SINGAPORE (Reuters) - A graffiti publicity stunt by Singapore's postal services firm has backfired and sparked a hunt for a mysterious masked artist in a city-state known for being immaculately clean and trouble-free.
SingPost's "Express Yourself" campaign, involving a graffiti artist called Inkman spray painting six mail boxes over the New Year, was a shock for Singapore, where vandalism can lead to three years in jail or up to eight strokes of the cane.
The stunt was meant as a teaser for the launch of a post box art competition to mark Singapore's hosting of the first Youth Olympic Games in August. SingPost is a sponsor of the games, but police were not amused.
"Police will be taking the matter up with SingPost, as this whole episode has caused unnecessary public alarm and wasted valuable resources," Singapore's police said.
In 1994, teenage American Michael Fay was caned in Singapore for spraying paint on cars, a sentence which attracted worldwide publicity and triggered a minor diplomatic row between Singapore and the United States.
A SingPost spokeswoman said the company was concerned for the safety of Inkman. CEO Wilson Tan was forced to apologize to the public at a news conference.
"I find it unacceptable," said a retired civil servant who gave his name as Foo, sounding disgusted. "I find it really an eyesore."
Attitudes among the young were more forgiving, highlighting a generational divide in a country that has seen decades of economic success but is now trying to boost arts, increase debate in Parliament and teach creative thinking in schools.
"I personally see it as a form of art and not vandalism if approval has been given by the authorities," said Alvin Tan, a 29-year-old marketing executive.
"It is about time that we break the culture and learn to accept that graffiti is an art and can be done anywhere."
Reporting by Nopporn Wong-Anan and Mohaini Ibrahim; Editing by Neil Chatterjee