Tissue paper and gauze for winning work

Malaysian artist Saiful Razman has won the UOB South-east Asian Painting of the Year award for a minimalist, monochromatic artwork inspired by self-isolation during the pandemic.

Titled Walk In Silence, Don't Walk Away In Silence, it makes creative use of thin-rolled tissue paper and medical gauze, and features a "haven" in the shape of a house.

His artwork came tops among the country winners of the UOB Painting of the Year contests in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. His win was announced last Friday in a virtual ceremony on YouTube.

The competition, organised by United Overseas Bank (UOB), is Singapore's longest-running art contest and is now in its 40th year.

Saiful, 41, said in a statement that Covid-19 has made feelings of isolation more prevalent than ever.

"I wanted to express the absence of sound and the sense of serenity experienced during self-isolation through using mixed media and highly contrasting shades of grey."

To mark the award's 40th anniversary, the bank launched a UOB Digital Art Grant - via a $200,000 donation to the National Arts Council's Sustain the Arts (stART) Fund - to promote the use of digital technologies in art.

The stART fund, which was launched in January this year and supported by the private sector, helps smaller arts groups create quality programmes and develop their organisational and fund-raising capabilities.

"For the arts to flourish and grow, it is important to foster a thriving ecosystem through strong and sustained partnerships among the public, private and people sectors, through initiatives like the stART Fund and partners like UOB," President Halimah Yacob, the guest of honour, said in a speech.

"A diverse and self-sustaining arts ecosystem promulgates our sense of community and identity. I encourage everyone to consider how we can individually support our arts, whether as a patron, volunteer, fan or simply a member of the audience. As collectors, corporates and individuals, we can all play a role and, together, foster an arts scene that Singapore can continue to be proud of," she added.

Saiful will receive US$10,000 (S$13,700) for winning the top prize, in addition to RM100,000 (S$32,400) for the UOB Painting of the Year (Malaysia) award. He will also get to take part in a residency programme at the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum in Japan or UOB Art Gallery in Shanghai, China.

Keane Tan, 22, won the award's Singapore category for A Dramatic Cinematic For Our Century. The piece, a scene of the Merlion Park and crashing waves, uses image generation and machine learning technologies for its base, as well as detailed finishing in oil paint.

Brian Ko, 20, won the UOB Most Promising Artist of the Year Award (Singapore) for Uncertainty Of Photovoltaic Cells, an abstract interpretation of a black solar panel.

UOB's deputy chairman and chief executive, Mr Wee Ee Cheong, said: "Over the last four decades, the UOB Painting of the Year competition has helped to uncover and nurture our region's artists, making their artworks accessible to a wider audience.

"This year, we have seen a record number of entries from across the region, each entry testament to the imagination and ingenuity of South-east Asian artists to relate to their audiences."

Next year, UOB will also run a commemorative exhibition featuring past winners of the award's South-east Asian and Singapore categories since 1982, the year the competition started.

•This year's winning paintings will be exhibited at the UOB Art Gallery, UOB Plaza 1 in Singapore till Feb 28 as well as on www.UOBandArt.com

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2021, with the headline Tissue paper and gauze for winning work. Subscribe