URA Allows Samsui Woman Mural to Stay; Building Owner Fined for Not Seeking Approval

The long rollercoaster of a ride that is the samsui woman mural saga has finally come to an end.

Smoking Samsui Woman Mural Ordered to be Changed

Completed in early April 2024, the mural in Chinatown depicted a young samsui woman taking a break and smoking a cigarette. Artist Sean Dunston intended to challenge the stereotypical depictions of old samsui women hard at work.

Image: Instagram (@seanpduston)

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), however, didn’t seem to be fans of the artwork. They ordered the removal of the cigarette from the mural, citing Singapore’s anti-smoking policy.

They also brought up a controversial piece of feedback from a member of the public who found the mural disrespectful and compared the subject to a “prostitute”.

This resulted in a public outcry, with many defending the mural for accurate historical representation.

After all, the samsui women didn’t have the Ministry of Health (MOH) anti-smoking PSAs growing up.

You can watch a video of the uproar here:

The URA decided to suspend the required changes in June and re-evaluate the situation following the public feedback.

Now it seems they’ve come around.

URA Agrees to Keep Mural the Same

On 10 July, the URA and MOH issued a joint statement. They agreed to retain the mural as is, viewing it not as an endorsement of smoking.

“Most members of the public do not see this as an advertisement for cigarettes.”

I don’t know…if I see an image of a cigarette I’m struck by a sudden need to chain-smoke.

However, they also added that the mural went against MOH’s policies by normalising smoking.

“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.”

Image: Instagram (@seanpduston)

Maybe they should mark a small area around the wall with yellow tape to make it a smoking zone so she isn’t breaking the law.

And with that, the saga ended with a victory for artists in Singapore. But not everyone escaped unscathed.

You see, the building where the mural is, Block 297 South Bridge Road, is a conserved one.

Conserved buildings are old buildings which the URA intends to “retain their inherent spirit and original ambience” for.

This means that proposed murals must be first submitted to the URA for approval before they can be drawn.

“Owners of conserved buildings are reminded to obtain the relevant approvals before commencing any works.”

The building’s owner did not do this, instead having the samsui woman mural drawn first, then submitting the proposal afterwards on 11 April.

This is a trick all primary school kids are familiar with when they know their parents will say no to them playing with their friends.

Due to the failure to obtain approval despite reminders from the URA on two occasions, the samsui woman mural saga ended in the most Singaporean way possible: a S$2,000 fine for the building owner.

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