SINGAPORE: Last November, street artist Samantha Lo approached the organisers of a street carnival with an idea. Circular Road, where the event was taking place, was going to be closed to traffic and she wanted to make a huge work right on the road itself.
Armed with chalk paint, Lo and her crew of nine braved the rainy weather through the wee hours of the morning of Nov 5, up until the early afternoon for a photo finish.
“We managed to do everything before the carnival began, and then the (camera) drone came and got the shot for us,” she recalled.
The result were the words “My Grandfather Road” writ large along the 170m stretch of Circular Road. And with that, things had come full circle for Lo, who gained notoriety for stenciling these same words on the streets back in 2012.
“I felt it was powerful to take back to the streets with something (like this),” recalled the 30-year-old artist, who goes by the moniker SKLO, but is now more colloquially known as Sticker Lady.
POST-STICKER LADY SAGA
Back in 2013, Lo was sentenced to 240 hours of community service after a run-in with the law the year before, when she was caught stenciling “My Grandfather Road” on roads and pasting her stickers on traffic light buttons.
It has taken her some time to come to grips with the experience, but now she is back with a solo show called Greetings From Singapore, which is ongoing at One East Asia gallery.
A survey show of what she has been up to after the “Sticker Lady saga”, it includes the bird’s-eye view photograph of her jumbo-sized My Grandfather Road, as well as other photographs of her familiar sticker art interventions. Coinciding with the exhibition is the publication of a postcard book version.
Both the exhibition and book feature stickers from her “traffic light series” as well as newer designs, which are shown posted on traffic light buttons, rubbish bins and public transportation.
“No Need To Pat Seat Before Sitting” goes one, shown inside a bus. “Great For Snap Chat” says another, stuck beside a mural work. At one traffic light, another sticker says: “So Fast For What”.
The exhibition is not her first - she previously created sculptures for Affordable Art Fair, did commissioned public art works and held a solo show of her paintings of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew - but it was only in Greetings From Singapore that she was finally able to come to grips with her recent experience.
“This feels more me,” she told Channel NewsAsia, adding that her previous forays were done while she was still trying to figure things out.
Now, she is ready to talk about it. In fact, the exhibition also includes personal documents, including a photo album of the sticker works she had done prior to the 2012 controversy. There is also a compilation of articles that tracked the coverage on national media. She also included a small section featuring some of her personal writings for people to “understand her points of view”.
FINDING THE SWEET SPOT
According to Lo, taking to the streets again had invigorated her.
“The real indicator that I was ready to move on from my demons was when I could actually go back and do what I used to do, and I felt so alive from that,” she said.
It's a mark of how Lo has now become comfortable with her reputation that she readily discusses her modus operandi.
“There’s this special timing, this sweet spot when you’re standing in the traffic light, you can literally lean your hand on the button. Just when the light switches to the green man, people are just gonna start walking. That’s the time you should quickly apply it. And then just cross the road. Singaporeans mind their own business,” she said with a laugh.
The photographs at the show are proof that Singapore's Sticker Lady is alive and well. But there is a twist - she pointed out that the stickers that are seen are not physically present anymore.
“So these are all the ‘evidence’ but then again, they’re all just photographs right?” she said. “And the other thing is, I’m also selling these stickers as well, so can you really say I did these? I’ve come across stickers that I didn’t put up. Some of them are pasted really badly, but I’m not complaining!”
This approach - an exhibition featuring her stickers that now only exist as photographs - is not just a way of sidestepping the same issues that got her into trouble before; it is also a way of bringing up questions about the nature of photography and street art.
It is Lo’s knack of subtly transforming what is on the surface - something seen as accessible, funny and populist - into something more, which appealed to Veronica Howe. The One East Asia director said she had been following Lo’s career from the sidelines before approaching her for to do the exhibition. “She has grown to become an artist in her own way and she represents the next generation.”
THE PRANKSTER WALKS
While her stickers have become a kind of trademark, Lo has recently been looking to other means of expression.
“Part of the whole closure process was finding ways in which I can still navigate in the gray area without getting in trouble but still leaving a mark. It’s not as fun as before but it’s something I enjoy,” she said, citing the use of non-permanent materials like chalk paint in her recent My Grandfather Road work and experimenting with “reverse graffiti”, where people clean things up to reveal an image. “I’ve been pranking my neighbours by writing ‘Clean Me’ on their (dirty) cars,” she laughed.
Elsewhere, she continues to do commissioned murals. There is one at Gillman Barracks, which she did with another artist, under the collective tag UCA, or Unknown Chinese Artists. She is also still busy with Indigoism, a non-profit social enterprise that runs a “barter market” and a platform for “sound healing” that combines using sound with floatation therapy.
Perhaps her most interesting new project to date has been a new clothing line called No Regerts. The intentionally-misspelled name is a nudge-wink reference to badly-done tattoos, and the line currently sells patches and pins, with plans to expand into lifestyle products.
At the end of the day, however, Lo said it is all about connecting with people, and her street art has been the primary avenue for that.
“I was a prankster, first and foremost. The reason I reach (out to) the streets is I wanted people to see my works. But I didn’t want it to be (just an artist's) tag. I wanted them to connect to their surroundings. So I guess being a prankster is a pretty good move in the end, because I wanted them to laugh at themselves. I wanted them to connect that way,” she said.
“When it comes to my journey as an artist, I want people to walk with me.”