Sam Lo aka Sticker Lady: The only thing I’m angry about is…

Sheela Sarvananda
SingaporeScene

Artist SKL0 is serious about her art, and ready for the next step, she says. (Photo credit: Samantha Lo personal collection)

Samantha Lo, Sam Lo, SKL0 – you have heard all three monikers for the same personality by this time. But she is probably best known – for now at least – as “Sticker Lady”. This is for the unexpected infamy that arose when Lo placed stickers as well as spray-painted roads with messages that sparked a national debate here and beyond.

The actions of the artist was all a part of her bid to get Singaporeans talking about what she sees as an existing apathy and a lack of real dialogue on what it means to be a Singaporean, at every level. But in the process of giving voice to her message, Lo was termed a "vandal" and even arrested.

Pleading guilty to seven counts of mischief (artist Antz, who helped Lo, was also charged and pleaded guilty to a lesser number of charges), she was recently sentenced to 240 hours of community service. After a court case that took almost a year to resolve, Lo spoke with Yahoo! about the at-times strident journey and seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

One thing rapidly becomes clear in talking with her: there’s a whole lot more to Sam Lo. While she has no qualms about expressing her point of view, with her, it is more a scenario of still waters running deep.

And in case you thought her use of Singlish is her just speaking to what she knows best, that is far from the case. Reflective, measured and articulate – that is who you are interacting with, and her gravitas is striking. This is no brash recalcitrant who wants to grab you in a chokehold and let you know this isn’t your grandfather’s road. This is a strong young woman who wants her message to be understood – by any artistic means she deems necessary.

Candid and expressive, Lo is disarmingly honest and upfront about the chaos that recently surrounded her.

You think you know, but you have no idea

She says the whole series of developments was likely hard to peg to her, from the perspective of those she knows personally.

“Anyone who knew who I was before, they were shocked when they found out. No one really expected me to do something like that. I have always been the quiet one. But I’m actually naturally quite an obsessive person. When I think about something, when I am questioning something, I am very curious about it. And the problem is, it just doesn’t sit there. It registers in me and I obsess about it. And so everything that I produce from there is the result of an obsession. And when I did what I did, with the traffic light buttons and spray-painting, my obsession was on culture. And that’s how it came about.”

But while she perhaps did not anticipate the escalation of events to legal redress, she says there was no naïveté about the actions taken.

“When we did it, we knew that it was not legal. And when we got caught, we paid for it. It’s as simple as that. I do not feel angry about it at all. The only thing I’m angry about is how the media pretty much dug out everything. That is really the only thing that I was upset at.”

Lo’s ties to the arts community are clearly important to her. In that vein, she was part of Culturestate 2013 this year – an urban street festival featuring dance, music and art. The impressive event also saw international graffiti artist Totem come down, to work on a first – a collaborative mural with 35 other artists, known as the ’36 Chambers’.

American graffiti artist Totem speaks to attendees at the Culturestate street festival, a gathering of artists and fans of dance, music and art. (Photo credit: courtesy of Radikal Forze Crew)

Organiser Felix Huang, a fellow artist and dancer who is known for the work he does with urban youths, spoke about the impetus behind Lo’s involvement in Culturestate, despite her on-going case.

“I knew Sam way before any of this happened. So none of it was an important factor for me to have her on board, you know what I mean? But of course, it was my way of also saying, you know what, forget about all this. Still do it and still get your message out, however you want to. She gave a talk on her art and it was really to inspire people to like street art. Not just to seek one aspect of street art, but a myriad of different types.”

A spirit of the mind underscoring local street culture

To Lo herself, the roots go deep in urban arts, and she stresses it is important to let youths have free reign to express themselves artistically.

“Any initiative for the community to come together to do something for the youth, without any government intervention or any of the ‘higher powers’ dipping into it, that is the most honest form of progression. Urban arts embodies the youth – what they feel, what they think about and what they concern themselves with. It is the by-product of all this and that’s why these communities exist. That is also why these initiatives exist. They are successful because they are backed-up by other youths who feel the same way. And that is a phenomenon we must pay attention to.”

She says the initial trigger for her interest in the arts communities on the ground came from her personal interactions with friends in various aspects of the scene here. She then started a platform called RCGNTN (pronounced 'recognition') to give local talent precisely that: recognition, which she felt wasn’t forthcoming to date. Whether it was a lack of contacts or a dearth of acceptance for the groundswell of local talent in Singapore, this was a need Lo wanted to address.

When I started caring a little bit more, I thought to myself, giving talent exposure is not enough. A lot of people can expose stuff. I wanted to do more. That’s where this alter-ego SKL0 came about. I started questioning, why are we in this state now? Why are we not being appreciated? It is not as simple as we are not good enough – because we are good enough. So what is that missing element?”

Breaching apathy

She elaborates, “I wanted to actually take everything that I felt, and push it back to the public. I wanted to make them think about things like that, because we are all connected. If you want change in your ecosystem, you got to talk about everybody else who is affecting this ecosystem. And it’s not just the talk, you know? We are all self-governing to an extent, we are self-censoring as well. So, in that respect, we need one another. We cannot just keep quiet and be indifferent anymore.”

When asked if in hindsight she stands by the execution of her message, she immediately replies in the affirmative, emphasising: “I still stand by it.”

Lo, as with many urban artists in Singapore and elsewhere, has a discernible passion for what she does. You see that the drama that manifested was unplanned for – and that her focus was really grounded in the message itself. The need to breach apathy and foster true creativity, to Lo, must not be dismissed. She explains her ethos meticulously, and underscores the importance of picking up the gauntlet many locals youths carry with pride.

Her inner workings manifested in the art that made headlines, but for all the wrong reasons. The real story here lies in the heart of this artist, which you will find in with many of the youth community here.

“I wanted to make to feel more like Singapore again. So, I started using Singlish phrases, and things that reflected Singaporeans. I wanted to try to break through that indifference. To make people see that there is more than just the 9-to-5 grind. Street art was perfect because the public space is the medium. Also, street art is a very strong statement. It is the act of reclaiming spaces. And that, in itself, is what I wanted to do. I wanted to take back spaces, and make them Singaporean again. That was my reaction. And that was it.”

Lo's work, such as this sticker pasted at a traffic light near Marina Bay Sands, was posted online and went viral. (Photo credit: Samantha Lo collection)

Baptism of fire

If anything can be gleaned from the recent event surrounding Lo, it is that while it might be easy to go for the quick-fix and dismiss the youth or even deride their efforts, this would be an error in judgment. The spirit of the movement underpinning the urban arts and street culture is buoyed on the backs of these young warriors. They want to break down walls of misunderstanding grounded in misinformation and superficial differences. They seek to breach the lack of comprehension and bridge the divide in the way that they know how: through the power of their talent and hopefully with freer reign. Lo says it is important for the government to trust local artists, at the end of the day.

You may not agree with her methods or feel for her vernacular, but there is no dismissing her message – that it is time to pay attention to all levels of talent and to give a voice to those who remain unheard.

Her final message (for now, at least) is both simple and revealing at the same time: to question everything. Sam Lo has come out of the dark and into the light – and let’s not kid ourselves, the writing is on the wall.

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