A debate over public art

Debate over art is rare in Singapore, so I thought the recent furore over the Samsui woman mural was good to get people thinking about different issues.

What happened: A mural in Singapore depicting a Samsui woman holding a cigarette sparked debate when the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) ordered the cigarette erased, citing anti-smoking policies and an anonymous complaint.

Critics, including the artist and online commenters, viewed this as censorship and historical revisionism, arguing the cigarette was a minor but realistic detail of the Samsui woman’s life. The URA defended its decision, emphasizing Singapore’s strong anti-smoking stance and public image concerns. The ensuing public outcry led the URA to reconsider its decision and delay any changes to the mural.

My few cents:

1. Hey, rules are rules.

One fact that people might have missed is that the mural was never approved by the URA to begin with.

2. Why not get creative with minimal effort?

There’s no need to replace the cigarette in the mural. If I were the artist, I would just paint a colourful box over the cigarette and its smoke with the words, “Not Approved.” That’s also a form of artistic expression. Yes, I’m naughty that way.

3. This debate got me thinking about how sterile buildings in Singapore look.

Sure, there are brighter colour palettes these days, but as I drove through different districts, I felt kind of sad that we’re just surrounded by numbing rows and columns of concrete and glass. I wish there were more murals, statues, and other forms of artistic expression to spice up our urban landscape.

(Image from CNA, 22 Jun 2024)