2016.01.20 Wed, by
Singapore Performance Artist Announced as Winner of 2nd Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art

[press release]

Art Stage Singapore and U.S. Embassy Singapore have awarded Singaporean performance artist Lee Wen the 2016 Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art. U.S. Ambassador to Singapore Kirk Wagar and Mr. Lorenzo Rudolf, Founder and President of Art Stage Singapore jointly presented the award which includes a US $15,000 prize from U.S. Embassy Singapore, at the second annual awards celebration this evening.

Best known for his Yellow Man series, Lee Wen is one of the pioneers of performance art in Singapore. Associated with the Artists Village, an important avant-garde artists’ group in Singapore since 1989, he later forged a distinguished individual practice as he gained international recognition. Performance art, Lee’s chosen mode of artistic expression, was subjected to a decade-long proscription beginning in 1994, the result of a controversial public performance by a local artist. The ban on funding of performance art made Lee firmer in his resolve to continue his practice despite the lack of sponsorship and grants and prompted him to work overseas for an extended period of time. The ban was finally lifted in 2004, but Lee continues to advocate for more openness both locally and internationally as the challenges still persist today.

“The Joseph Balestier Award honors artists who stand up for the fundamental right of freedom of speech in a difficult environment, and who blaze a path, not just for the next generation of artists, but for the broader society in Southeast Asia,” said Ambassador Wagar. “Among an impressive group of nominees this year, Lee Wen most embodies this ideal. There is no stronger voice for freedom of expression in art in Singapore than Lee Wen, who has spent his life speaking truth to power. His artistic legacy has been recognized – his works are included in the collection of Singapore’s National Gallery – and we want to ensure his honesty and moral courage are fully recognized as well. I hope that this award will encourage Lee Wen to continue producing great works and show other Singaporean artists that there is more than one road to success.”

Lee Wen

Lee Wen

“On behalf of Art Stage Singapore, I would like to congratulate Lee Wen for winning the Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art 2016. Artists are seismographs for the political, economic as well as cultural development of our society and it is precisely in this role of an artist that Lee Wen has made a mark in Singapore and on the international scene. With their creativity, open-mindedness and sensitivity, artists have the unique ability to confront us with relevant questions and push us to reflect upon contemporary living and the issues that come with it. The Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art recognizes this important role that the artist plays and honors the hard work that they do,” said. Mr Rudolf.

Three artists were shortlisted as finalists for the 2016 Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art by a jury comprising Professor Ute Meta Bauer, Director of Singapore’s Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA); Ms Luckana Kunavichayanont, Director, Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) and Mr Enin Supriyanto, an independent art curator and writer from Indonesia. In addition to Lee Wen (Singapore), the other two finalists are Aye Ko (Myanmar) and Nguyen Trinh Thi (Vietnam).