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 on Tuesday evening.

Presented by the contemporary art fair Art Stage Singapore and the Embassy of the United States of America in Singapore, the award recognises an artist from South-east Asia who is committed to the ideal of freedom and expresses it through his or her work.

Joseph Balestier was the first American diplomat accredited to Singapore, and was appointed US Consul to Singapore in 1836.

The award ceremony was held at the residence of the American ambassador, Kirk Wagar, and he presented the prize along with Lorenzo Rudolf, the fair's director.

Harsono, 65, was recognised by the organisers as "his critical installation and performance work spans pro-democracy dissent to explorations of the experiences of ethnic 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, with the upper halves of the faces arranged in a square, staring silently at the pile of upturned mouths in the centre.

It was a response to Indonesian government's ban of the magazine Tempo after it published an article exposing corruption in the Suharto regime.

Aside from a trophy and certificate, Harsono received a grant of US$5,000 (S$6,700) to continue his artistic work.

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