This trip was not supposed to have anything to do with graffiti; after all, I came here as an invited art education specialist and audition panelist only to visit the School of the Arts, SOTA. Besides, Singapore must be one of the most anti graffiti countries on this planet – at least if I am to trust the taxi driver, to whom I happened to mention my research interest in graffiti during the journey from the airport to my hotel.
–Here people get caned if they are caught doing graffiti, he said and laughed. –People always praise Singapore for appearing so tidy and safe, not realising that it comes with a heavy price. –For vandalism you can even get a life sentence, and for drug importing the penalty can be death.
The driver carried on telling how just a few weeks ago some girl (“Sticker Lady”) had been caught pasting her sticker art on traffic light poles and also spray painting her mark on the road, and now she would stand for a trial. Then there was the American youth who stayed here with his parents and started tagging along, maybe out of boredom. He was caught (which would be quite easy today with youtube and all, where people leave proof of their actions) and finally caned, despite his parents, many art people, and even the presindent of the United States critizising the punishment and asking for him to be pardoned. The only thing possibly achieved by the international protests was that the amount of cane strokes the boy received was cut down to “only” five or four.
There was also this Australian man with his friend who tresspassed a carefully guarded train depot and tagged some trains. Their act nearly caused a national security crisis: if these foreigners could enter those forbidden areas, then who would not be able to? –These people don’t seem to understand how much harm a little act of vandalism can cause here, said the taxi driver. Furthermore, it was hard for him to understand why the Australian guy, a man in high position in his job, would take such a risk of losing it all.
Evidently, and luckily, these stories only add up to one part of the short history of street art in Singapore. According to the taxi driver there is also quite an amount of legal graffiti here, wall paintings made with permission.
Legal or illegal, it seems that this trip is going to have something to do with graffiti after all…