Amanda Heng Wins Benesse Prize 2019
By Kylie Yeung
On January 11, Japanese conglomerate Benesse Holdings, Inc. and Singapore Art Museum (SAM) announced multidisciplinary artist Amanda Heng as the winner of the 12th Benesse Prize, given to an artist participating in the 2019 Singapore Biennale, “Every Step in the Right Direction.” The first Singaporean to win the award, Heng was conferred a cash prize of JPY 3 million (USD 27,000) at the award presentation at the National Gallery Singapore, and will have her work exhibited at the Benesse Art Site Naoshima.
Born in 1951 in Singapore, Heng is known for her performative works featuring everyday situations exploring concepts of labor and gender. In her series Let’s Walk (1999—) which was initiated to examine the aftermaths of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis from the female perspective, Heng and other performers, with high heels in their mouths, walked backwards on the streets to instill inner reflections and looking outward with others. Reprising the series in Every Step Counts (2019) at the Singapore Biennale, Heng recaptured acts of walking in her call for participation and conversation among participants, under the new theme of the endurance and restrictions of an aging body. The artist has received numerous awards including the Cultural Medallion for Visual Arts (2010), and has exhibited widely including at Manila’s Vargas Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, and at SAM.
Dr Eugene Tan, one of the award's five jury members and director of the National Gallery Singapore, commented to The Straits Times regarding the importance of Heng’s work in today’s society: “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 emphasize the need for each of us to do what is right, no matter how insignificant it may seem."
The prize, previously awarded at the Venice Biennale until switching to the Singapore Biennale since 2016, recognizes artists with an experimental and critical spirit whose works can “develop an artistic reflection around the theme of ‘Benesse’ (Well-Being).”
Every Step Counts (2019) is on view at the Esplanade Tunnel, Singapore, until March 21.
Kylie Yeung is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific.
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