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Limited pool for freedom award

Singapore's Lee Wen is in the running for the Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art.
Singapore's Lee Wen is in the running for the Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art. PHOTO: IPRECIATION GALLERY

I refer to the article, Lee Wen One Of Three Finalists For Art Award (The Straits Times, Jan 8).

Being familiar with the regional visual arts scene, I thought that the organisers of the Joseph Balestier Award would have a problem coming up with new nominees because of the paucity of artists whose works actually advocate freedom actively.

Indeed, two of the three finalists this year - Singapore's Lee Wen and Myanmar's Aye Ko - were also nominated last year, but did not win.

The third finalist and the only newcomer is filmmaker Nguyen Trinh Thi from Vietnam.

The relevance of such an award is called into question as the number of artists who are eligible, going by the strict ideals of the award, is relatively small.

The achievements of the 22 nominees in the advocacy of freedom are considerable and not to be sniffed at, but having an award such as this has resulted in a situation where we see a repeat of more or less the same finalists.

It will be interesting to see the list of nominees and finalists next year.

More than that, we should reflect on Lee's oeuvre and what his nomination for the Joseph Balestier Award says about Singapore and what it means to have this award handed out here.


Lin Fangjie

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2016, with the headline 'Limited pool for freedom award'. Print Edition | Subscribe