Chinatown samsui woman mural does 'normalise smoking' but can stay up without changes: URA, MOH

The building owner was fined S$2,000.

Hannah Martens | July 10, 2024, 04:45 PM



The mural in Chinatown that depicts a samsui woman seated on a chair holding a lit cigarette does "normalise smoking", said Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in a joint statement with the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Jul. 10.

This comes after URA initially issued an order to amend the mural, stating that the cigarette portrayed was "not aligned with Singapore's anti-smoking policy stance."

URA then said it was re-evaluating its stance on the mural "in light of recent public feedback".

However, the owner of the building at 297 South Bridge Road was fined S$2,000 for failing to obtain conservation permission before work on the mural began.

URA and MOH have also agreed to retain the mural without any modifications.

Not viewed as an advertisement for smoking

URA and MOH noted "much public discussion" over the mural, and said they undertook a further review of the matter after listening to different views from members of the public related to the depiction of smoking in the mural.

URA noted that the mural was "largely perceived as an art piece", not as an advertisement for tobacco, which is against the law.

"Most members of the public do not see this as an advertisement for cigarettes," said URA and MOH.

As such, URA and MOH agreed that the mural would be retained without any modifications.

However, the statement pointed out that the mural "does normalise smoking," which is against MOH's policy. The statement said:

"Had prior approval been sought, MOH would have raised concerns about the depiction of smoking to be in a prominent mural like this, and requested modification."

URA and MOH said they will 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".

"URA will continue to work closely with relevant agencies and stakeholders to ensure that our guidelines and processes for murals on conserved buildings not only provide space for creative expression, but also safeguard the character of our conserved buildings and address the larger public interest. "

Building owner fined S$2,000

URA and MOH noted that the building owner did not comply with URA's requirements on the conservation and protection of Singapore's built heritage.

URA requires all owners of conserved buildings to submit their mural proposals, as murals on conserved buildings are "prominent visual markers" that "enhance the character" of the conservation districts, the statement explained.

URA must approve all proposals before works commence, but the building owner of the samsui woman mural began work on the mural without URA's approval.

On Mar. 22, URA informed the building owner's representatives that they had not yet obtained approval for the mural and requested a submission be made immediately.

URA reminded the building owner's representative on Mar. 25 that URA's approval is required before continuing work on the mural.

However, the mural works continued.

An application for conservation was only submitted on Apr. 11 after the mural was completed.

"The building owner had carried out unauthorised works on a conserved building, and continued with the works despite reminders to obtain approval. URA has therefore issued the owner a composition fine of S$2,000 today, 10 July 2024, for the failure to obtain conservation permission prior to the commencement of works."

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Top photos via Sean Dunston/Instagram