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Wed 23 Nov 2011 05:16 PM

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Graffiti as art in order-conscious Singapore

Urban art festivals helping to push graffiti ‘taggers’ into the spotlight

Graffiti as art in order-conscious Singapore
Protestors in Libya used urban art to urge the downfall of Gaddafi

In an industrial park near Singapore's harbor, a group of
people spray-paint a wall with the bright colors and rebellious swirls of
graffiti.

Under other circumstances,
their action would lead to prompt arrest. But the "taggers" are
artists taking part in a performance highlighting the urban art form.

Graffiti is seriously frowned
upon in Singapore. Last year, a Swiss man was jailed and caned for vandalism
after he spray-painted a subway train.

But the perception in the
city-state that graffiti is nothing more than vandalism by wayward youth is
changing, thanks in part to art festivals like the one at the industrial
estate, part of the Voilah! French Festival Singapore.

"There is still a sense
of graffiti as anti-social behavior, but when people see it in a gallery, it
becomes an artistic endeavor," said Howard Rutkowski who helped organize
the event and exhibited 72 pieces of graffiti art on canvas at a gallery in the
estate.

Even among aficionados,
though, the purpose of the art form is open to debate.

Two years ago, a group of
graffiti artists found themselves barred from the only government-sanctioned
arena where spray painting is allowed, a youth park in a shopping district.

The reason given was that
they wanted to spray paint messages in support of children victimized by the
Palestine-Israel conflict.

"Graffiti is not
political, it is a form of expression, something to be explored in the
city," said Yann Lazou, one of the Frenchmen painting the wall in the
industrial park.

Graffiti art is proving
popular.

One piece sold for €7,500 at
the exhibition, snapped up by a European collector. Two pieces by Dubai-based
graffiti artists Sya and Bow went for about S$2,000 ($1,540) each at a separate
event.

But even as graffiti gains
among collectors, its acceptance appears to be qualified.

"Graffiti on a
cardboard or canvas as a form of painting is a piece of art. But graffiti
painting cars or walls is irresponsible," said Singaporean art collector
Elson Ng.

Singapore graffiti artist
Shah Rizzal, who also took part in the event, hopes his country will some day
grow to view his work favourably and embrace it on a larger scale and more
openly.

"Perhaps graffiti will
one day grow beyond the gallery and infiltrate the institutional space,"
he said.

But that may take some more
time. Even for the event, the artists didn't paint on a real wall but on a
special, temporary one erected for the performance.

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