Singapore artist Lee Wen one of three finalists for Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art

Lee Wen (above) was a Cultural Medallion recipient in 2005 for his contribution to Singapore art.
Lee Wen (above) was a Cultural Medallion recipient in 2005 for his contribution to Singapore art.PHOTO: ST FILE

The performance artist is in the shortlist again for the Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art

Pioneering Singapore performance artist Lee Wen is once again in the running for the Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art - which honours a South-east Asian artist or curator whose work is actively committed to advocating freedom.

The award is in its second year and is presented by contemporary art fair Art Stage Singapore and the Embassy of the United States in Singapore.

Lee is one of three finalists for the award, which has a cash prize of US$15,000 (S$21,553), up from US$5,000 last year. The other two are performance artist Aye Ko from Myanmar, who was also nominated last year; and film-maker Nguyen Trinh Thi from Vietnam.

The finalists were shortlisted from 22 nominated artists and curators by a jury comprising Dr Ute Meta Bauer, director of Singa- pore's Centre for Contemporary Art; Ms Luckana Kunavichayanont, director of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre; and Mr Enin Supriyanto, an independent art curator and writer from Indonesia.

Lee is best known for his Yellow Man series, where his entire body is painted yellow in an exaggeration of ethnic stereotypes.

Performance art - his mode of expression - has a fraught history in Singapore. In 1994, following an outcry over a controversial per- formance, the Government started a 10-year, no-funding policy on performance art events.

He continued practising and, in 2005, was a Cultural Medallion recipient for his contribution to Singapore art. His gallerist, Helina Chan of iPreciation Gallery, says: "His strong and independent spirit, not only as an artist but also as a person, is something I admire greatly. I hope he wins this time."

All three finalists "have shown bravery in their works and all have taken personal risks in speaking truth to power", said Mr Kirk Wagar, the US ambassador to Singapore, in a press statement. He will be jointly selecting the winner with Art Stage Singapore founder and president Lorenzo Rudolf.

Aye criticised the authoritarian regime in Myanmar through his body-based performances, while Nguyen's films highlighted the issues confronting marginalised communities in Vietnam.

Indonesian artist FX Harsono, who documented pro-democracy dissent and minority experiences, particularly of ethnic Chinese in Indonesia, won the prize last year.

This year's winner will be named during a ceremony on Jan 19.

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

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 08, 2016, with the headline 'Lee Wen one of three finalists for art award'. Print Edition | Subscribe