Singapore: New American freedom of art award


The Indonesian artist FX Harsono received an inaugural Freedom of Art award in Singapore on 20 January 2015. It was presented to him by the U.S. ambassador to Singapore and the director of Art Stage Singapore.

The Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art honours an artist or curator from Southeast Asia who has dedicated a large part of their work to express the ideals of freedom and liberty. It consists of a trophy, certificate and a grant of 5,000 US dollars to help the awardee continue his work. 

Seven artists were shortlisted for nomination by Art Stage Singapore in consultation with advisors from the respective regional countries and the U.S Embassy in Singapore. All seven artists were nominated based on their active commitment to the ideals of freedom of art, expression, and liberty, and through their work, continually seek to express these ideals:

• FX Harsono (Indonesia)
• Aye Ko (Myanmar)
• Lee Wen (Singapore)
• Manit Sriwanichpoom (Thailand)
• Nadiah Bamadhaj (Malaysia)
• Pablo Baen Santos (Philippines)
• Svay Sareth (Cambodia)

The award was jointly presented by U.S. Ambassador to Singapore Mr Kirk Wagar, and Founder and Fair Director of Art Stage Singapore, Lorenzo Rudolf.

The award’s title pays tribute to the first Consul General of the United States of America to Singapore, Joseph Balestier, who servied between 1836-1852.

“Although arts communities have played an important role in the political discourse around Southeast Asia, Singapore itself is a paradox. It is considered to be one of the most progressive and forward-thinking in terms of public support for arts education, museum practice and funding for art. But in 2011, an installation by the British artist Simon Fujiwara at the Singapore Biennale was closed because it included small items depicting gay erotica. In 2013, the popular Singaporean street artist Samantha Lo (aka SkLo) was sentenced to 240 hours of community service after she pleaded guilty to “mischief” for pasting stickers with potentially politically charged tag lines on roads and traffic signs.”
Alexandra Seno, The Art Newspaper

“It is mind-boggling that it is being given in Singapore,” Valentine Willie, an art adviser in Southeast Asia, told The Art Newspaper which has published an article that gives a rundown of some of the problems Singapore has been and still is facing concerning arts freedom:

» The Art Newspaper – 15 January 2015:
Scepticism over US-backed freedom of expression award in Singapore
Embassy and art fair launch new prize in wake of crackdowns on local and international artists’ work

» Home page of Art Stage Singapore:

» The Straits Times – 20 January 2015:
Indonesian artist FX Harsono receives inaugural Freedom of Art award
The inaugural Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art was conferred on Indonesian artist FX Harsono

» Nookmag – 7 December 2014:
Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art
This year, Art Stage Singapore teamed up with the Embassy of the United States of America to launch the Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art.

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