On Monday 4th June 2012, the news agencies of Singapore reported (link) that the local street artist known only as Sticker Lady, whose work has been a recent talking point in Singapore, has been arrested. Currently Sticker Lady has been released on bail following being held in police lock up for about 20 hours. As of now she has not been charged by the police but that may change pending the outcome police investigation.
The news of her arrest of has sparked a debate amongst Singaporeans about what are the differences between art and graffiti. Let us be clear from the start: Graffiti is an art form. Like all art, graffiti is a spontaneous form of self expression that reflects and comments on the cultural zeitgeist of a society. The key word here being spontaneous. Art without spontaneity is limp and lifeless – the same things that many have said about Singapore.
There are those who say that supporting Sticker Lady’s work “puts our ethics and value system in question” (link). And that is perhaps Sticker Lady’s lone crime: she has dared to take what we have all thought privately at one point or another and gave that thought life, meaning and expression through her stickers and street art.
Comments such as the one that musician Inch Chua highlighted in the previously mentioned link only serve to remind us of this: Singapore has become such a repressed society, that anyone who takes it upon themselves to express any semblance of individual, creative thought is frowned upon and consequently will be gagged -- If not by our own institutions, then by our own society. We are a society so engineered that it would consider any social deviants to be aberrations that would erode and eventually destroy our “ethics and value system.” It is the same slippery slope argument that people have clung onto for years to perpetuate our culture of risk adversity and cling stubbornly to the past. We are a humorless nation of frowns that collectively glowers at anything that holds a mirror up to our faces.
The question of whether Sticker Lady committed the crime of vandalism (the likely charge to be levied against her pending investigations) solely rests on the question of intent. Did Sticker Lady create her stickers with malicious intent? Did her choices in the content of her work and where the stickers were pasted reflect any form of malevolence on her part? Did spray painting of my grandfather road on certain parts of the city display an aim on her part to stir up trouble?
If one had to go by the specific photographic examples of her work as shown here, the answer would be no. Her droll uses of singlish and strategic placement of her stickers provoke a visceral instinct within us to earnestly laugh at ourselves and our societal norms. Sticker Lady’s work is an art form precisely because its presence has added character, emotion and color to our otherwise sterile cityscape.
Be honest with yourselves for a minute. How many of you have ever looked at the button on a traffic light and had the thought, press some more, run through your head? Now ask yourself: Who did Sticker Lady really hurt when she added a little color to the Singaporean landscape with her artistic commentary? After all for there to be a crime, there has to be a victim who has suffered at her hands in one way or another. In this case, the only victim is our own inability to laugh at ourselves. And that says a lot about our society does it not?