Freedom of Art prize money raised to $20,000

A regional award that recognises freedom of expression in art returns in January next year with a bigger purse of US$15,000 (S$20,916), up from US$5,000.

The Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art is presented by Singapore's leading contemporary art fair Art Stage Singapore and the Embassy of the United States of America in Singapore.

It recognises an artist or curator from South-east Asia who is committed to freedom and expresses it through his work.

In an e-mail response, fair director Lorenzo Rudolf tells Life: "Our continued partnership with the American embassy has made this possible. The increase in prize money reflects the importance we place in recognising the role of the artist in society."

He describes artists as the "indispensable seismographs for the political, economic and cultural development of our society".

Indonesian artist FX Harsono won the inaugural award in January this year. Known for his critical installation and performance work, he has long been documenting pro-democracy dissent and the experiences of minorities.

One of the Jakarta-based artist's best-known works is The Voices Controlled By The Powers (1994), which features rows of traditional Indonesian masks severed in two.

Harsono was one of the seven nominees who made the shortlist this year, along with Singapore performance artist Lee Wen.

The award is named after the first American diplomat accredited to Singapore, Mr Joseph Balestier, who was appointed US Consul to Singapore in 1836.

A jury of three South-east Asian art experts has been formed to select artists or curators from the region for the award.

Led by Dr Ute Meta Bauer, director of the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, the jury includes Ms Luckana Kunavichayanont, director of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, as well as Mr Enin Supriyanto, an independent art curator and writer from Indonesia.

They will shortlist three artists and curators from the nominations submitted by art professionals around the region. The shortlist will be announced on Jan 7.

The winner will be chosen by the US Embassy and Art Stage Singapore and announced on Jan 19.

Apart from the grant, the winner will also get a trophy and certificate. These will be presented on Jan 16 by the US Ambassador to Singapore Kirk Wagar and Mr Rudolf.

The next edition of Art Stage will be held from Jan 21 to 24 at the Marina Bay Sands Exhibition and Convention Centre.

This article was first published on October 15, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.