Ex-refugee wins big at Prudential Eye Awards

Cambodian who learnt art in a refugee camp bags two prizes

Svay Sareth won the Overall Best Emerging Artist prize and Best Emerging Artist Award in the sculpture category at the 2016 Prudential Eye Awards. ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Cambodian artist Svay Sareth, who escaped from his home as a refugee, scooped up two prizes at a prestigious art awards ceremony last night.

Svay, whose work was part of the 2013 Singapore Biennale, bagged the Overall Best Emerging Artist prize at the 2016 Prudential Eye Awards for Contemporary Asian Art. For this, he received a US$30,000 (S$43,000) cash prize, a citation and the chance to exhibit at London's prestigious Saatchi Gallery this year.

He also won another US$20,000 for the Best Emerging Artist Award in the sculpture category.

The annual Prudential Eye Awards, now in its third year, recognises the best emerging artists working with various mediums, including installation, painting, photography and sculpture. It also recognises institutions for organising cutting-edge exhibitions.

The event, held at the Sands Theatre at Marina Bay Sands, was officiated by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth. It is part of the ongoing Singapore Art Week. The awards was founded by British-Italian art lovers David and Serenella Ciclitira, in partnership with insurance firm Prudential and Saatchi Gallery.

Prudential Eye Programme director Niru Ratnam called Svay's work "funny, poetic and confident".

The 43-year-old artist, who often uses everyday objects in his works, fled his home in Battambang in Cambodia in 1979 and lived in a refugee camp at the border of Thailand for 13 years before moving to Siem Reap, where he is now based.

He learnt art in the refugee camp. His sculptures, installations and performance-art pieces question notions of power and his country's complex past.

One such work titled Stake Or Skewer, which was in the reckoning for the awards, is made of wood and 17 rubber sandals. The way the sandals hang on a wooden pole alludes to his country's tumultuous political history and the many lives lost.

Thai artist Sakarin Krue-On, 50, known for his site-specific installations using Thai imagery, was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award for Asian Contemporary Art.

Other key winners include India's Manish Nai, 35, who received the Best Emerging Artist Award for Painting. He is known for his unconventional use of materials and has been receiving international acclaim for his abstract compositions.

Bangladesh's Shumon Ahmed, 39, who is known for his extensive documentation of the conditions in ship-breaking yards of South Asia, received the same award in the photography category.

There were no winners from Singapore this year. Last year, four Singapore artists and institutions won awards.

An exhibition featuring 39 art works by the 15 shortlisted artists runs at ArtScience Museum till March 27.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2016, with the headline Ex-refugee from Cambodia wins big at Prudential Eye Awards. Subscribe