Meet this year’s Cultural Medallion and Young Artist Award recipients.
TEXT BY PAMELA HO
Published on 13 October 2015
TEXT BY PAMELA HO
Most artists will tell you frankly that they do not work for awards. Whether they are conferred the Cultural Medallion or Young Artist Award is secondary to their calling as artists — they will continue creating art regardless, simply because it’s their life.
An award is simply a recognition, an acknowledgement of their work and contribution thus far. But for the people of Singapore, these awards matter because they raise to our consciousness, cultural heroes and role models for generations to come.
Every year, the National Arts Council confers the Cultural Medallion on artists who have demonstrated excellence in their field and shown extraordinary contribution and leadership in shaping the development of arts and culture in Singapore. It is the highest accolade that can be bestowed on a Singaporean artist.
Since its institution in 1979 by our late President, Mr Ong Teng Cheong (then Minister for Culture), the Cultural Medallion has been conferred on 119 artists, including this year’s four recipients: painter Chua Mia Tee, playwright Haresh Sharma, writer Lim Hung Chang (Lin Gao) and pianist/composer Margaret Leng Tan.
Lim Hung Chang
(Lin Gao) 66
“At 32, I received the PSC [Public Service Commisson] Overseas Scholarship to study Chinese at National Taiwan University. There, I was immersed in Eastern philosophy and classic literary works, and was inspired by Taiwan’s contemporary literature,” reveals Lin Gao, who has published 10 works of prose, fiction and children’s literature.
PHOTO Lin Gao
Works such as Mao De Ming Yun and Long Zi Li De Xin have garnered international acclaim. In 2014, he won the Singapore Literature Prize for Lin Gao Wei Xing Xiao Shuo. Lin has also promoted Chinese literature in his role as vice president of the Singapore Association of Writers (1998-2000).
“After a work is published, it will engage readers in conversation,” he says. “It’s like watching my kids grow up and be independent enough to face the world on their own.”
Haresh Sharma 50
As resident playwright for The Necessary Stage, Haresh Sharma has written over 100 plays. In 2006, Off Centre was selected by the Ministry
of Education to be the first Singaporean play to be studied as an ‘O’ and ‘N’ Level Literature text.
His works, Fundamentally Happy, Good People and Gemuk Girls, won Best Original Script at the 2007, 2008 and 2009 Life! Theatre Awards, and in 2014, he received the S.E.A. Write Award.
PHOTO The Necessary Stage
Sharma is also the first non-American to be awarded the prestigious Goldberg Master Playwright by New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
“This award is a career milestone, but I’ve no time to shake legs. I’m writing five plays at the moment, to be staged in 2016,” says Sharma, who also mentored young writers and directors, including past Young Artist Award recipients Aidli Mosbit and Natalie Hennedige.
Chua Mia Tee 84
He has done drawings for each President in Singapore, starting with Yusof Ishak. The picture that you see on your banknote is derived from Chua Mia Tee’s painting.
“My works reflect reality as much as possible — not just likeness of persons or things, but realism in what is happening in life at the time,” says Chua, a professional consultant to the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts alumni association and chairman of the editorial board of Nanyang Arts.
PHOTO Chua Yang
His works, which include ‘National Language Class’ (1950), ‘Epic Poem of Malaya’ (1955) and ‘Workers in a Canteen’ (1974), chronicle Singapore’s history and are part of the National Heritage Board Collection.
Since 2005, he’s stopped accepting commissions but this year was an exception. “The Monetary Authority of Singapore wanted to launch commemorative notes for SG50 and approached me to sketch our late Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew. I’m proud to have left yet another legacy!”
Margaret Leng Tan 70
Pianist & Composer
Margaret Leng Tan is the first woman to graduate from the prestigious Juilliard School in New York with a doctorate, and is a concert toy pianist and composer.
“Meeting the great American avant-garde composer John Cage in 1981 definitely changed not only my approach to music, but to life itself,” declares Tan, who is the first Singaporean to perform on the main stage of Carnegie Hall in New York, where she is based.
PHOTO Margaret Leng Tan
Without doubt, she occupies a unique space in avant-garde music internationally. She has performed at the 2002 Singapore Arts Festival, the Singapore International Festival of Arts 2014 and 2015, and conducts master classes for students around the world.
“I’m approaching 70, so it’s nice to be finally recognised by one’s own country,” she says. “My philosophy is to never envy others or mind what others think of you. Just do your own thing and live by the strength of your convictions.”
The Young Artist Award is the highest accolade for young practitioners of the arts aged 35 and below. Since its inception in 1992, it has served to encourage young artists to continue pursuing excellence in the arts and to look towards inspiring others.
Past recipients include playwright Alfian Sa’at, film-maker Anthony Chen, musician Bani Haykal and installation artist Donna Ong. Recipients are eligible for the Young Artist Award Grant of up to S$20,000 to support their pursuits and development. To date, the award has been conferred on 140 artists, including this year’s seven recipients.
Chun Kai Feng 33
I only make works based on things I know. I walk among objects such as HDB [Housing & Development Board] concrete benches, 7-11 light-box signs, public waste bins and stainless-steel railings on a daily basis. Making works with them is a means of articulating an experience of existing among objects,” says Chun Kai Feng.
Chun’s practice is largely object-driven and serves to invoke local contexts and references in whimsical ways. His works are in the public collection of the Singapore Art Museum as well as Hong Kong’s M+ Museum, and have been exhibited extensively overseas.
PHOTO Chun Kai Feng
Chun Kai Qun 33
Chun Kai Qun’s works, which display a distinct style stemming from an interest in exploring socio-historical issues through dioramas (three-dimensional miniature or life-size scenes), have been exhibited at the Singapore Art Museum, The Esplanade Concourse, as well as overseas at the 4th Fukuoka Asian Art Triennial in 2009.
Chun demonstrates his potential as a curator and enabler by providing a platform for artists across disciplines to experiment. “I hope that artist-initiated projects, especially pop-up events taking place at idle spaces in Singapore, are taken seriously. This bottom-up approach gives us an idea of how a space can be reinvigorated.”
PHOTO Chun Kai Qun
Diana Soh 31
Diana Soh is a composer whose contemporary works feature cross-cultural references and collaborations. She has been commissioned by major international festivals, radio broadcasts and commissioning organisations such as the Singapore Youth Choir.
Soh holds a doctorate from the University at Buffalo and spent two years as composer-in-residence at the La Muse en Circuit and the Conservatoire D’ivry Sur Seine in France.
“I dream up musical situations or sound worlds, then I proceed to painfully mould them into being,” reveals the Paris-based composer. “Unfortunately, a composer learns her craft publicly, so just have a thicker skin, keep making mistakes, keep learning and keep writing.”
PHOTO Danny Toh
James Tan 35
“I view stage lighting as the most important supportive role for any performance genre — be it to channel focus, dictate mood or tell the time or season. But it has to be woven in seamlessly and not supersede the plot,” says James Tan, who sees himself as a collaborator in a “storytelling team”.
He is a recipient of the International Association of Lighting Designers award, and his work in Pangdemonium’s Next to Normal was nominated for Best Lighting Design for a Musical at the 14th Life! Theatre Awards in 2013. That same year, he was also nominated for The Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.
PHOTO Ruey Loon Ung
Loo Zihan 32
U sing theatre, visual arts and film, Loo Zihan creates well-researched works that are often based on other people and history. He also introduced the idea of re-enactment. “I view the body as my medium in performance, and I treat knowledge as a malleable object to be sculpted to alter the way the public looks at things.
“My biggest motivation is representing histories that have been overlooked or misunderstood,” says Loo, who recently completed an artist residency at the Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne, Australia. “I see my work as the provision of information for people to understand these histories in a multi-faceted way.”
PHOTO Samantha Tio
Kirsten Tan 34
Kirsten Tan’s works display a distinct storytelling style that tastefully combines wit and dark humour. She has screened in over 40 international film festivals and clinched over 10 awards. “My role as a storyteller is to give pause and take stock of life. In my films, I hope to heighten the experience of daily life and to place it in sharper relief.”
While based in New York, Tan is active in the local film community as co-founder of the Asian Film Archive, and continues to speak at various educational institutions. “Film-making isn’t a career to me — it’s my life,” Tan reveals. “It won’t be easy but if you love it, there’s nothing that compares.”
PHOTO Kirsten Tan
Riduan Zalani 31
Riduan Zalani is a percussionist and artistic director of NADI Singapura, a Malay drumming group that brings a contemporary edge to a traditional art, putting Malay music on the world stage. Passionate about youth engagement, he is a recipient of the Goh Chok Tong Youth Promise Award in 2006, the ASEAN Youth Award and the Singapore Youth Award in 2013.
“My hope is for NADI members to rise as respectable artisans, representing a new breed of cultural ambassadors for Singapore,” he shares. “I believe we can revitalise and generate a renewed interest in Malay drumming traditions across generations around the world.”
PHOTO Riduan Zalani