Dramatist Haresh Sharma, virtuoso pianist Margaret Leng Tan, Chinese-language writer Lin Gao and painter Chua Mia Tee received the Cultural Medallion yesterday.
At a ceremony held at the Istana, President Tony Tan Keng Yam presented them with Singapore's highest accolade for contributions to the arts.
Established in 1979, the Cultural Medallion has been presented to 119 artists to date. Each recipient is eligible for an $80,000 grant for artistic endeavours over their lifetime.
For Chua, who at 84 is the oldest of this year's recipients, the occasion brought back memories. Over a career spanning six decades, he has painted portraits of leaders such as the country's first President, Mr Yusof Ishak, and its late founding father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
"I feel particularly moved today at the Istana, where I have met and painted various generations of presidents and prime ministers," said Chua in his acceptance speech.
Sharma, 50, is the resident playwright at local theatre company The Necessary Stage.His plays such as Off Centre (1993) have been used as literature texts in schools here.
Recalling how Off Centre had initially been labelled as "presenting a prejudiced view of mental disorder" by the authorities, Sharma said yesterday: "Let us all not dismiss artists and their work because of fear, uncertainty, lack of imagination, anxiety, or that people might complain or write in... please support our artists unconditionally."
New York-based Dr Tan, 70, was the first woman to earn a doctorate from the prestigious Juilliard School in the United States. Known for her skill with the toy piano, she studied under the late American avant-garde composer John Cage. "I'd like to applaud the selection committee, as it takes a certain courage to award the nation's cultural honour to someone who plays with toys," she said.
Author Lim Hung Chang, 66, better known as Lin Gao, last year clinched the Singapore Literature Prize for Chinese fiction for his work, Micro-Fiction. He said: "With many artists doing their part, I believe Singaporean arts and culture will shine bright in the region and world."