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Sketch at Esplanade from artist Vincent Leow that drew flak for “promoting bestiality” taken down

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A sketch from Vincent Low, once thought to be Singapore’s enfant terrible of the arts, has drawn considerable flak online. A top official of the Esplanade, Yvonne Tham, called including the sketch in an ongoing exhibition an “error of judgment” on Tuesday, June 5, and by Wednesday afternoon, the controversial sketch had been removed from Esplanade’s Community Wall. 

The sketch shows what looks like the back of a nude human figure astride a chicken, and had been part of an exhibition on display since mid-April on Level 3 of the Esplanade. It is scheduled to last until July 8th, and features samples from the loose drawings and sketchbooks of Mr. Leow spanning his 30 years’ artistic work. It was made by Mr. Leow back in 1989.

A Facebook account calling itself Singaporeans Defending Marriage and Family featured the sketch in post saying that it was “promoting bestiality,” which then went on to become widely spread. The group expressed concern that the sketch was part of an exhibition near the children’s section at Esplanade, especially since children are now on holiday from school.

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On Tuesday, Ms. Tham had said that the Esplanade needed to contact Mr. Leow before removing the offending artwork, and she told the press that there was no plan as yet to take it down. She also said, “The sole intent of the exhibition is to be able to present the very different things that may go behind the minds of an artist.”

However, she did claim that the Esplanade is at fault for having featured the controversial sketch in the first place. “Given the very public thoroughfare, the wide diversity of people who may come through not expecting to see art, may come through with young children…encountering a work without any forewarning or advisory in this case may not have been the most appropriate space for the nature of this particular sketch. This is solely Esplanade’s error of judgement.”

But by the next day, Ms. Tham made a statement saying that the Esplanade and Mr. Leow had agreed to no longer display the sketch, due to the large number of people who visit the Community Wall, including families, and that it is not possible to place an advisory for such a sketch.

She also said that the Esplanade “appreciate(s) Vincent’s understanding of the situation.”

This is not the first time that Mr. Leow has been embroiled in a scandal. In the 1990s, as a performance artist, he included wearing clothing fully made from fake dollar bills and drinking his own urine as part of his acts, doing so to make statements about the production and consumption of art, as well as the obsession with amassing wealth.

He has not commented on this latest controversy.

People who have visited the exhibition have had mixed reactions to it, with some saying that it is inappropriate for public viewing. Others feel that it is a legitimate expression of art, but could be displayed in a more restrictive setting.

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