Indian dance, theatre veterans get Cultural Medallion

Cultural Medallion recipients Aravinth Kumarasamy (left), the artistic director of Apsaras Arts, and Kok Heng Leun, the founder of Drama Box. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Mr Aravinth Kumarasamy and Mr Kok Heng Leun, both 56-year-old performing arts veterans, are the recipients of this year’s Cultural Medallion, Singapore’s most prestigious cultural accolade.

They received their awards from President Halimah Yacob at the Istana on Monday.

With this, they join an illustrious club of more than 130 members, including poet Edwin Thumboo, performance artist Lee Wen, painter Georgette Chen and last year’s awardees, singer Rahimah Rahim and novelist Chia Joo Ming.

With the award, they will have access to funds of up to $80,000 each. Both have said they hope the award would lead to greater recognition of their art forms, which are considered relatively outside the mainstream.

Mr Kumarasamy is the artistic director of Indian dance company Apsaras Arts, which was founded in 1977.

He quit his job as chief executive of a bank software start-up 12 years ago to focus on the dance company, creating more than 35 original works reflective of South-east Asian perspectives and taking Apsaras Arts to over 40 countries.

He said Indian dance needs more support from companies and audiences here, especially after huge successes and sold-out tours in France in November 2021.

He hopes to use some of the award money to create a resource and research centre for Indian dance, and boost a mentorship programme between young artists and more experienced ones that he has already taken abroad, including to Australia.

Mr Kok is the founder of theatre company Drama Box, and was, until recently, its artistic director.

Since volunteering at The Substation when it opened in 1990, he has had a particular focus on community theatre, engaging with people not traditionally served by the arts and bringing theatre to them where they live.

Drama Box has done this in areas such as Telok Blangah, working with underprivileged residents to co-create a wall mural in a void deck and engage them in a “performance artwork”, where they sat in the void deck and talked about how to live and eat well.

Mr Kok was also appointed Non-Constituency MP for the arts in 2016, and held informal Meet-the-People sessions with artmakers to gain feedback on how government policies impacted them.

He has not decided what to do with the fund money, but is interested in exploring stories about how humans and nature coexist, as well as the lives and conditions of those whose work involves caring for others and doing maintenance work.

Monday’s ceremony, which was attended by about 100 people, also recognised four standout young artists, conferring on them the Young Artist Award, given to those aged 35 and below.

The recipients are sound designer Guo Ningru, 35; artist, writer and researcher Ho Rui An, 32; animation film-maker Jerrold Chong, 31; and flautist and music educator Rit Xu, 33.

All four will be eligible for a grant of up to $20,000 each for projects or studies that will help with their artistic development or contribute to the local arts scene.

At the end of the event, those present paid tribute to three Cultural Medallion recipients who died in 2022: Indian dancer Santha Bhaskar at age 83; artist Ho Ho Ying, aged 87; and poet Mohamed Latiff Mohamed at age 72.

Ministers Low Yen Ling (front row, left) and Edwin Tong (front row, right) with Cultural Medallion recipients Aravinth Kumarasamy (back row, second from right) and Kok Heng Leun (back row, right), and Young Artist Award recipients (clockwise from top left) Jerrold Chong, Ho Rui An, Rit Xu and Guo Ningru. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

President Halimah said: “The continued growth of the local ecosystem of artists is heartening, and it reflects the importance of the arts in our way of life. We look forward to celebrating the lasting legacies of this year’s recipients and hope that their accomplishments will inspire the wider community and future generations to continue enriching our arts scene.”

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong said: “The recipients have flown Singapore’s flag high internationally, inspiring our community and uplifting our nation’s vibrant arts landscape. We are committed to supporting our artists and empowering them as they continue pursuing their passion and pushing the boundaries of their creative practices.”

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