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Chin Chow With… Samantha Lo

Have you heard of skl0’s street packs? They sold out within the hour they were put up on sale on Samantha Lo’s website. Lo individually packed about 200 of them into envelopes and wrote out all the addresses by hand – twice for those who opted for registered mail, which she told us caused a big hold up at the post office. It sounds like a heck lot of work for one person to handle, but “this is for love man,” said Lo smiling.

The support should not come as such a surprise. Last year, 14,000 people signed a petition for leniency on her case. “I’m extremely grateful because if not for them it wouldn’t have pushed my case to the forefront.” she said.

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What could have been a charge for vandalism – which warrants caning and jail time, became a charge for seven counts of mischief. Earlier this year in May, Lo was sentenced to a milder 240 hours of community service as well as a 3 Months Day Reporting Order, which some might argue as injustice. With recent Gallup polls, her work could be regarded as sufficient service to our community, after all they have brought on plenty of smiles and laughs for most who have seen it.

All the same, we met up with Lo at EatPlayLove, the cafe just at Aliwal Arts Centre where the art crew RSCLS which she works with holds their studio. She ordered herself a cup of chin chow, whether intentional or not, her choice of beverage worked perfectly for our August theme – All Things Local.

Like her work, Lo is straightforward and to the point, answering each of our questions with precision and full intent. Recollecting last years events, Lo told us that she was arrested and placed under 20 hours police custody just days after she had graduated from her degree in business management. It all seemed like a unrecoverable downward spiral, but on the contrary Lo is doing amazing things at the moment.

Currently, she is in high demand, having recently done commissioned works with the Night Safari and Sentosa, she has so far had plenty of opportunity to outdo the work she was first known for. Some would even call her a maverick or even a martyr for braving the ordeal. There is no doubt that she has made her way into our history books and given us something to think about. But even with the support, she acknowledges that there will always be haters, especially those who label her as a sell-out for doing more commercial works.

Lo brushed off the negativity and explained her choices to us. “I focus on the issue. For the Night Safari, I just wanted to spread the word of conservation. I agreed to do it because of the message.”

“For Sentosa I agreed to it because I could put up anything I wanted to put up and I had great chemistry with the team. They were really supportive. How often can someone boast that they have their own creative space?” she said.

Lo made it clear that she is thoughtful of her work choices and makes sure it stays in line with her work ethic and philosophy. “I choose my clients, sometimes I get stupid offers. I know the intention is really to market on what I have.” she said discerningly.

Attributing her inspiration for her work to Singaporeans, she lays out what motivates her to carry on with her work.

I cannot forget how I came about doing these things in the first place. Their (Singaporean’s) work, stories, their experiences. They really play a huge part in my work and it’s all I ever do. It’s really from them that I get all my inspiration and the basis for my work.

Though she hates being dubbed “Sticker Lady”, she embraces the style which she is known for.“I’ve come to terms with the fact that people recognize me for the Singlish. It’s my way of making Singapore feel like Singapore again. It was a common ground and an inside joke for all of us.” she said.

Lo identifies herself an urban artist not a street artist, she makes the distinction because her work is not just limited to the streets. “My message is based very much on the urban environment, pretty much social issues. It’s always been about that. If I don’t base anything about that then it wouldn’t make sense.”

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Speaking from her experience with her online magazine RCGNTN, she spent three years building it up and struggled to reconcile with the little attention and respect for local artists. Her endeavor was to create a platform for local talent, but there seemed to be something amiss in the Singapore Culture equation. To her, it did not balance. “That’s why I started with what it means to be Singaporean. That feeling, that relevance.”

Lo shared how she would spend hours a day learning new design techniques, carefully curating content for her website and debating with herself whether to include advertisements. But being articulate and precise in her expression of thoughts did not cut it, she turned to street art as a medium because it would reach the man on the street.

An art show will only attract a certain amount of people. Even if you put a website up, what makes you so sure people will give a shit about what you are saying?

She had noticed the limited reach her work achieved and sought for an avenue that will invoke a real and organic response from the masses and not just the selected few.

“I wanted to dig deeper into the issue, how are we affected by everything around us that we’ve become short attention people and having so much information but not knowing what to do with it.” she said.

Given the limitations of street art, Lo was careful and superbly intentional when she designed her stickers. “I used humour, I used Singlish and I used four words. That’s it. And I made it fit into surroundings. I adapted things and made them fit. It had to get people in less than 5 seconds.” she said, explaining why her work’s potency.

With other interviews with the press, she explained that it was her attempt to reclaim spaces for Singaporeans. She expounded on that and said, “I want you to feel like this is home I want you to feel like this is where you belong. I want to use what’s real.”.

My work is meant for the masses. Taken from them and reflected back to them, reinterpreting it in the way they would actually see it.
– Sam Lo

Lo went further to explain that her efforts were not inspired by a political awakening from the 2011 general elections but by a personal eureka. Her logic behind it is undeniable and honestly practical.

“We are the ones responsible for the next wave of Singaporeans and we’re responsible for taking over this island real soon and not just that. For the number of prostitutes on the streets, the number of corrupt officials and homeless people on the streets. If we feel something for this place then we would know how to naturally react to this place.”

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When asked what was her best moment through this experience so far, she shared that it was right after she was released from her arrest. “After lock up was a low period but the moment I opened my laptop and saw that what I did could move people to do something and say something. The best part is that moment. That solidarity.”

That solidarity does not come often in a land like Singapore. And if you examine Lo’s whole episode, it really is not just about vandalism or stickers. The heart of the matter is how Singaporeans can still be mobilized to react and fight for something that they believe belongs to them, and all it took was a person, a sticker, and an artful idea.

Creative Commons License

Text by Poached Mag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

 Image Credits: Annette Khaw

Coffee With.. is a monthly art series where we feature homegrown artists who are making a stamp of identity in Singapore. We hunt them down at their favourite coffee haunts to find out what makes their creative minds tick and find out what lies outside of their day-jobs. We drop a film camera with them and catch them a few weeks later to see what it is like to look through their eyes in an everyday situation. Check back with Poached Mag later this month!

Arts Writer. Eugenia strongly believes that the Singapore Arts scene will grow bigger and stronger, just like its cousin- Politics. She gets herself involved in debates about the two which have resulted in a couple premature frown lines, but she enjoys talking about both nonetheless.

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