SINGAPORE — Live chickens used in a National Gallery Singapore exhibition that just ended are now back at their rescue home “in good health”, Mr Tan Kiat How told Parliament said on Tuesday (Sept 19).
The Senior Minister of State for National Development added that the National Parks Board (NParks) had carried out checks to assess that the chickens would be provided adequate food, water and housing before they were placed on display.
The artwork, called How to Explain Art to a Bangkok Cock (1985), was part of the exhibition that ran from May 5 to Sept 17.
However, the live chickens were there only for a few days.
Their use had ruffled some feathers over whether it is appropriate to use live animals in an art exhibition, even though the poultry came from a rescue home called Chicken Rescue Rehome, which was using the exhibition to help raise its profile.
In Parliament, Mr Tan responded to several questions on the topic from Member of Parliament (MP) Tan Wu Meng of Jurong Group Representation Constituency, including what happened to the chickens after they were “made use of” for the installation and whether inputs from veterinary experts were sought before the chickens were exhibited.
Mr Tan Kiat How replied that a valid licence is required for any exhibition of animals to safeguard their health and welfare under the Animals and Birds (Pet Shop and Exhibition) Rules.
For the art installation, NParks had conducted a site inspection and obtained the input of one of its veterinarians before issuing a licence to the gallery for its exhibition, he said.
“Through the inspection, NParks had assessed that the poultry will be provided adequate food, water and rest as well as proper housing.”
NParks had also assessed that the exhibition would fulfil the licensing conditions for public education, since it will raise awareness on animal welfare.
He noted that the gallery had worked with Chicken Rescue Rehome to put in place safeguards, such as requiring visitors to keep a distance and avoid flash photography, along with regular checks by its representatives.
“These measures ensure the well-being of the poultry throughout the five-day exhibition period,” he added.
“The poultry were then returned to the care of the ground-up initiative, which had loaned them to the National Gallery Singapore, and all of them continued to show signs of good health.”
Dr Tan Wu Meng of Jurong GRC said that he had been approached by young Singaporeans around Clementi who had seen the news on TODAY and had expressed concerns over it.
Some of them were as young as Primary 5 and Primary 6 students, he added.
Dr Tan Wu Meng also asked if this was a trend of what is going to come and if there will be more of such exhibitions involving live animals.
He noted that there were some young Singaporeans who were concerned about this, notwithstanding the educational objectives described.
“What message are we sending when animals are made use of in an art installation in this way?” he asked.
To this, Mr Tan Kiat How said: “I’m very heartened that the children in Clementi are very caring and have a heart for animals.”
He added that he cannot speak for event organisers and venues that host such exhibitions and performances.
“But what I can assure the member and his residents is that NParks will assess each application carefully and make sure that they comply with the necessary requirements including safeguarding animal health and welfare.”