National Arts Council (NAC) is withdrawing its earlier approved $8,000 publication grant to Malaysia-born award-winning comics artist, Sonny Liew due the “sensitive content” depicted in his 324-page comic book, “The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye”.
The book uses different forms of comic illustration to depict the life of a Singaporean artist which spans across 60-odd years of Singapore history.
The first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and Lim Chin Siong, co-founder of People’s Action Party and former Secretary General of now-defunct Barisan Sosialis are depicted side by side within the book.
The publication was awarded a grant of $8,000 from NAC before it was published. According to Mr Edmund Wee, $6,400 was disbursed to his company, and he would have to return the $6,400 back to NAC.
Mr Wee is now printing stickers to cover up the arts council logo in the printed books. About 1,000 copies have been printed.
On its grant application form, NAC states that it has the right to withdraw funding for various reasons, including if there are “illegal or negligent acts” that “adversely affect the reputation of the National Arts Council, any government bodies, public institutions, national leaders or (the grant applicant’s) organisation”.
TOC understands that NAC was shown a copy of the book and no major changes were made to the book prior to its publication, subsequently the grant was approved. Now, NAC is withdrawing its earlier approved grant.
In response to media queries, Mr Khor Kok Wah, senior director, literary arts sector, National Arts Council said, “We had to withdraw the grant when the book The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye came out because its sensitive content, depicted in visuals and text, did not meet our funding conditions.” Mr Wah did not specify what these conditions were.
Mr Liew had been nominated three times for the Eisner Awards, the comics industry’s Oscars and won the arts council’s 2010 Young Artist Award in Singapore.
“I’d hope that the book was able to approach things in a nuanced manner,” he says. “The withdrawal feels unfair to the publisher, especially given the fact that the materials they submitted for the grant application was an accurate representation of the final work.
Mr Liew also commented that while NAC has guidelines for its operations, it would be ideal if they had fewer political constraints when evaluating works for their grants.
He had hoped the initial grant approval meant that the book has approached the issues in a nuanced enough manner, but perhaps it touched on too many politically sensitive issues at the end of the day.
“The withdrawal of the grant made it clearer to me the political constraints the NAC works under, which makes it difficult for them to support works deemed politically sensitive, whatever they might think of their artistic merit.”
Mr Liew will be launching his book tomorrow (30 May) at Neo Kinokuniya Singapore Main Store, 2 – 3 pm.