Esplanade removes drawing by artist Vincent Leow after concerns about 'bestiality'

The drawing by Vincent Leow (centre row, far right) has been on display since April 13 on the Community Wall on the third level of the Esplanade.
The drawing by Vincent Leow (centre row, far right) has been on display since April 13 on the Community Wall on the third level of the Esplanade.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM ESPLANADE.COM

SINGAPORE - The Esplanade removed a drawing by Singapore artist Vincent Leow, after the artwork drew complaints from some members of the public for what they saw as its obscene content.

The drawing shows what appears to be a naked human figure and a creature that resembles a rooster, and is part of an exhibition featuring Mr Leow's sketches and loose drawings. The artworks have been on display since April 13 on the Community Wall on the third level of the Esplanade, outside the library@esplanade.

When The Straits Times visited the Esplanade at 12.45pm on Wednesday, the drawing had already been taken down.

On Tuesday morning (June 5), a group called Singaporeans Defending Marriage and Family flagged the painting in a Facebook post, accusing the Esplanade of "promoting bestiality" and expressing concerns that the artwork could likely be seen by children during the school holidays.

"Is Esplanade shamefully promoting Pink Dot's 'Freedom To Love'?", wrote the group, which is known to be critical of the local Pink Dot advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.

On Wednesday morning, Ms Yvonne Tham, Esplanade chief executive-designate, said that after discussing with Mr Leow, "we have agreed to not continue displaying the drawing, given that the public space at Esplanade’s Community Wall does not allow opportunity for an advisory and is visited by a wide range of visitors, including families". 

"We appreciate Vincent's understanding of the situation, which arose solely from Esplanade's error of judgement in exercising our responsibility to both artist and audience for presenting work in the appropriate space and context," she added in a statement.

In an earlier statement on Tuesday night, Ms Tham said that Esplanade was trying to get in touch with Mr Leow to discuss how best to review the display of the painting in question.

She said: "We wish to assure the public that in presenting the exhibition, we had no intent to promote or advocate for any stance. As is often the case with art, viewers are free to draw their own interpretations of a drawing that is not a realistic rendering."

Ms Tham added in her earlier statement: "In this case, in view of the strong feedback we have received from some members of the public, 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. This is solely Esplanade's error of judgement."

The Esplanade had approached Mr Leow to present an exhibition of his sketchbooks and loose drawings, she said. He agreed and "had, in good faith, curated a selection of his sketchbooks and drawings which give an interesting and invaluable insight to his artistic practice".

The Straits Times has reached out to Mr Leow, who has sparked controversy in the past for his edgy art performances, for comment.

On Tuesday night, visitors at The Esplanade were divided over whether the drawing, which was then still on the Community Wall at the time, was displayed appropriately.

Madam Teo Han Cheng, a retiree in her 70s, said the artwork appeals to adults not children, and agreed a relocation should be considered. But she added that she understood the value of such public displays, which she said can give an artist much needed exposure.

Ms Hui Lim, 26, a bank officer, said the content of the drawing might be inappropriate from a parent's point of view. She suggested that the exhibition be moved to an enclosed space instead.

A father of two daughters who gave his name only as Mr Zaini, who works in the delivery business, said he did not see a need for the artwork's relocation. He felt the art works were not obscene, but educational and interesting.

"Parents should explain to them that this is art. When your children go to school, they will learn about it (nudity) behind our backs anyway," said the 35-year-old.