21 Creatives for #SGABF2018 — Samantha Lo
SGABF: Having been an artist and creative for the past 10 years, how do you think Singapore has progressed in terms of our appreciation for the arts? How would you describe the culture where we are now?
Samantha Lo (SL): I think that a lot more money is going into art festivals and the like. There are going to be more festivals in the future to look out for and more opportunities for the public to be exposed to various art forms, that’s the optimistic side of things. It also promises more artists to show their works, which is great. Overall, the exposure to arts has increased quite a lot over the years but the understanding of it will come later on. I’m hoping they will start to form a proper understanding and appreciation for the arts rather than just appreciating from afar — to take one more step to understand and be better educated about it.
There will be people in or closely related to the community who will have discourses that will bring a deeper understanding of the arts. More of such discourses have to take place. In order for that to happen, we need to have more people talking about art — having debates and discussions about certain art forms, artworks, or artists. A good start will be to generally keep the conversations going. We need a lot of things to change and to make it more encouraging and nurturing for arts to flourish in the first place. The thing is, I can’t say for sure what it is we need but I would say education plays a big part in it, not just in schools but everywhere else. It’s how we are going to get them engaged and interested in the first place, right? The point is to actually start some place but once we hit a plateau, we shouldn’t just keep doing the same things, we have to start finding other ways to keep relevant — to try and reach a new demographic.
SGABF: In what direction do you hope to see the arts in Singapore move towards in the next 10 years?
SL: The government is putting more money into the arts and I would like to see how this pans out in the future. Right now they are focusing on engaging and exposure through social media. In time we can only wait for more institutions who will help build on this. Maybe it means making art a compulsory thing, I don't know. Our focus has always been the economy so we have to see if this whole state is making art a viable source of income that can sustain people's careers and actually make sense; to show that there is a new economy out there that helps creative work flourish. Just like how design has been monetised, it can be the same for the arts. If the government recognises that, then perhaps they will create an environment that would be able to even all of us out on the playing field, and hopefully it will become a social norm that artists can actually sustain themselves and not scrimp on everything.
The ideal environment for an artist in Singapore is to not have to worry about things like rental, or finding a space they can practise in. Sure you can make money and sustain yourself in this industry but you have to compromise on a lot, the government can only help so much. Right now they are doing what they think is right, but I don't think they really know for sure what the issues are. I won't say it's bleak at this point because at least we have some government funding, which is great.
SGABF: Your work Progress: The Game of Leaders engaged with people from various walks of lives since its creation – and not just in Singapore. If you were given a choice to weed out or build on a particular category that forms our idea of society progression, what would it be and why?
SL: That work was reflective of the different traits of first world countries, which were all very practical things. If I could add on, it would be an understanding of the arts and culture, and to have more humanity-driven work. Although that wouldn't fit into the concept so much because chances are, it will only stabilise the structure and not cause it to fall.
For example, studying literature in school is so important in expanding our understanding of the world. If we really look into more humanities-related subjects and continue building the curriculum from there, it will be able to instil in the younger generation and their parents that there is a possibility in the arts. I think parents just need to be convinced that there is longevity in these plans and there has always been some truth to the fact that it is easier to pursue the arts if you come from a comfortable or privileged background. There is a lot of truth in that because people actually leave the arts to go into other careers because they can't feed themselves anymore.
SGABF: There seems to be a very unspoken, maybe even unknown gap between the "creative industry" and the "general public". What do you think artists like yourself can do to narrow that gap?
SL: A lot of people have been going into community art. For example, statutory boards want to get the public engaged and they always think of workshops and community art — which is great, to a certain extent. It teaches people new skills and gets them involved in the creation process. Not everyone understands art, but the point is to make an effort to learn. The barrier entry is going to be a lot higher if we don't make it accessible; people won't even want to be a part of it. They think art is pretentious and that whole attitude has got to stop.
It's going to take awhile for them to understand art but the whole point is we don't have that discourse yet as to whether or not we understand an artist's works. The discernment comes after the discourse. If we can discern if this is good or bad art, at least we'll know what we like and dislike — and that's the whole point. You have to know what you like and don't like, rather than looking at a piece of work and registering in your mind that if you pretend to know and understand it, you will "score well". For all you know, you don't like it or understand it, but you cannot validate your thoughts because you think that language is only reserved for pretentious people who are in the arts.
SGABF: How do you think initiatives like SGABF can help to further advance the arts in Singapore, not just as a career option but as a way of life?
SL: It’s a very niche category, but since it’s a passion project that the festival director thinks is worth it, then I’m sure she knows and has already considered the risks and benefits it will bring to the people. Which means art books will have more exposure — not just towards the public but also a lot of people in the community. Essentially, these things will only catch on with time.
Sam Lo (aka SKL0) is a self-taught Singapore-based artist whose work revolves around social commentaries fuelled by daily observations of her surroundings and research into the socio-political climate. Her intrigue with the concept of culture and bold execution in some of her earliest forays into street art got her dubbed the ‘Sticker Lady’.