Unearthed archival photo shows Samsui woman smoking, netizens joke that it should be censored

Photo from 1930s shows samsui woman smoking during a break

Amid the outcry over a mural in Chinatown that shows a samsui woman smoking, an archival photo has been uncovered that shows a samsui woman doing just that.

Taken in the 1930s, the photo depicts a youthful-looking samsui woman with a cigarette in hand, taking a break with four colleagues.

Source: Roots.gov.sg

The photo prompted netizens to joke it should be censored.

Samsui women appear to be smoking in NHB photo

The photo of the samsui women was posted by the National Heritage Board on its website Roots.gov.sg, which showcases Singapore’s culture and history.

Titled “‘Samsui’ women working at a construction yard”, it was taken between 1938 and 1939 by an air force pilot who served in Singapore.

The samsui woman sitting in the middle, who looks a bit younger than the others, appears to be holding a cigarette in her left hand.

Source: Roots.gov.sg

Her colleague on her right also looks to be holding a cigarette in her right hand.

Another photo from the same series shows another young samsui woman smiling and looking at the camera.

Source: Roots.gov.sg

Netizens caustic over photo

When the first photo was shared on Reddit, it prompted much sarcasm from users, with one wisecracking that it should be hidden from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

Source: Reddit

Besides the smoking, the samsui women were also not following Singapore’s workplace safety policy, pointed out a commenter, questioning whether they needed to be censored.

Source: Reddit

Another contributor quipped that the photo must have been taken when samsui women were “chain-smoking prostitutes”, ostensibly referencing a complaint by a member of the public about the Chinatown mural.

Source: Reddit

The photo also caused one netizen to feign offence, saying that they were perturbed by their bare feet. Another opined that their exposed ankles were “brazen”.

Source: Reddit

Artist gets support being asked to change mural of samsui woman smoking

The outcry ensued when artist Sean Dunston, who painted the Chinatown mural, said on Instagram that the URA had asked him to remove the cigarette by 3 July.

Source: @seanpdunston on Instagram

URA also quoted a complaint from an anonymous member of the public saying that the mural was “offensive” and “disrespectful” as the woman “looks more like a prostitute”.

Mr Dunston’s post prompted messages of support from netizens, with one saying it was a shame to change the mural and others suggesting creative ways to amend it.

Yip Yew Chong disagrees that mural is offensive

One of the people who weighed in on the issue was fellow artist Yip Yew Chong, known for his stunning murals of Singapore life.

He didn’t agree that Mr Dunston’s mural was offensive, saying that samsui women smoked a lot in reality, so it wasn’t impossible that a young one would smoke and sit in this way.

Source: @yipyewchong on Instagram

He also took issue with the complainant’s “preconceived notions”, saying:

We cannot be too stereotypical and expect certain occupations must have only a specific look and no others.

Though Mr Yip conceded that a viewer has every right to dislike an artwork and opine it aloud, “it would have gone too far” to request the authorities to take down an artwork for those reasons, he added.

URA reviewing its position on the mural

In a statement to MS News, a URA spokesperson said that all proposals for murals on conserved buildings should be sent to the building owner and URA for approval before works begin.

But the artist had completed the mural before URA approved it, URA added, noting,

After consultation with local stakeholders and relevant agencies, the proposal was not supported as the depiction of smoking on the unauthorised mural is not aligned with Singapore’s anti-smoking policy.

However, in light of recent public feedback, URA is re-evaluating its stance on the mural.

It has asked the artist to delay any changes to his work while it reviews its position on amending the mural, The Straits Times reported.

MS News has reached out to Mr Dunston for comment.

Also read: Netizens get creative after URA requests removal of cigarette in mural of smoking samsui woman

Netizens get creative after URA requests removal of cigarette in mural of smoking samsui woman

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Featured image adapted from Roots.gov.sg and @seanpdunston on Instagram.

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