All images courtesy of @publicnoticesg
Instagram account @publicnoticesg started as a passion project in 2011 when photographer and creative director Kevin WY Lee went around Singapore looking for (literal) signs and archiving them on the account.
The notices are often complaints or warnings delivered in perfect and eloquent Singlish. While almost always passive-aggressive in tone, they’re sincere and earnest in their message.
Much like Singaporeans.
We’ve seen these public notices all around the country—a means of communication that fuses our need to call out people for bad behaviours with the Asian paiseh sentiment.
Still, a singular public notice on a random wall is uninteresting. But when placed in the company of other public notices, it becomes a visual exhibition of patterns. A repository for the authentic Singaporean experience captured via the country’s favourite pastime: Complaining.
Pettiness, Made Accessible
According to Kevin, the project started off slowly but has now amassed a following of over 17,000 followers as of writing.
“It grew organically. If you have at least half a decent idea and persist and produce consistently, it’ll find an audience eventually and grow,” Kevin explains.
While consistency is key, it also helps that the account feeds our sardonic need to chuckle at Singaporeans complaining about the same petty nonsense we relate to. (see: Resident Toy Molester)
There’s also a voyeuristic, almost accusatory slant to these notices.
“Do not renovate or drill on weekends,” one note in black marker on an A4 paper reads.
“It is against the law. Your mother needs to sleep, other people also need to sleep.”
The fact that it’s stuck to the lift lobby wall ensures, at a minimum, safe anonymity but maximum shame. After all, the one thing that Singaporeans hate to lose more than money is face. So much face.
Loving Singapore, Singaporeanly
Kevin estimates that he receives an average of 50 public notice submissions in a week. “The submissions are curated, of course.”
Compared to other Singapore Instagram accounts, which also document other mundane (a discourse on the Singapore drain aesthetics, perhaps) but nonetheless interesting aspects of life on the island, an average of 50 submissions a week sets @publicnoticesg apart.
There is undeniable enthusiasm from Singaporeans looking to contribute to the page. In some ways, it’s an outward, ironic acceptance of our many flaws and quirks, neatly captured in a single sheet of paper.
It is, I dare posit, the purest form of love a Singaporean can show. Or hate—boy, do we hate many things.
“Please not dog urine here. Very slippery,” one slim cardboard sign asserts ungrammatically.
“Please do not bring lighted joss sticks or candle inside the lift,” another one reads, complete with a colour printout of the culprit gamely posing with said offensive items.
“Would you STOP clapping hands early in the morning?” one yellow post-it note pleads.
“They are interesting because these signs—often unfiltered, often passive-aggressive, always melodramatic—are found specifically in Singapore, a manicured, polished, and polite country,” Kevin offers.
“If the signs were in other countries, they wouldn’t be as interesting.”
That the account manages to document the Singaporean experience in its entirety through meagre sheets of paper and post-it notes is but a happy coincidence. It’s the peak of an unfiltered Singaporean’s acerbic rants, now forever memorialised.
Within those little Instagram squares, Singaporeans are allowed to exist, unrestrained and unfiltered—a luxury in a country that ran a National Courtesy Campaign.
Speak Good Singlish, Please.
On a ‘Government Service’ envelope, stuck to a wall with generous amounts of tape, scribbled in black marker, are the words: “Urine Again. I call police.”
In five economic words, curious readers are informed and warned of a serial public urinator in the vicinity. And someone’s unfortunate sniff or step in the bodily product.
It’s brevity at its finest, the perfect reflection of a Singaporean’s need to do everything quickly and efficiently. There’s no time to waste. After all, we all have something to do, somewhere to queue and a Facebook post to rant at.
And although the messages have different lengths, the strength of the underlying communication is the same. It’s efficient, pragmatic, and practical messaging for a country that prides itself on these values.
The chosen lingua franca? Singlish, of course. Dispense with the formality, please. We don’t have time for grammar. (Read: Don’t urine here)
Perhaps this nonchalant disregard for grammatical rules and correctness endears these notices so fondly to Singaporeans. These hastily scribbled public messages are to passersby what HardwareZone is to people online. Reddit? Pfft. We don’t know her. (Read: Please don’t take the fruit is not belong to you)
Perhaps the little square frames where the public notices exist are emblematic of a larger Singaporean aesthetic. Beneath that manicured sheen, Singaporeans are at their best in their most unfiltered, raw, and rude form.
@publicnoticesg captures and documents unadulterated Singaporean-ness via innocuous sheets of paper. In doing so, the account has perhaps stumbled upon the best way to express love for the country.
“For me, the account is just an archive. Others should make their own meaning out of it. For example, someone might be interested as to why there are so many lost pets in Singapore,” Kevin explains, referring to the many missing pets public notices pepper the page.
For now, the account continues its steady rise among a plethora of other Singapore-related Instagram accounts. A burgeoning community surrounds each post, armed with inside jokes and deep-cut, ascerbic quips only a Singaporean would get.
And, if I learnt anything over the course of my supposed research, it is this: Pointing out a country’s flaws is as good an expression of love as any.
Oftentimes, complaints about Singapore are immediately met with “If you don’t like it here, then move out”. Perhaps, loving a country is also about being brave enough to flaunt its flaws as much as its successes.
In fact, I reckon that what might just be an art project today could also be an introspective and candid look at the Singaporean psyche. A curious observation that stems from a mere photo of a random public notice in Singapore. Or a directory of toilets with bidets. Or of trees in Singapore. Or even Singaporeans going barefoot in public. Take your pick.