Vietnamese artist wins $60,000 prize

Phan Thao Nguyen's installation of videos and oil paintings titled Tropical Siesta imagines a village populated only by children.
Phan Thao Nguyen's installation of videos and oil paintings titled Tropical Siesta imagines a village populated only by children.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Phan Thao Nguyen clinches Signature Art Prize with installation titled Tropical Siesta

Vietnamese artist Phan Thao Nguyen has won the grand prize of $60,000 at the APB Foundation Signature Art Prize, a triennial award organised by the Singapore Art Museum and sponsored by the Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation.

The 31-year-old's installation of videos and oil paintings titled Tropical Siesta imagines a village populated only by children.

Three other awards were announced yesterday at the awards ceremony at the National Museum of Singapore, attended by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu.

Singapore artist Shubigi Rao, 43, took home a $15,000 juror's choice award for her film-and-text installation on destroyed libraries, Pulp: A Short Biography Of The Banished Book. Vol I: Written In The Margins (2014-2016). Another $15,000 juror's choice award was given to 50-year-old Thai artist Thasnai Sethaseree's paper collage on monk robes, Untitled (Hua Lamphong).

After Paradise Lost #1, a painting by Indonesian artist Gede Mahendra Yasa, 51, won the $10,000 people's choice award by receiving the most votes from visitors.

All 15 works shortlisted for the prize are on display at the museum until Sept 2.

Both Nguyen and Rao said their work was supported by residencies at the Nanyang Technological University's Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore.

Rao's work is part of a 10-year project about people who saved or destroyed libraries. It includes Pulp: A Short Biography Of The Banished Book, which is in the running for the Singapore Literature Prize in the non-fiction category.

Rao, who was born in India and became a Singapore citizen three years ago, said: "This is a work born out of coming from two nations and seeing both grapple with cultural narratives, what you lose and what you retain."

Nguyen's work was inspired by the 17th-century writings of a French Jesuit missionary credited with romanising the Vietnamese script. Child actors re-enact a folktale or scenes in the writings.

Nguyen said: "Because of political or ideological systems in Vietnam, many stories are not written properly or are manipulated. I began to be interested in what is real and what is not true. I thought having children would make the work less serious and heavy."

This year was the fourth edition of the Signature Art Prize, launched in 2008 by the Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation and the Singapore Art Museum to recognise outstanding examples of contemporary art from artists in the Asia-Pacific region, and, this year, Central Asia.

There were 113 nominated works from 46 territories. The jury included Ms Mami Kataoka, chief curator of Tokyo's Mori Art Museum; Mr Bose Krishnamachari, president of the Kochi Biennale Foundation; Ms Joyce Toh, head of content and senior curator at the Singapore Art Museum; Dr Gerard Vaughan, who is director of the National Gallery of Australia; and artist and independent curator Wong Hoy Cheong.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2018, with the headline 'Vietnamese artist wins $60,000 prize'. Print Edition | Subscribe