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Samsui woman mural to stay, building owner fined $2,000 for not getting approval: URA, MOH

Samsui woman mural to stay, building owner fined $2,000 for not getting approval: URA, MOH
The fine was issued because the owner “began work” on the mural “without approval from URA”.
PHOTO: The Straits Times file

SINGAPORE – The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a joint statement on July 10 that the controversial mural of a smoking samsui woman on 297 South Bridge Road can stay, but have issued a composition fine of $2,000 to the owner for the unauthorised mural.

According to the statement, the fine was issued because the owner “began work” on the mural “without approval from URA”. The representatives of the landlord, Shepherd Asset Management, previously told The Straits Times (ST) it had not applied for prior approval for the mural design from the URA, but made a submission on April 19. A request from the authorities to resubmit a proposal by May 22 was also not met.

The joint statement added that the mural “does normalise smoking” even as “most members of the public do not see this as an advertisement for cigarettes”. The authorities are looking at ways to minimise that impact, adding: “We will therefore work with the building owner to find appropriate ways to mitigate any impact that the mural may have in promoting smoking, without modifying the mural itself.”

The controversy erupted when Singapore-based American artist Sean Dunston took to Instagram on June 19 to say URA had ordered the erasure of a cigarette from a mural at 297 South Bridge Road. The public outcry against the move, citing historical revisionism, was reported in ST on June 21.

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It is well-documented that samsui women smoked cigarettes as a form of recreation after their hard labour and even stored cigarettes under their trademark red headgear. South Bridge Road was where many of these pioneering migrant women from Guangdong province stayed.

Later on June 21, the URA said it had “taken note of additional feedback regarding the mural” and had asked the landlord “to delay any works to the mural until the review is completed”. Checks by ST on July 10 showed that the mural remains unchanged.

The joint statement reminded owners of conserved buildings to obtain the relevant approvals before commencing works, and that “failure to do so will result in enforcement against offenders, including prosecution for egregious cases”.

A spokesperson for Shepherd said it is happy with URA’s decision and will be paying the fine, adding: “We are glad that our samsui woman has sparked so many lively debates and discussions among Singaporeans. It is proof that Singaporeans can hold differing opinions while maintaining our strong sense of community and spirit.”

When asked about appropriate solutions to mitigate the public health impact of the mural, the spokesperson said: “Going forward, we expect to be collaborating closely with URA and MOH to find said appropriate solutions.”

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.

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