Artist Amanda Heng is the first Singaporean to win Benesse Prize

SINGAPORE – Artist Amanda Heng is the first Singaporean to win the distinguished Benesse Prize, which comes with a cash award of three million yen ($36,931) and the chance for her work to exhibited at Japan’s Benesse Art Site Naoshima.

Ms Heng, 69, had to take a moment to collect herself before she could proceed with her thank-you speech at the ceremony at the National Gallery Singapore on Saturday (Jan 11) night.

She called the award “a great honour and privilege”, coming after a difficult period for her as she “faced challenges that come with ageing” and “how do I continue with my practice”.

Ms Heng later told The Straits Times that she was looking forward to visiting Naoshima and that the prize is “a great encouragement for the continuity of my practice”.

Dr Eugene Tan, director of the National Gallery and one of the award’s five jury members, said: “I am very pleased that the prize is being awarded to Amanda Heng. Her work highlights the important agency that art has in our societies today.

“She was one of the earliest artists in the region to highlight issues surrounding women, which still resonates today. Her more recent work continues to emphasise the need for each of us to do what is right, no matter how insignificant it may seem.”

Ms Heng is one of five artists showing at the Singapore Biennale shortlisted for the prize, now in its 12th edition.

She reprised her Let’s Walk series, first performed in 1999, for the Biennale, which ends on March 22.

In the original, Ms Heng and fellow performers walked backwards on the streets with high heels held in their mouths.

There have been two Biennale performances in which the artist walked with fellow performers from Singapore Art Museum to the Esplanade Tunnel, where archival materials and footage related to Let’s Walk are displayed. She will perform again on Feb 29 and March 21.

The other shortlisted artists were Singapore’s Robert Zhao Renhui, Thai Dusadee Huntrakul, Turk Hera Buyuktasciyan and Yemeni street artist Haifa Subay.

The prize, sponsored by Japanese conglomerate Benesse which has interests in education and healthcare, was presented at the Venice Biennale between 1995 and 2013 and has been given out at the Singapore Biennale since 2016.

Mr Tamotsu Adachi, Benesse’s representative director, president and chief executive, told the ceremony: “We chose to bring this award to Singapore … with the hope that, in the Asian age that lies ahead of us, Benesse prize will find a positive echo in Singapore as a financial hub and formidable cultural melting-pot.”

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