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Merlion souvenirs... and body tattoo?

The 5m-tall Merlion statue by Brazilian pop artist Romero Britto is on display at Resorts World Sentosa's FestiveWalk. (PHOTO: RESORTS WORLD SENTOSA)

Publication Date : 22-06-2012


An unusual e-mail landed in Singapore Tourism Board's mailbox last week, seeking approval to use the Merlion logo as a body tattoo.

"I thought I had better ask them for permission to use it," said Mike Land, 42, who sent the e-mail from England. The Englishman, whose mother is Singaporean, wants to ink a grey-and-black tattoo of the mythical creature on his shoulder and arm.

"I saw the Merlion in Singapore and I thought it was the most beautiful thing," said the graphic designer. "I was looking for something to connect me to my heritage."

The tourism board, which owns the symbol, is looking into his request. "This is the first time that a request of this nature has come to us," said its deputy director of land and asset management Pauline Low with a chuckle.

Under the Singapore Tourism Board Act, those who want to use the Merlion must seek the board's approval. Using the symbol without an approval letter is illegal and could result in a fine of up to S$2,000 (US$1,600) or a jail term of not more than six months, or both.

The board, however, said that so far, no one has been fined or jailed for violating the regulation.

It received about 100 requests to use the Merlion per year for the past four years, up from 50 in 1990. Most of the requests are from makers of souvenirs such as keychains as well as posters used by travel agents.

Most requests are approved, with only about 10 rejections a year. The latter include the use of the icon in a condom advertisement, as a company logo and half-obscured in a poster.

Said Low: "To be honest, we didn't really go out to tell the industry to adopt the Merlion. They seemed to want a logo to brand their items as well."

This, she added, has helped to further cement the Merlion's status as a Singaporean icon.

The board does not levy a charge for commercial use of the icon.

The Merlion was registered in 1966 as the trademark of the then Singapore Tourist Promotion Board and served as its logo until 1997.

It was designed by Fraser Brunner, then a curator of the Van Kleef Aquarium, who drew on both fact and legend. The lion head is inspired by the tale of how Sang Nila Utama, a prince from Sumatra, spotted a lion when he set foot on the island in 1324. The tail symbolises Singapore's humble beginnings as a fishing village.

In 1972, the tourism board commissioned Singaporean craftsman Lim Nan Seng to build a Merlion statue. Originally located at the mouth of the Singapore River, it was moved to One Fullerton in 2002 and is currently closed for a makeover.

It will open in early September, in time for its 40th anniversary on September 15.

There are six other approved Merlion statues in Singapore.


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