Arts News Singapore

Six outstanding arts practitioners honoured for their pursuit of artistic excellence with Singapore’s top arts accolades

The National Arts Council (NAC) has conferred two Cultural Medallions and four Young Artist Awards today at the Istana. The distinguished awards recognise outstanding artists for their artistic excellence, distinctive body of works and contributions to developing our nation’s arts and cultural landscape. This year’s awards celebrate a diverse group of artists specialising in different fields, who have contributed to enhancing the vibrancy of our arts ecosystem and Singapore’s standing in the global art scene. 

The Cultural Medallion and Young Artist Award exemplify the distinctiveness of talent and artistry of practitioners who continue to explore novel avenues for creative expression while paving the way for new opportunities in Singapore’s art scene. Guest-of-honour President Halimah Yacob said, “Congratulations to all award recipients for their achievements and dedication to their respective creative practices. The continued growth of the local ecosystem of artists is heartening and reflects the importance of the arts in our way of life. We look forward to celebrating the lasting legacies of this year’s recipients and hope that their accomplishments will inspire the wider community and future generations to continue enriching our arts scene.”

Established in 1979, the Cultural Medallion recognises individuals whose artistic excellence, as well as contributions and commitment to the arts, have shaped Singapore’s growing cultural landscape. Individuals conferred with Singapore’s top arts accolade have made significant strides locally and internationally, displayed extraordinary leadership and inspired younger artists. Now in its 43rd year, the Cultural Medallion has been conferred to 132 artists across various disciplines.

Award-winning Artistic Director Aravinth Kumarasamy is well-known for conceptualising new and innovative ways of presenting traditional Indian dance productions and has developed over 35 original works showcasing the diversity and depth of his practice. A prominent figure in the world of Indian Dance ensembles, his work has been recognised locally and internationally. Under his leadership, Apsaras Arts travelled to over 40 countries for international collaborations and participated in festivals, placing the country’s Indian dance on the world map; in 2020, Apsaras Arts also received the National Heritage Board’s Intangible Steward of Cultural Heritage Award. Aravinth has been invited by global companies such as India’s pioneering dance institution Kalakshetra Foundation to mentor choreographers and the Lingalayam Dance Company in Sydney, Australia, to direct their annual dance productions. His role as an Artistic Director in Singapore saw him conceptualising dance productions that integrated local dancers across arts institutions. Notably, he directed a mega dance production in 2019, Natya Yatra — Celebrating 100 years of Indian Classical Dance in Singapore, which exemplified the collaborative spirit of Singapore’s Indian Dance fraternity. More recently, a collaboration with Wild Rice saw Agathi reimagined through a synthesis of theatre, poetry and Bharatanatyam. Aravinth has been committed to nurturing the next generation of local artists, having served as the panel of adjudicators and mentors for several national dance initiatives by Esplanade Theatres on the Bay and People’s Association, and has also led the Indian Performing Arts Convention to provide training and residency opportunities for young Indian dancers. With his contributions to the arts scene, Aravinth also received the Young Artist Award in 1999. 

Veteran theatre practitioner, playwright and dramaturg Kok Heng Leun is a prominent figure in the Singapore arts scene with a longstanding artistic career of almost three decades. He has directed over 90 productions and, until recently, served as Artistic Director at Drama Box. Characterised by a distinctive artistic practice that centres on community and civic engagement, his framework has generated platforms for participatory and co-creative processes and is often developed in collaboration with marginalised communities. His body of work explores concepts from environmental issues to multilingualism, space, and the role of artists in society. Most recently, besides co-directing Ubin, an immersive theatre experience that uncovers the stories and sites of Pulau Ubin for the 2022 Singapore International Festival of Arts, Heng Leun was the dramaturg for da:ns festival 2022 festival production Infinitely Closer in collaboration with The Human Expression (T.H.E) Dance Company, and also for Dragon Ladies Don’t Weep, a sonic portrayal of new music icon Margaret Leng Tan. Heng Leun has shown the continuous broadening of his role in the arts and culture scene, delving into dramaturgy and working across performing art forms. Under his leadership and direction, Drama Box has established itself as a company dedicated to building a collaborative and integrative arts community, with a great sensitivity to the social issues and individuals that they work with. Heng Leun actively contributes to the scene’s growth by conducting workshops for actor training and providing theatre education; he also served as the former Nominated Member of Parliament from 2016 to 2018, championing the arts sector and the importance of the arts in civic life. His contributions have landed him multiple awards, including the Young Artist Award in 2000.

Instituted in 1992, the Young Artist Award honours practitioners aged 35 and below, encouraging them to continue pursuing artistic excellence and recognises their potential for more significant leadership roles in Singapore and overseas. This year, four recipients come from diverse fields such as animation, music, theatre, and other areas of the performing and visual arts. These practitioners continuously push the boundary in their art making through the use of technology, interdisciplinary collaborations to present innovative and creative works that put Singapore’s arts on the global stage. Beyond artistic excellence, each recipient amplifies their passion for sharing their craft with fellow practitioners and budding artists; they take on mentorship roles to nurture and inspire interest in their arts genres, sowing the seeds that will define the next generation of artists. To date, there are 173 Young Artist Award recipients. 

  • Guo Ningru is a Sound Designer who has created for some of Singapore’s top dance and theatre companies, such as Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT) and T.H.E Dance Company. An NAC Arts Scholarship recipient, she graduated from the University of California Irvine’s renowned Sound Design programme, exploring Sound Design in various forms, including Sound Art, Game Sound Design, Dance Composition, and Immersive Spatial Audio. Ningru continues to create immersive audio technology designs through multi-directional audio and time-based localisation, pushing the boundaries of her work with every creation. 
  • Ho Rui An is an artist, writer, and researcher who works at the intersections of contemporary art, cinema, performance and theory. Having established himself with a distinctive performance lecture style practice, he navigates between anecdotal storytelling, visual analysis, and critical theory. Besides teaching professionally, Rui An sees his practice as a form of public pedagogy and often conducts talks and workshops to reach out to the broader community. His works have been presented at many prominent biennales and festivals worldwide, including the Bangkok Art Biennale (2020) and Gwangju Biennale (2018), gaining attention for his discursively compelling performances, films, and installations.
    • Widely known as the Co-Director of the animated music video The Road Ahead for the National Day Parade 2021, animation filmmaker Jerrold Chong explores universal themes of connection, time, memory, and social issues through his works. His films have won numerous awards and screened at film festivals worldwide, including at Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight, Busan International Film Festival, and Singapore International Film Festival, amongst many others. Jerrold is also a key organising member of Southeast Asia’s largest animation festival Cartoons Underground and strives to help mentor and nurture a healthy and vibrant animation community.
    • Flautist and music educator Rit Xu’s dexterity in being able to play different genres, from jazz to contemporary classical music, has made him internationally recognised as one of Singapore’s most versatile talents. A keen advocate of nurturing young musicians in Singapore and a key member of the Jazz Association Singapore Orchestras (JASSO), he serves as a mentor for young musicians in the orchestra’s youth wing. He is actively involved in collaborations with institutions and community leaders to promote music teaching and performances which champion the development of jazz pedagogy for music educators across all levels in Singapore. 

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Second Minister for Law, Mr Edwin Tong, said, “The Cultural Medallion and Young Artist Award celebrate the artistic excellence of our artists and reinforces the Council’s unwavering commitment to the growth of Singapore’s unique art scene. The recipients have flown Singapore’s flag high internationally, inspiring our community and uplifting our nation’s vibrant arts landscape. We are committed to supporting our artists and empowering them as they continue pursuing their passion and pushing the boundaries of their creative practices.”

Last year, a public gallery, Our Cultural Medallion Story, was also launched at The Arts House to commemorate the legacies of past and present Cultural Medallion recipients. Since 2021, the gallery space has continuously provided a platform for supporting the works of Cultural Medallion recipients. This includes 2003 Cultural Medallion recipient Lim Tze Peng, who held an exhibition titled Soul of Ink in 2021 featuring 20 of the most recent ink works that he had completed since 2020, as well as 1987 Cultural Medallion recipient Mdm Som Said, who held an exhibition in 2022 titled Malay Dance in Singapore: The Som Said Journey, documenting the history, evolution, and direction of Malay Dance in Singapore from her perspective.  

More of such diversified efforts for the community will be strengthened as NAC continues its work alongside government agencies and cultural institutions to document, profile and support the endeavours of our artists in charting the next phase of growth for Singapore’s arts scene through Our SG Arts Plan (2023-2027). With capability development such as the Cultural Medallion and Young Artist Award, the Council remains committed to building a sustainable and resilient arts sector through a creative economy, a connected society, and a distinctive city that champions artistic excellence and growth.  

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