Local artist Seelan Palay has reportedly been arrested after standing in front of Parliament House, holding an art piece, this afternoon. His piece, entitled “32 Years: The Interrogation of a Mirror”, was developed in commemoration of the 32 years former elected Member of Parliament, Chia Thye Poh, spent in detention without trial.
Seelan’s arrest and artwork draws attention to Singapore’s dark political history – a history in which Chia Thye Poh features prominently.
Chia Thye Poh was detained in 1966 under the Internal Security Act of Singapore for allegedly engaging in pro-communist activities against the Singapore government. Although the allegations remain unproven to date, the former MP was incarcerated for 23 years without charge or trial, and subsequently placed under house arrest for an additional nine years.
Confined to Sentosa island during his house arrest, Chia was stripped of employment opportunities, the freedom to travel and the freedom to exercise his political rights, among many other restrictions.
All in all, Chia was detained for more years than the world’s most famous political detainee, Nelson Mandela.
Today, Seelan introduced his art piece at Hong Lim Park, revealing to his audiences that he had developed the piece over two years, before moving to the National Gallery Singapore and to Parliament House. He was reportedly arrested at 3.20pm after holding his piece in front of the House for about 30 minutes.
An eyewitness, former political detainee Tan Tee Seng said:
“Seelan’s piece was a reflective one, literally! He had drawn on a piece of mirror at Hong Lim Park as his spoke of the motivation of his presentation. He then walked to National Gallery (former Supreme Court), knelt at the steps and contemplated silently for about 10 minutes with some 15 people watching his presentation. After that, he walked to the Parliament House and stand in front of the main entrance. Looking at his work, one would be able to see the reflection of the august building of the parliament house – a stark reminder that Chia Thye Poh was an elected Member of Parliament when he was arrested under the ISA in 1966.
“About six police officers scampered to surround him when he stood silently facing the Parliament building. I overhead one of the officer asked him what was the drawing about. I took a peep at what the police officer was pointing, i saw the reflection of the officers in blue and the parliament house in the background. Seelan’s gave a small lecture to the young officers who apparently did not know who was Chia Thye Poh. Interestingly, the police officers may have seen themselves in the frame of what Seelan’s had drawn.
“Two police cars came, more than 10 police officers arrived and after a short standoff, Seelan was handcuffed and then led into one of the police vehicle.
“As it was clear that Seelan was to be taken away by the police car and realising that was not part of Seelan’s presentation we decided to move on. Four police officers came running after us and demanded for our particulars. When asked why, I was told that I may be a witness to an offence committed. When asked what offence was committed, I was not given an answer but instead told of the power of police to demand for anyone’s particulars or they would bring us to the police station to ascertain our identity. Their reason – maybe we are foreigners! When reminded that it was a public space and we have millions of tourists and foreigners in this little island, we were warned that we are not cooperating with police investigation and wanted to take statement from us. We gave our particulars and if need be, will lim kopi with them another day. Seelan’s presentation today open my eyes to the naked power of the state over its citizens.”