while in Singapore the punishment is severe. Graffiti as a crime is vandalism and that by the Singapore penal code is not simply an act of mischief but a serious offense punishable with caning. It is because the law was written at a time when communist propaganda is a national threat. In addition to that, Singapore as a city is very efficient and is well maintained. So its really nothing you could do here without being caught or buffed instantly. But then again, there are positive aspects to it as graffiti artists are viewed as artists and not pests as the public here are not victims of graffiti. Graffiti visual is seen as youthful and hip hence artists get commissions for painting at events, murals and some of i for government agencies.


3) There’s Singapore Street Festival organised every year since 2006. Do you think this portal is enough for our Artists in Singapore?
I’ve never been involved in it. I suppose they are good for youths as one of the activity during the school holiday and is decent enough for the artists that got involved in such events. Besides, there are other events where artists get to do their thing. I suppose all the happenings are good enough for the small community of street artists. There is not many who are seriously into this genre of art.


4) What’s the difference between Graffiti and Aerosol Art? Do most of the graffiti art we see in Singapore carry any stories or meanings behind? Or is it purely for a form aesthetic?
Graffiti is the art of writing that has foundation and a system defined by technical jargons such as tagging, throw-ups, wild-style, pieces, etc. Legal or illegal is another story. Aerosol art is a term for anything that uses spray paint. In Singapore like elsewhere in the world if you are into graffiti, you quickly pick-up the terms try to be ‘real’. Though it appears aesthetic, its always about pushing their name (tag) or brand (character).


5) Last but not least, do you think the government/Singaporeans have given enough support on Street Art? Explain.
Yes and recently no. We used to have a skate park at Somerset MRT that anyone could spray freely. Recently, someone tried to organise an event without the proper permits and the authorities got worried and started closing the place. Till today, you can only spray if you make a formal application with *scape who runs the place. Its not the same anymore. So this is a really is a lame place for urban/street/graffiti artists but the few of us are able to find our avenue without having a brush with the law.

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