Vincent Leow, artist behind sketch removed from Esplanade, responds to criticism

A passerby looking at the painting formerly featured in BLANK, an open art exhibition by Singapore artist Vincent Leow on display outside the library@Esplanade. It was removed from public display on June 6.
A passerby looking at the painting formerly featured in BLANK, an open art exhibition by Singapore artist Vincent Leow on display outside the library@Esplanade. It was removed from public display on June 6.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - The artist behind a sketch that was recently removed from The Esplanade where it had been on display since April 13 said he was "surprised" by the outcry from some members of the public over the artwork.

The drawing shows what appears to be a nude, pink-hued human figure and a creature that resembles a rooster. In his first public comments on the controversy, Singapore artist Vincent Leow said there was no intention to cause offence with the piece.

"This work was made in 1989, when I was working in The Art Village," the 57-year-old told The Straits Times.

Founded by contemporary artist Tang Da Wu in 1988, the artist colony was converted from a kampung space located in Lorong Gambas.

Working in a studio that was previously a chicken coop, Mr Leow said his interest in how farmers have had to give up their land for development was the inspiration behind the "abstract sketch".

It was displayed on the Community Wall on the third level of The Esplanade, which also featured several other loose drawings by the same artist. Entitled BLANK, the exhibition of Mr Leow's sketches and loose drawings are from his 30-year journey as an artist.

The sketch was removed after the group Singaporeans Defending Marriage and Family (SDMF) accused The Esplanade of "promoting bestiality" in an area where "many kids walk past". SDMF, which is known to be critical of the local Pink Dot advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights, had flagged Mr Leow’s sketch in a post on its Facebook page on June 5. 

 

Mr Leow said the purpose of the sketch was to explore the relationship between man and his natural environment, and the way we think about nature and development.

There was "no specific reason" for the nude portrayal, he added, and it was not unusual, as artists usually depict humans in their "purest form".

"Art is a process... where I am free to explore and experiment with colour," he said.

"When my own children visit exhibitions with nudity or when they watch difficult scenes on TV, if they ask questions I will explain it to them."

"I don't even have to explain it to them sometimes. It (nudity) is part of one's everyday exposure to the world. The children today see so many things that even I don't know," Mr Leow added.

He said he "did not understand why this small group of people can have this weird and perverse perception of this work... and influence people into thinking this perception".

The Esplanade announced it was removing the artwork on June 6, after a discussion with Mr Leow.

In a statement then, CEO-designate Yvonne Tham said it was "solely Esplanade's error of judgement", adding that the Community Wall "may not be the most appropriate space to present this drawing, as it is a public thoroughfare with no opportunity for an advisory".

Mr Leow said that he “has fully understood and agreed with Esplanade to not continue to display the artwork at the Community Wall”.

Since the sketch was removed, the art community has rallied around Mr Leow, while SDMF has continued attacking The Esplanade and Mr Leow on its Facebook page.

Mr Leow said that the controversy will not cause him to practise self-censorship. He added: "As an artist I'm not going to tell myself: I'm not going to do this."

"I have my own creative process, I do what I do. I don't know when, but I hope that these people will understand my work better someday."