Singapore erotic artist sees dim future for gay art

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Artist Martin Loh’s flat is full of large, bright paintings of mothers and children, but tucked away furtively in a corner are sketches of men kissing.

Singaporean artist Martin Loh displays a piece from his collection "Pain to Pleasure" during an interview in Singapore June 4, 2008. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash

Loh, 56, is famous for his cheery portrayals of Peranakan women, or Chinese migrants to the Malay peninsula. But it is his vivid homo-erotic paintings and sketches that have earned him notoriety in Singapore, where sex between men is illegal.

Working out of his cramped apartment, which is also his studio, Loh worked for eight months on his new collection, titled “Pain to Pleasure”, inspired by bondage and sadomasochism.

The collection, which was to be exhibited in August this year, was cancelled last month by the gallery that had given the green-light to show his Peranakan exhibition the same month.

“We live in the Victorian times, anything that is beyond the missionary position is frowned upon,” Loh told Reuters.

“The gallery is exercising some kind of self-censorship partly based on misplaced business considerations. The assumption that this will not sell is absurd.”

“Pain to Pleasure” consists of 24 black pen-line sketches depicting nude men in various bondage and sadomasochism poses. Loh, who started dabbling in homo-erotic art in 1991, has held three private art exhibitions over the last five years, usually featuring naked men in sexual acts.

“It appears that there is no future for this kind of art,” Loh said. “What I have is a situation that the space I enjoyed in the past, I don’t enjoy now. It seems like a retrogression.”


Singapore has strict censorship laws regarding pornography, but it adopts a lighter touch when regulating nude art.

Controversial art exhibits are usually allowed to run as private shows. But the city-state, which upheld a law last year to ban sex between men, remains sensitive about homosexuality in mainstream media. There are no laws banning sex between women.

A state-owned television station was fined around $11,000 in April for airing a program the censors thought promoted a gay lifestyle.

Utterly Art, the gallery where Loh held his previous homo-erotic art exhibitions and which is regarded as one of the more liberal in Singapore, said logistics, and not self-censorship, were behind the cancellation.

The gallery was originally supposed to show Loh’s homo-erotic exhibition and his Peranakan exhibition within the same week.

“During the August period we would have had to do two openings. One for his homo-erotic show and one for his Peranakan show. Because of this, we just don’t have the manpower to handle it,” said Kenneth Tan, a spokesman for Utterly Art.

“It was one or the other,” Tan said. In the end, the gallery chose Loh’s mainstream Peranakan artwork.

Loh is not fazed. He hopes his “Pain to Pleasure” collection will be exhibited overseas, and said that even if he doesn’t get the chance to sell paintings, the art will still be worthwhile.

“I do not reap anything other than the satisfaction of depicting it,” he said.

Editing by Miral Fahmy