NAC pulled grant from comic as it 'potentially undermines the authority of the Government'

The National Arts Council (NAC) has come out to say that it pulled a $8,000 grant from a local graphic novel titled The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye because the comic's content 'potentially undermines the authority or legitimacy' of the Singapore Go
The National Arts Council (NAC) has come out to say that it pulled a $8,000 grant from a local graphic novel titled The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye because the comic's content 'potentially undermines the authority or legitimacy' of the Singapore Government. -- PHOTO: EPIGRAM BOOKS/ SONNY LIEW

SINGAPORE - The National Arts Council (NAC) has come out to say that it pulled a $8,000 grant from a local graphic novel because the comic's content "potentially undermines the authority or legitimacy" of the Singapore Government.

The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, by comic artist Sonny Liew, tells the story of a Singaporean artist of satirical comics against the backdrop of almost 60 years of local history.

It had been awarded a grant of $8,000 from the NAC before publication, but news broke last week that this had been revoked.

At the time, Mr Khor Kok Wah, senior director of the NAC's literary arts sector, said only that the grant had been withdrawn because "its sensitive content, depicted in visuals and text, did not meet our funding conditions". He did not specify what these conditions were.

But on Wednesday, Mr Khor elaborated on the decision to withdraw funding for the graphic.

"The retelling of Singapore's history in the graphic novel potentially undermines the authority of legitimacy of the Government and its public institutions and thus breaches our funding guidelines, which are published online and are well known in the arts community," he said.

"Applications (for NAC grants) are assessed on their artistic merit, but any proposed content should not infringe funding guidelines," added Mr Khor in a letter in the Today newspaper.

He was responding to an earlier letter to Today, published on Monday, which had asked the NAC to explain why it had withdrawn the grant and to reconsider its decision.

The letter's writer, Mr Shawn Low, had described the NAC's failure to elaborate on the reasons for its move as "taking a seemingly 'schoolmaster' approach to the arts: 'Do something we deem wrong or inappropriate, and we will withdraw the support we had promised.'"

"This approach goes against the spirit of artistic expression," Mr Low added.

Some $6,400 of the grant has already been disbursed, according to the graphic novel's publisher Epigram Books, but this will be returned to the NAC.

Grants are withdrawn very infrequently, said Mr Khor, adding in his letter on Wednesday that the NAC has spoken to both the artist and the publisher on the rationale for the withdrawal.

"We always make extra efforts to explain to affected parties," he said.

The NAC receives many grant applications every year and in 2013, awards were given to nearly 1,200 applicants across all major art forms, Mr Khor added.

The 324-page graphic novel, which is sold out in several bookstores and on Epigram Books' website, features appearances by Singapore's first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his political rival Lim Chin Siong.