URA & MOH agree to keep smoking samsui woman mural as it is, building owner fined S$2K

Urban Redevelopment Authority & Ministry of Health issue statement on controversial samsui woman mural

The samsui woman in the mural at 297 South Bridge Road, which ignited a flurry of opinions and debates in recent weeks, will be allowed to keep her cigarette.

On Wednesday (10 July), the Urban Development Authority (URA) and the Ministry of Health (MOH) released a joint statement addressing the artwork.

The mural had sparked controversy simply because the woman was depicted enjoying a smoke break.

ura retain samsui woman

Source: @seanpdunston on Instagram

That, and the accusation that she resembles a “prostitute”, according to one overly concerned member of the public.

Nonetheless, both URA and MOH have decided to maintain the mural in its current form.

Owner carried out ‘unauthorised works’ on conserved building

URA and MOH opened their statement by acknowledging the “public discussion” sparked by the mural, which was created by Singapore-based American artist Sean Dunston.

While noting that the majority of opinions were expressed in a “calm and respectful” manner, they reiterated that the building owner had failed to adhere to URA’s guidelines for conserving and protecting Singapore’s built heritage.

ura retain samsui woman

Source: @seanpdunston on Instagram

The statement also clarified that murals on conserved buildings need URA approval as they are key “visual markers”.

Proposals undergo review with community stakeholders and relevant government bodies to ensure they align with the surroundings, respect cultural sensitivities, and enhance public spaces.

Any necessary modifications must be coordinated with the building owner, and approval must be obtained before work commences.

In this instance, URA emphasised that the owner of the property at 297 South Bridge Road had “carried out unauthorised works on a conserved building, and continued with the works despite reminders to obtain approval”.

The owner only submitted an application for conservation permission on 11 April 2024 — after the completion of the mural.

As a result, URA has imposed a composition fine of S$2,000 for failing to obtain conservation permission prior to starting work.

URA & MOH agree to retain cigarette in mural

Regarding the issue of the samsui woman smoking, URA and MOH decided to retain the mural “without any modifications to it”.

This was after they considered various public opinions and conducted a thorough review.

Source: @seanpdunston on Instagram

They explained:

This is in view of the fact that the mural is not an advertisement for tobacco, which is against the law, and is largely perceived as an art piece.

However, they found that the mural “does normalise smoking”, which goes against MOH’s policy.

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

Therefore, it will work with building owner to “mitigate any impact that the mural may have in promoting smoking, without modifying the mural itself.”

Moving forward, URA will collaborate closely with agencies and stakeholders to uphold guidelines for murals on conserved buildings, balancing creative expression with the preservation of building character and public interest.

Additionally, URA took the opportunity to remind owners of conserved buildings to obtain necessary approvals before commencing any works.

Failure to comply may result in enforcement actions, including prosecution for serious infractions.

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Featured image adapted from @seanpdunston on Instagram.

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