The Writing on the Wall
Kolesnikov-Jessop, Sonia, Newsweek
Byline: Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop
Like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat before him, graffiti artist Daze made the move from spray-painting walls in New York to exhibiting canvases in art galleries around the world: Tokyo, Zurich, Miami, even Iowa City, Iowa. But his latest exhibition is opening in a really unexpected location: Singapore. Spray-painting is still a rare sight there, where it's still mostly associated with acts of vandalism punishable by up to three years in jail or eight strokes of the cane. Only recently a publicity stunt by the postal service involving a masked man spray-painting six mailboxes backfired when scandalized Singaporeans called the police. But a couple of weeks ago, Daze completed a commissioned giant canvas standing in front of a public outdoor amphitheater, all under the watchful--if not puzzled--glare of security guards. The piece (a woman's eye swimming in a sea of colorful words) is now installed in a shopping center, protected by a rope.
Singapore hardly rivals New York or London, but it's working hard to develop a more forward-looking cultural scene. As usual, this new direction is largely rooted in economic considerations. Like Dubai or Hong Kong, the small city-state understands that it can gain a competitive edge on its neighbors by showing a vibrant and multifaceted cultural face. "Singapore ranks high on global-competitiveness indices as a place to do business," says Lui Tuck Yew, the acting minister for information, communications, and the arts. "But where we have room to improve further is actually on the softer issues, the softer aspects--the cultural areas, the arts--to make this place an even more livable city."
One of Singapore's three economic priorities over the next decade is to transform itself into a "distinctive global city" and a "leading cultural capital. …