The Singapore National Arts Council (NAC) have withdrew a S$8,000 art grant to an award-winning artist because his graphic novel paid tributes to former PAP founder Lim Chin Siong and Operation Spectrum.

Malaysia-born new citizen Sonny Liew was a recipient of NAC’s Young Artist Award in 2010, and a multiple nominee in the international Eisner Awards. He and is currently a comic artist for Doctor Fate series with DC Comics.

As to NAC’s politically-motivated decision to remove his grant, he said:

“I’d hoped the book was nuanced enough in … dealing with the issues. But developments have made it clearer that NAC works under constraints that make it difficult for it to support works that are deemed politically sensitive.”

In an interview with Channel News Asia, Sonny Liew took up Singapore citizenship in 2013 because he believed in the Singapore Government:

“I was trying to meet the challenge put forth by the PAP (People’s Action Party) that someone without a stake in the country, who could run off at any time, shouldn’t be offering critiques of Singapore, which I knew this book would be doing at some levels”

The “offending” graphic novel, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, will continue to be launched in Kinokuniya book stores at S$34.90.

Photo by Sonny Liew
Photo by Sonny Liew

A brief historical reference for those who do not know about Lim Chin Siong and Operation Spectrum:

Former PAP founder Lim Chin Siong was an ex-colleague of Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew who was arrested and detained without trial for 6 years by the latter to establish his political dominance. With the arrest of Lim Chin Siong and other former PAP members, Lee Kuan Yew continued to become Prime Minister for the next 25 years until 1990.

Operation Spectrum was a politically-motivated arrest of 16 pro-democracy activists who were alleged as “Marxist conspirators” by the Singapore Government. There were no trial during their 7 months of detention and they were eventually released on December 1987. The current Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shamugaratnam lent weight to their innocence in 2001, in a first subtle non-official admission of wrongdoing by the Singapore Government.

The Singapore Government heavily censors and edit Singapore’s founding history through its mainstream newspapers and school textbooks.