Shannon Tham


A group of Singapore performance artists named 5th Passage stirred controversy and government ire for their activities in a rent-free studio in at Parkway Parade. Subsequently, the National University Singapore Society banned an issue of the Commentary publication that focused on the performance art and its controversy. Articles from the banned publication were posted on the Internet.

First, performance artist Vincent Leow drank his own urine before an audience. Two performances at the shopping center early on New Year's Day 1994 ensued the controversy.

Performance artist Josef Ng, then 22, cut his pubic hair and presented it on a plate before an audience. Performance artist Shannon Tham, then 20, vomited into a bucket as part of his performance. The "performances" protested the arrests of 12 men for homosexual solicitation and protested the perceived imbalances in the news coverage of the arrests.

The hair cutting and hurling drew the curtain on the 5th Passage art group and Performance Art and Forum Theater. The shopping center removed the group, and the Singapore government cracked down on their activities.

The National Arts Council branded the acts "vulgar" and "extremely distasteful."

"By no stretch of imagination can such acts be construed and condoned as art. Such acts, in fact, debase art and lower the public's esteem for art and artists in general," the NAC said.

Police charged Ng with committing "an obscene act." He pleaded guilty and was fined $1,000. Josef's lawyer said, "He did it for the love of art and in the interest of expanding the general outlook of art in Singapore."

Commentary writers Lee Weng Choy and Ray Langebach defended Ng's public pubic clipping as contemporary art.

Lee Weng Choy said Josef Ng arranged 12 tiles, representing the arrested men, on stage in front of the audience. He placed a block of white tofu (flesh) and a plastic pack of red paint (blood) on each tile. Josef Ng, dressed in a black robe and black swimming trunks, picked up a rattan cane and danced and hopped around a bit.

Then he lashed the tofu blocks and paint bags with the cane, splattering the art asunder.

After caning the tofu and paint bags, Ng went to a corner of the stage, faced away from the audience, dropped his trunks, and started clipping.

"No one actually observed him cut his pubic hair. The audience only became aware of what appeared to be cut hair when Ng placed it on a plate before us.

"He received enthusiastic applause from the audience. He requested help in cleaning up the tofu. A few members of the audience assisted in the process," Ray Langebach  commented.