AWARE S’pore says samsui woman mural may perpetuate ‘male gaze that exoticises female subjects’

Mural of smoking samsui woman in Chinatown ‘may inadvertently perpetuate male gaze’: AWARE Singapore

A striking mural of a young samsui woman smoking on the side of a building in Chinatown has sparked significant debate after the artist revealed it had been reported to the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

Besides ordering the artist to remove the cigarette, URA also relayed feedback from an anonymous member of the public, who claimed that the woman “looks more like a prostitute than a hardworking samsui woman”.

aware samsui woman mural

Source: @seanpdunston on Instagram

The Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) has since joined the conversation, sharing its stance on the issue.

AWARE claims samsui woman mural ‘exoticises female subjects’

In a Facebook post on Monday (24 June), AWARE expressed that it “welcomes the ongoing public discourse” surrounding the controversial mural painted by Singapore-based artist Sean Dunston.

aware samsui woman mural

Source: AWARE Singapore on Facebook

The gender equality advocacy group noted that Mr Dunston’s “depiction diverges significantly from the historical reality of these resilient labourers”.

Highlighting the “glamorous way” the young samsui woman was holding her cigarette, AWARE pointed out that this “does not reflect the gritty and harsh realities” that the samsui women faced.

Source: @seanpdunston on Instagram

It added:

This artistic choice may inadvertently perpetuate a male gaze that exoticises female subjects, which could detract from a true appreciation of their contributions.

While AWARE encourages artistic freedom, it also believes that artistic interpretations should “engage thoughtfully with their subjects and contexts”.

“We encourage a portrayal that more accurately reflects the robust and rugged spirit of the samsui women, ensuring their story is told with the respect and authenticity it deserves,” it continued.

‘Prostitute’ comparison is disrespectful to sex workers

AWARE went on to criticise URA’s focus on the cigarette, saying that it “misses the point” since samsui women actually did smoke.

“More concerning”, it added, was URA’s citation of public feedback comparing the woman to a prostitute.

“This statement supports damaging, patriarchal stereotypes about how women should act and look, and is disrespectful to sex workers,” AWARE emphasised.

However, AWARE’s statement faced backlash when it was shared on the r/SingaporeRaw subreddit.

One netizen questioned if AWARE believed samsui women must always appear older and hold a cigarette in a specific manner.

Source: Reddit

Another user echoed this sentiment in their reply to a comment calling the entire saga “stupid” and full of “overthinking”.

aware samsui woman mural

Source: Reddit

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Featured image adapted from @seanpdunston on Instagram and AWARE Singapore on Facebook.

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