Sticker Lady—What Would You Do If She Were Your Daughter?

From Kirsten Han@funnylittleworld

What would you do if Sticker Lady were your daughter? (Or son?) Would you

  • High-five her for her genius and boast, “She gets it from me!”;
  • Thump her on the head for being so blur – “Never see surveillance camera, ah?”;
  • Be flippin’ FURIOUS she got herself into trouble and appeared in the papers for “this kind of thing”;
  • Tell her she should have known better and needs to “face the music”.

Or maybe, maybe you’re scared out of your wits the police appeared at your door and took your child away that you don’t care about the morality/artistic value/intent of what she did or didn’t do – you just want to make sure it NEVER.HAPPENS.AGAIN.

Much has been written about Sticker Lady since her arrest on Sunday, 3 June 2012. It has stirred debate over vandalism versus (street) art, and the “fairness” of punishing all “vandals” equally.

When I read the New Paper’s report on 6 June 2012 though, I remember thinking: Wonder how Samantha’s father felt when the police showed up at their doorstep, and took his daughter away. After all, he was clueless about what she’d been up to. In the article, her father described her as “quite traumatised and distressed” since the arrest.

I started to wonder what I would do, as a parent, if Sticker Lady were my daughter (or son). Amidst all this discussion about the line between art and vandalism, what happens to a person’s spirit, a family’s unity, when what may have been tongue-in-cheek works of creative expression (some also say political subversion), leads to serious consequences – a potential jail sentence of up to three years, a $2,000 fine (and caning, if the person were male).

So I asked other parents: What would you do if Sticker Lady were your daughter?

*Note: The following images were credited to Sticker Lady on the Internet.*

Yvonne Chng, mother of 3 girls:

First off I don’t consider her work to be vandalism and so I do not think she should be punished. Vandalism is the deliberate destruction or damage to property. Given that her stickers appear to have been well received, it is not unreasonable to conclude that members of the public who came across her work had responded to them as art rather than as destruction or damage to property. But now that she has been caught after LTA made a police report about the spray paint on roads, it is surprising to find some members of the public now placing her work in the same category as that of loanshark runners, even those who proclaimed that they like her work.

So say sticker lady were my daughter and she has been caught for “vandalism”. Because I don’t believe she has committed a crime and she in fact brightened many people’s day with her work, I would tell her that I am very proud of her for her positive contribution to our urban landscape and how the law eventually chooses to deal with her doesn’t change that. I would remind her that St Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake for heresy. Fortunately the punishment for vandalism isn’t burning at the stake so she will live to tell of her sacrifice for her art and her beliefs!

It is natural for a mother to want to protect her child but life is not fair and everyone suffers injustices some time or other. So rather than attempt to keep my child safe by encouraging her to follow societal norms, I would raise her to be resilient. So long as she has not done anything against her good conscience, she should stay strong however unfair the consequences she is made to face.

Perry Tan, father of a 2-yr old girl:

I’d be initially surprised but I suppose I’ll get over the initial shock rather quickly. Think I’ll be rather amused and even quite proud of her. It takes an aesthetic eye, wit, good sensitivity to culture, passion and gutsy quirkiness to do what she did. I’ll definitely try my best to defend her against any disciplinary action the authorities want to bring to bear on her, not because I’m her father but because I truly think there is more value than harm in her deed of mild deviance. I’d participate with her in the very debates that ensue, art vs vandalism, the notion of public vs private space, the current state of the local art scene, etc. If she’s slapped with a fine, I’ll split the fine 50-50 (she has to be responsible for her own actions but I would want to show my support as a dad) with her. If she’s asked to perform Corrective Work Order, I’ll sweep the roads with her, perhaps donning a suitably worded sticker-adorned t-shirt. If she’s sentenced to jail, I’d kick up a public ruckus to demonstrate the absurdity of the punishment. It’ll be an awesome father-daughter bonding experience that we’d both remember for life, and laugh at decades later.

Now, please excuse me – I have to go teach my two year old girl how to spray paint…

Vincent, father of 3:

Remember Dead Poet’s Society? Unleashing a young impressionable talent too early and without restraint can have unintended and tragic consequences. Adults are experienced enough to know the difference and if we do the same as SKLO, we do it with our eyes open whereas young ones, like my children perhaps, may do so unthinkingly with dire consequences.

Having said that, I draw a line between art and people. I would teach my children to lay down their lives for people but there’s no need to break the law and pay the price of even going to jail for art 😉 For sure, there is a place for art but this needs to balance with upholding public decency and keeping with law and order…in this case, spray painting a wall or road is vandalism while chalk art is not ~ since it can be wiped or washed away.

Joo Hymn, mother of 3:

After my initial shock at her arrest, and the possibility of her going to jail, my second reaction would probably be surprise that she was the one behind those stickers that had been photographed so much! And after I have calmed down, I would probably be quite proud of her. The stickers are short and sharp, social commentaries in their own way. They also raise a laugh when we impatiently wait for the light to change, a laugh that may be tinged with slight discomfort or embarrassment.

And then on the practical side, I would then speak to as many people as I can about the best way to go about advocating for her, get people talking about the issue, and sway the court of public opinion in her favour (it’s not vandalism a la Michael Fay, it’s street art!). And also shop around for the best lawyer for this case, someone who’s sincere, earnest, believes in her cause, and who hasn’t offended anybody that matters.

At the end of all the doing, I will pray that her karma has been good enough to keep her out of jail. (Ok, that last sentence is self-contradictory, but as they say, there are no atheists in fox holes!)

Eve@thebottomsupblog, mother of 2:

My daughter’s only six so it’s hard for me to imagine her as a 25-year-old sticker perpetrator. If she does become an artist in future, the idealist in me will hope that she’ll always follow her heart, while the true-blue Singaporean in me will probably hold my breath and keep my fingers crossed that she’ll play it smart. It does make me sad that we are such a humourless nation clinging on to our dictionary definitions of law and order. Someone mentioned to me that if the AOL squatter Eric Simons had pulled his stunt in Singapore, that would’ve been the end of his story, and I agree. We can laugh at Simons and applaud him because he’s from someplace far, far away. Here in this country, we have an almost irrational fear of mess. Freedom is messy business; so is creativity and unconventional behaviour. Until we learn to let go a little, all we’ll be good for is snuffing out people, at least in spirit. Perhaps as parents in Singapore, this is our greatest challenge.

In my view, people who call for Sticker Lady to be punished as severely as Michael Fay, in order “to be fair”, hold on to a narrow and misleading view of “fairness”, one that is stripped entirely of context and any need for the exercise of moral reasoning (which, I believe, distinguishes us as humans). If we did, we would understand, unlike this lawyer cited in the Straits Times, that Samantha’s creative work is by no means equivalent to drawing a yellow line outside one’s house to stop cars blocking the driveway.

[This is the actual quote from a lawyer in the Straits Times article, Doubts over leniency call for ‘Sticker Lady’. A lawyer who was interviewed said: “Where do you draw the line?…If I draw a yellow line outside my house to stop cars blocking my driveway, is that art or graffiti?”]

When it comes to punishment, I believe proportionality should be a guiding principle – both at home and in the courts. When Sticker Lady is facing a penalty heavier than that for drink driving, which is hazardous and shows a blatant disregard for human lives, one needs to question and challenge the law. Especially when we read that the Vandalism Act, enacted in 1966, was first established to “curb public political campaigns“.

Then comes the challenging part – consequences. If I know that Action A potentially leads to Consequence B, and I willingly undertake it anyway, what is the responsible thing to do? Am I being an irresponsible parent if I ask for my child to go completely unpunished for “defacing” public property, no matter how wittily and thoughtfully?

It seems that compromise is the preferred choice of action – the petition going around aims to reduce Sticker Lady’s charge, rather than campaigning for her to not be charged at all. Perhaps underlying this is a need to be seen as reasonable, coupled with a fear that we are being too permissive if there was no punishment at all, that we are encouraging a culture of recklessness and disrespect for public property and the upholding of laws. (In other words, sticker anarchy!) A part of me sort of accepts this, another part of me thinks there is actually insufficient empirical evidence to support this fear.

So, what if Matt were Sticker Lady? (Sticker Baby!)

I would like my child, by the time he becomes an adult, to understand that while not all laws are just nor social conventions reasonable, breaking them entails a risk, and he must be prepared to face the consequences. But if his motives are pure, his methods peaceful, and his courage comes from wisdom – not ego – I will support him through this process. I will not chastise him for being a troublemaker, ask him why he is making our lives so difficult, or tell him I am disappointed in him. I will publicly stand by his side, even as a media storm erupts around him, and share the experience of growing stronger and wiser through it.

At least, that is how I hope I will respond. Matt is currently all of 9-months old. There is a lot of time between now and when he learns how to stencil.

To sign the petition to reduce Sticker Lady’s charge, click here.

For more on the Arts Community Town Hall Meeting to discuss the issues surrounding Sticker Lady’s arrest this Tuesday, June 12, 7pm to 10pm, click here or here. It takes place at White House, Emily Hill, 11 Upper Wilkie Road.

For some links on SKLO, aka Sticker Lady, see here.

To listen to Singaporean artist Ho Rui An discuss the Sticker Lady case on the BBC’s World Service, click here.




6 thoughts on “Sticker Lady—What Would You Do If She Were Your Daughter?

  1. I loved the part about lawyers, and the interviews you got – especially the response from Perry Tan!

    As a designer myself, I really like skl0’s creations, and for that, we have created a website that automatically generates sticker labels for those who have quirky one liners in their head and would like some stickers to call their own! Please do check out, it is the hard work of two ladies after 3 days and 3 nights! : )

  2. Excellent post! If it were any (or all!) of my three kids who were the one/s responsible for this, I’d probably berate them for crossing that LINE, after I thump them on the back and admit I have my collection of pictures from the internet taken of their creations.

    What’s that LINE? The Line is the one where it goes beyond what the authorities can close their eyes to. I believe The Line was crossed with the spray painting of “My Grandfather’s Road” just opposite the Ministry. This was too “in your face” for the authorities to ignore, for they are afraid if they close an eye to this – who knows what other messages would appear on the roads of Singapore (political messages are probably most feared).

    Stickers, they can hide their smiles and pretend not to notice. But not the Grandfather road. It may be your Grandfather’s road, but Grandfather is not happy that you dirtied his road. Even if you go around pasting his face everywhere.

    Excuse me while I go sign that petition.

  3. My son is 17mths old, and I find myself already having to tell him what to do when he has done wrong from the time he turned 1.

    So I would “Tell him he should have known better and needs to “face the music” – although perhaps I will omit the ‘should have known better’ part. He should be aware that he has to face up to the consequences of his actions, especially if he is fully aware that what he has done ‘may’ be against the law.

    That said, I will still be behind him all the way, cos that’s what parents do, no question about it.

  4. She should get a death sentence, sacrificed to the Gods of Law Abidingness and declared a matyr by those who are against the sentence (remembered yearly at Hong Lim Park gatherings)

  5. Thanks for leaving your responses – this has been a really interesting exercise, and I’ve learnt a lot from reading about how other people would respond. Makes me wonder how this case would turn out if we worked via a trial by jury system!

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