Myanmar artist Aye Ko wins Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art

Veteran Myanmar artist Aye Ko, 54, has won the 2017 Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art after being nominated for it three times.
Veteran Myanmar artist Aye Ko, 54, has won the 2017 Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art after being nominated for it three times.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/ARTIST AYE KO

Veteran Myanmar artist Aye Ko, 54, has won the 2017 Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art after being nominated for it three times.

The award, launched in 2015 by contemporary art fair Art Stage Singapore and the Embassy of the United States in Singapore, honours a South-east Asian artist, or curator, whose work is actively committed to advocating freedom.

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

Aye Ko beat two other finalists, female artists Arahmaiani from Indonesia and Chaw Ei Thein from Myanmar, to win the cash prize of US$15,000 (S$21,530).

The finalists were picked by a jury that includes Professor Ute Meta Bauer, director of the Centre for Contemporary Art, Singapore, Ms Zoe Butt, artistic director of The Factory Contemporary Art Centre in Ho Chi Minh City and Mr Enin Supriyanto, a curator and writer from Indonesia.

Aye Ko, who is trained as a painter, turned to performance art in the 1990s as a means to express his thoughts about the social and political turmoil in his homeland.

His push for democracy and freedom have landed him in prison, but he continues to make political statements with his art.

In 2008, he and a few partners started the gallery New Zero Art Space in Yangon to grow Myanmar's art scene and support young talents.