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Art Stage Singapore and U.S. Embassy announce Aye Ko as winner of award
Aye Ko. Image courtesy of the artist.

SINGAPORE.- Art Stage Singapore and U.S. Embassy Singapore have awarded Aye Ko from Myanmar the 2017 Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art. U.S. Ambassador to Singapore Kirk Wagar and Mr. Lorenzo Rudolf, Founder and President of Art Stage Singapore presented the award, which includes a US $15,000 prize, at the third annual awards celebration this evening. Named for the first American diplomat accredited to Singapore, the Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art honors an artist or curator from the Southeast Asian region who is actively committed to the ideals of liberty and freedom of expression, and through his or her work, continually seeks to express these ideals. The award is jointly organized by Art Stage Singapore and U.S. Embassy Singapore.

Aye Ko’s performance art has established his position as one of Myanmar’s most high-profile artists. For the past two decades, his practice has interrogated the meaning of politics and nature. From 1988 to 1990, as a young man with a passion for his country, he participated in the student revolution and was involved in the underground movement for democracy. He was subsequently arrested in 1990 for his involvement and was given a 3-year prison sentence. After this sentence, he continued his art practice and became a full time artist. In 1999, he did his first performance piece at the Asia Topia Performance Art Festival in Thailand, followed by his second performance piece at Chaung Tha Beach in Myanmar. However, under harsh Myanmar law on performance art, he was sentenced to a three-month prison term. He appealed against the sentence and won. In 2008 Aye Ko and his colleagues established 'New Zero Art Space’ to share their ideas and activities with the wider public. This space continues to actively stir the dynamics of contemporary art in Myanmar.

“I was deeply impressed by the perseverance, spirit and talent of all three finalists,” said U.S. Ambassador to Singapore Kirk Wagar. “The Joseph Balestier Award honors artists who push the boundaries of creativity and challenge constraints to freedom of expression. There is no finer example of this than the work and the courage of Aye Ko. His unwavering commitment to principles of democracy extends beyond his own artistic practice as he works to foster creative spaces and the exchange of ideas in his home country of Myanmar. We hope this award will help him continue these important conversations – and start new dialogues – in the years to come.”

“We congratulate Aye Ko on being awarded the Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art 2017. He has worked long and hard throughout his artistic career to not only excel as an artist but also to bring about change in Myanmarese society through his art. As an artist committed to the ideals of freedom, he has endured much hardship but still continues to strive for progress via the language of contemporary art. Freedom is the absolute necessary basis for art, and Aye Ko’s actions underscore the definition that contemporary art is an attitude and a position, ” said Lorenzo Rudolf, Founder and President, Art Stage Singapore.

In addition to Aye Ko, the 2017 award jury also named Arahmaiani (Indonesia) and Chaw Ei Thein (Myanmar) as finalists. Members of the jury included: Professor Ute Meta Bauer, Director, Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Singapore; Ms Zoe Butt, Artistic Director, The Factory Contemporary Art Centre, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and Mr Enin Supriyanto, Independent Art Curator and writer, Indonesia.

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