Young Artist Award

Celebrating diverse practices

The Young Artist Award this year will be given to six recipients, the highest number since 2015's seven awards.

Established in 1992 by the National Arts Council (NAC), the award comes with a trophy, a certificate and a $20,000 grant, which is meant to support the artist's development. This year's artists span a wide range of practice - from dance to film.


Award validates dancer's journey

NORHAIZAD ADAM, 33

Dancer, choreographer, artistic director of P7:1SMA

This is turning into a red-letter year for dance artist Norhaizad Adam.

His son was born in May. His young dance company P7:1SMA presented Selament Pengantin Baru (Happy Newlyweds) on the Esplanade Theatre's main stage for the first time as part of da:ns festival las month. And now, he is receiving the Young Artist Award.

He says his son is a "rezeki baby", who brings blessings to the family. He is married to teacher-dancer Hasyimah Harith, who is also P7:1SMA's co-founder and company manager.

His wife is his "best dramaturg, although very harsh in criticism", he says, and also his biggest supporter.

When he received the call notifying him about the award, his wife shouted with glee at the news.

His parents reacted in typical Asian parent fashion. He adds with a chuckle: "I don't think they understand the weight of the award. They just said, 'Okay, good for you, but don't forget you have a baby to take care of now.'"

On a more reflective note, he says of the award: "It validates my journey. It's a form of recognition and will be very useful for my future endeavours."

He is "collecting ideas from other artists" on ways to use the grant, but has no idea yet what he will do with it. Right now, the new dad is relishing time with his newborn: "It's nice to be a househusband."


Reaching out to differently abled students

CHITRA POORNIMA SATHISH, 35

Carnatic musician

Carnatic musician and composer Chitra Poornima Sathish was chasing after her four-year-old son when she received a call from the NAC informing her that she was a recipient of the Young Artist Award.

Like many artists grounded by the pandemic, she had spent the last two years in a cocoon.

She says: "I've spent a lot of time introspecting on what my music means to me and what it means to be an educator, a composer."

The music educator, who is married to a musician and works with the acclaimed Akram Khan Dance Company on a project basis, has just finished her master's degree in music education at the National Institute of Education. But she is considering pursuing more courses.

"I've had a couple of students who are differently abled, with special needs. So, I'm looking at trying to equip myself to share music with people from diverse backgrounds and abilities."

Sharing her love of music is something the carnatic vocal teacher at the Temple of Fine Arts Singapore is passionate about. "Carnatic music has sprung from a way of life and it has been passed down from generation to generation. But our lifestyle is so different. For students who come once a week for an hour-long class, it's very difficult for them to understand the cultural implications and values behind the music."

She wants to use her grant on projects that will make the music accessible to new generations: "It's about providing context and making it relatable and interesting.

"The award has helped me to really zero in on that purpose. It's given me the added drive and push to want to embark on that journey with more depth."


Hectic time for musician despite the pandemic

CHARLIE LIM, 32

Musician

While live performances are still a rarity at the moment, musician Charlie Lim is busy with rehearsals and recording sessions, which explains why he has run out of antigen rapid test kits.

"It's been intense," he says of his hectic schedule over a Google Hangout call.

He has his fingers in many pies, including executive-producing a project for the Foundation For The Arts And Social Enterprise and collaborating with local menswear brand Chota House Collective on a capsule collection.

The accomplished musician has been on an upward trajectory since 2015 when he released his acclaimed double EP Time/Space, which topped the iTunes Singapore chart. He also sold out a two-night gig in a triple-bill with singer-songwriter Inch Chua and indie rock band The Great Spy Experiment at the Esplanade's 1,600-seat concert hall.

But like any jobbing musician, he juggles the creative with the mundane. When he received the call about the Young Artist Award, he was doing "something boring, admin stuff like replying e-mails".

He says of the award: "It's a very long-running legacy with artists I look up to, so to be associated with that is an honour.

"It puts a spotlight on artists. It's an affirmation that our work contributes to the art scene. It's a very nice sense of validation."

He already has an idea about how he would like to use his grant: "Possibly to grow a collective label for artists, something that can help artists who want to be independent. I'm not sure how to go about doing that at the moment, but I want to see how I can facilitate that."


Relieved at receiving award this year at 34

HAN XUEMEI, 34

Theatre practitioner

Theatre practitioner Han Xuemei was waiting for her meal at Green Dot restaurant when she found out about her award. Her first reaction was: "Wow."

She adds, a little sheepishly: "If I'm honest, I feel relieved.

"The award is open to artists aged up to 35 and, this year, I'm 34. If I don't get it, there's a chance I can get it next year. But I thought let's just get it so I don't have to put in all the paperwork again next year."

Echoing a common theme for the recipients this year, she is hoping to use her grant money to support other artists.

"I'm hoping to find a way where I can utilise the money such that it doesn't benefit just me. But I don't know how to go about it. Ideally, I want to figure out whether there is a way to make the money grow, so it can continue to benefit more people."

Her practice is rooted in a belief in social engagement, so it is no surprise that the Drama Box resident artist, who is on sabbatical from the theatre group, would be interested in how to extend the impact of her grant.

Currently in a one-year residency with the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art, where she is researching the idea of rest, she concedes that the pandemic has awakened a new sense of mutual support among artists.

"Besides the sense of community, I also feel I'm very lucky to have been at the right place all these years, so I feel like I'm not entitled to the grant myself."


Dreaming of becoming a biennale artist

ZEN TEH SHI WEI, 33

Environmental artist and educator

Multidisciplinary artist Zen Teh Shi Wei thought the NAC was calling to tell her a grant application had failed. Instead, she found out she was a Young Artist Award recipient.

"I'm very thankful for this important affirmation from the NAC. As a young artist, it's very important to just keep trying," she says.

Trained as a painter, she switched to photography and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography and digital imaging from Nanyang Technological University.

The award is more than a monetary windfall.

The artist, who often collaborates with experts in other fields including sound artists and scientists, is looking forward to "the learning and the doors that can open as a result of this".

"I'm looking to push my practice, to work with institutions, hopefully, at some point in the future, be a biennale artist as well."

She hopes to address not just Singaporean but global issues in her work. With the pandemic, she is also exploring more digital collaborations: "Digital can't solve all problems. It's not some magical tool."

But as an environmentally conscious artist who is focused on green issues, she adds: "As an artist going forward, one issue is how to make use of more sustainable materials.

"Second, how do we use the digital in meaningful ways that push the boundaries of what we can experience in the physical world?"


Nice welcome home for returning film-maker

YEO SIEW HUA, 36

Film-maker

Film-maker Yeo Siew Hua declares jokingly: "It's good to feel young again."

The official age limit for Young Artist Award recipients is 35, but the NAC made an exception for the 36-year-old because, as a spokesman explains, "an unfortunate technical glitch in the newly launched nomination portal last year caused his nomination submission to be excluded".

The award is the latest feather in Yeo's cap.

The 36-year-old is the first Singaporean to win the Golden Leopard award at the 71st Locarno Festival for his 2018 mystery thriller A Land Imagined. The film also won him a Golden Horse for Best Original Screenplay.

While these international accolades are thrilling, he says: "It's always really good to be recognised at home. Having people congratulate me overseas is one thing, but my family and relatives know of the Young Artist Award.

"It means a lot to me because I don't think there are any other forms of institutional recognition like this in Singapore."

It is also a nice welcome home as the film-maker has spent the past year in Argentina, where his partner is based and just returned recently.

He has been working there on a film about the beef industry, The Once And Future, which will be screened at the Singapore International Festival of Arts next year.

The film is about "how that culture of meat seeps into every part of life" in Argentina, the biggest beef-producing country in the world. "It's like a whole different connection to their meats. The film tries to deal with the different aspects of the meat industry."

Correction note: This article was edited to correct Zen Teh Shi Wei's age.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2021, with the headline 'Celebrating diverse practices'. Subscribe