As Yale steams forward with its controversial efforts to open a new college in Singapore, new criticism has appeared in a surprising location—the steam tunnels below the original campus here in New Haven.
The critique—the work of local guerrilla street artist Believe In People (BiP)—takes the form of two orange “under construction” signs stenciled onto walls in the utility tunnels that run underneath Yale’s buildings.
“Yale-N.U.S.T: ‘Going Lower Than Ever Before,’” reads one of the subterranean messages.
“Freedom Of Speech Guaranteed,” reads the other.
BiP intermediary Neils confirms that the new steam tunnel signs are BiP’s work. (Because he creates his pieces on private property without permission, BiP stays anonymous and out of the public limelight. Neils, his representative, prefers to use just his first real name.)
The signs refer to the new Yale-National University of Singapore College (Yale-NUS), a new international school Yale plans to open next year in Singapore.
Neils declined to comment about what the “T” in BiP’s “Yale-N.U.S.T” stands for. BiP’s acronym appears to stand for “National University of Steam Tunnels.”
Yale’s Singapore venture has come under fire from some faculty and human rights advocates who are concerned about Singapore’s limitations on free speech. Freedom of association and assembly are restricted in the Asian nation, and homosexual activity is illegal. Critics say Yale should not be helping to create an institution that could limit freedoms; they have called on Yale to guarantee the rights of all students at the new college.
Supporters of the new college say the partnership will help Singapore develop its higher learning system, which will ultimately lead to greater democracy. They say it’s a step toward Yale becoming a truly global university.
“Yale, in partnering with NUS, made an agreement about academic freedom—which NUS also strongly supports—to say that students could talk about whatever they want, professors can teach whatever they want and can pursue research that might be controversial,” Yale–NUS President Pericles Lewis said in a statement.
The new artworks in the steam tunnel indicate that BiP is firmly in the critics’ camp. The signs offer a sarcastic take on Yale’s venture in Singapore and its potential for restricting rights.
Ironically, BiP paints his free-speech message in a location where no one is likely to see it.
In a statement after seeing photos of the new paintings, Yale spokeswoman Karen Peart said, “There is no indication that the photos are of Yale, but if we came across graffiti or vandalism on university property we would remove and/or repair it.”
Heartbreak Hiatus Over
BiP’s latest work is a return to the Yale-centric, occasionally political work the underground artist debuted with in New Haven over two years ago. It’s also part of a return to making artwork, period, after a hiatus this fall brought on by a broken heart.
BiP made a splash this summer with a big portrait on top of an apartment building on Orange Street. The church that owns the building ended up embracing the piece, allowing it to stay on the roof.
BiP then spread some Braille messages around town, including one in Union Station that reads, “Vision beats sight.”
On Aug. 5, he posted an image on Twitter of a pipe fixture modified with a stenciled mustache to create a monocled gentleman.
That same day, he posted a couple of images of a sign he installed below a surveillance camera at Yale: “This camera really complements our neo-gothic architecture.”
Shortly after that, BiP dropped off the internet. He shut down his Twitter account and went silent.
On Oct. 2, it became clear why he had disappeared. He reactivated his account and posted a link to a music video he made for a song by the Magnetic Fields. Click the play arrow to watch it.
BiP depicts himself as a deep-sea diver avoiding cop-sharks as he paints illegally in New Haven—a sunken ship. His lover mistakes his frequent disappearances for infidelity and leaves him. The video indicates BiP’s career as a guerrilla artist may have interfered with his love life, leading to a hiatus from painting.
Then on Nov. 15 BiP announced his return.
“Coming back for good,” he tweeted.