No go for design with nudity, S'pore flag

A local artist has stopped selling T-shirts showing his provocative design of the national flag next to naked people writhing and tearing at each other.

Dan Wong told The Straits Times yesterday that he did not know his design breaches regulations on the use of the state flag.

The 31-year-old, a professional illustrator, said the National Heritage Board (NHB) told him about the breach on Monday, and he complied immediately with its request to stop the sale.

NHB, which manages day-to-day matters regarding Singapore's national symbols, also asked him and the online store selling the T-shirts to remove all images with the flag from their websites and Facebook pages.

The design, titled Myopic Endemic, represents the idea of Singapore being a dog-eat-dog community, said Mr Wong, who designed and drew it last month.

He started selling the T-shirts on Dec 2 through the online store of art and design magazine Moda. At least eight were sold, he added.

Under the Singapore Arms and Flag and National Anthem Rules, the national flag cannot be used for any commercial purpose unless express permission has been given by the authorities.

The guiding principle set out by the law for its use is that "no person shall treat the flag with disrespect", an NHB spokesman said in response to queries.

Mr Wong said he drew the flag because he thought it was the best way to depict Singapore. "The irony of it is that the most controversial part of the design isn't the nudity but the flag," he added.

Mr Wong heads a group of artists called A Good Citizen, which produces satirical art about local socio-political issues, such as education and transport.

The NHB spokesman said it acted following public feedback received on Dec 2.

Before this latest cease-and-desist order, it had issued five such orders this year, "acting predominantly on feedback from concerned members of the public", she added.

In 2010, three works of art featuring Singapore's flag were removed from display at Opera Gallery in ION Orchard shopping mall. They included a profile shot of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew on the flag.

In 2003, local artist Justin Lee was told not to exhibit his work titled Flag, which had hundreds of the Chinese character for "double happiness" making up the red panel of the flag.

As for Mr Wong, he is considering replacing the flag in his design with another symbol for Singapore. He has not decided what to do with the handful of unsold T-shirts.

He did not think what he did was disrespectful to the flag.

"If somebody were to burn the flag in front of me, I'd feel upset. But I never thought of its inclusion in my art as disrespect," he added.

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