S'pore actress Janice Koh awarded by France for promotion of the arts, heritage

Actress Janice Koh with French ambassador Marc Abensour after she was awarded the Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters on June 6, 2022. PHOTO: FRENCH EMBASSY

SINGAPORE - For actress Janice Koh, actors have always been less likely to receive national accolades than writers, painters, composers and film-makers, whose creations are more tangible.

So it was a particularly gratifying moment for her when French ambassador to Singapore Marc Abensour pinned a medallion to her chest on Monday (June 6).

During a champagne-filled evening at Wild Rice Theatre in Funan, she was made a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters - or Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres - in what the 48-year-old actress described as "quite possibly the only national honour I can expect to receive in my lifetime in recognition of my work".

"Maybe it's because actors don't make anything tangible. We don't make any thing," Ms Koh told a gathering of local actors and French officials.

"We channel, we inhabit, we energise the space, we fill the silences. (The award) tells us artistes and actors that we are valued and we are worth celebrating."

Hers was the last of three ceremonies held in May and June by the French Embassy to grant three Singaporeans the green ribbon in recognition of their efforts in promoting the arts and heritage here, often in collaboration with French officials and artistes.

The Order of Arts and Letters is an award established in 1957 by France's Minister of Culture to recognise people who have made significant contributions to the arts and literature.

To date, 40 Singaporeans have received it.

There were two other awardees this year: senior director of tourism development at the Singapore Tourism Board Pamelia Lee, who was awarded for her work in preserving historical buildings such as Empress Place and Chijmes, and director of the Singapore International Photography Festival Gwen Lee, whose efforts saw 18 French photographers being invited to the festival over its seven editions.

Ms Koh was commended for starring in acclaimed plays such as French writer and director Joel Pommerat's The Reunification Of Two Koreas, which played to sold-out crowds in Singapore and France in 2018.

Her most recent Singapore International Festival of Arts play Salome, a one-act tragedy written by Oscar Wilde in French and directed by Singapore director Ong Keng Sen, as well as her role in Pangdemonium's production of French novelist Florian Zeller's trilogy of The Father, The Son and The Mother, also extended her French connection.

Mr Abensour said: "Your contribution and your sense of commitment to the art scene in Singapore is of great value. You have worked with the best playwrights and you have always dedicated yourself completely to the different roles you played on stage or on screen."

He added: "Your friendship with France is special. Beyond your recent role... you have been present at every step of the very fruitful collaboration between France and Singapore in the performing arts over the last years."

It was an emotional night for the actress, who has had a storied career in theatre, film and television.

At one point, she was caught up in tears when acknowledging that her passion for theatre has been inseparable from the sacrifice of missing important moments in the lives of her two sons due to a hectic schedule.

Actress Janice Koh after being awarded the Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters. PHOTO: FRENCH EMBASSY

Mr Abensour said Ms Koh's position as Nominated MP from 2011 to 2014 also contributed to the decision to give her the award, as she had passionately promoted the arts and creative sectors, and advocated for the central role they play in Singapore's identity, history and creativity.

Globally, 960 people each year are given the medal by the French government.

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