6 Southeast Asian photographers you should know

Six photographers from Southeast Asia were among the finalists of the Sovereign Asian Art Prize 2014.

Annually awarded to one of thirty artists shortlisted for its prestigious first-place award, the Sovereign Asian Art Prize draws from among the best artists in Asia. Six photographers from Southeast Asian countries especially distinguished themselves in the Prize’s tenth edition.

Urich Wai-Yuen Lau, 'The Orators: Monologues', wet plate collodion on glass, 60 x 70cm. Image courtesy Sovereign Art

Urich Wai-Yuen Lau, ‘The Orators: Monologues’, wet plate collodion on glass, 60 x 70 cm. Image courtesy Sovereign Art Foundation.

Established in 2003 by the Sovereign Art Foundation – a Hong Kong-based charity that provides arts-oriented rehabilitation, education and therapy to children in need – the Sovereign Asian Art Prize is awarded annually to one of thirty artists. The thirty finalists, nominated by a panel of experts in the field of Asian art, compete for the prestigious first-place prize of USD30,000.

The finalists for the 2013-2014 edition of the prize, representing twelve territories across Asia, were shortlisted from amongst 280 nominees. Their work was shown at the Rotunda in Hong Kong from 28 April to 8 May 2014. Twenty-nine of these artworks (all except the winning piece) were auctioned off at a gala dinner by Christie’s on 9 May 2014, with all proceeds divided between the artists and the charity partners of the Foundation.

Six photographers shortlisted for the prize especially stood out. Although they live and work in different places, each explores what the visible world conceals, using his or her camera to uncover revenant traces of guilt, hypocrisy and recrimination in what might otherwise seem a placidly benign environment – a perfectly “normal” and therefore acceptable surface. While four of the six photographers were born in Singapore, the uniqueness of their respective practices cannot be overlooked.

Eiffel Chong, 'Police #14', C-type photograph, 144 x 116cm. Image courtesy Sovereign Art Foundation.

Eiffel Chong, ‘Police #14’, C-type photograph, 144 x 116 cm. Image courtesy Sovereign Art Foundation.

Eiffel Chong

The work of Malaysian-born Eiffel Chong (b. 1977, Kuala Lumpur) is, according to the artist, “an [intellectual] distillation of Malaysia’s banal landscapes and interiors.” His interest in capturing vestigial human traces, often through photographing places that intimate the past by way of discarded objects, led him to develop the series “Royal Malaysian Police”, from which a photo was selected by the Sovereign Art Foundation’s panelists. The series is about re-photographing ID photos of police personnel and, as explained on the website Invisible Photographer Asia, 

serves as a reminder of the effect each act has upon its soul, with each sin displayed as a disfigurement, or through a sign of aging.

Chong holds a MA in International Contemporary Art and Design Practice from the University of East London and lectures in photography at Limkokwing University of Creative Technology in Malaysia.

Robert Zhao Renhui, 'Rhinoceros with no horns', Archival piezographic print, 87 x 125cm. Image courtesy Sovereign Art  Foundation.

Robert Zhao Renhui, ‘Rhinoceros with no horns’, archival piezographic print, 87 x 125 cm. Image courtesy Sovereign Art Foundation.

Robert Zhao Renhui

Multidisciplinary Singaporean artist Robert Zhao Renhui examines the relationship between humans and nature, often evidencing the destructive influence humans have on animal life. As stated in the artist folio [PDF download] for the 2013 Singapore Biennale,

Much of [Renhui’s] work is closely tied to a fictitious research organisation called the Institute of Critical Zoologists (ICZ). This organisation aims to capture issues surrounding the exploitation of animals through the lens of visual artists.

Renhui holds an MA in Photography from the University of the Arts London. He was the recipient of the Singapore National Arts Council’s Young Artist Award in 2010 and the 2011 Deutsche Bank Award in Photography. His work has been exhibited internationally, including at the Singapore Art Museum, the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum in Japan and the Photo-Levallois Festival in Paris.

Regarding the inspiration behind his practice, Renhui told Time Out Singapore:

I just want to challenge the way we see things and prompt my audience to be more reflective. Institutes and photography are both authoritative sources, and I want people to question them. I’m against reading everything too simply.

Vandy Rattana, 'Prey Veng', Bomb Ponds Series, 2009, digital C print, 107 x 130cm. Image courtesy Sovereign Art Foundation

Vandy Rattana, ‘Prey Veng’, “Bomb Ponds” Series, 2009, digital C-print, 107 x 130 cm. Image courtesy Sovereign Art Foundation.

Vandy Rattana

Cambodian Vandy Rattana (b. 1980, Phnom Penh) is a self-taught artist with a Law Degree from Panasastra University. His photographic style is at once that of a documentarian and social critic. As stated on the Guggenheim’s website:

Rattana’s photographs do not merely communicate a state of victimhood; rather, they acknowledge the processes of survival, resilience, and healing. They present a specific perspective on modernity, one in which advanced technology equates to destruction, the recovery of nature is a form of progress, traditional and vernacular forms sometimes trump innovation, and the everyday becomes heroic.

Rattana has had solo exhibitions at Popil Photo Gallery (2006–07), Sa Sa Art Gallery (2009) and SA SA BASSAC (2011 and 2012–13) in Phnom Penh. He founded the collective Stiev Selapak (“Art Rebels”) in 2007 and divides his time between Phnom Penh, Paris and Taipei.

Sarah Choo Jing, 'Between Us', pigment print under diasec, 112 x 70cm. Imager courtesy Sovereign Art Foundation.

Sarah Choo Jing, ‘Between Us’, pigment print under diasec, 112 x 70 cm. Image courtesy Sovereign Art Foundation.

Sarah Choo Jing

Sarah Choo Jing (b. 1990, Singapore) attended the School of Art, Design & Media at Nanyang Technological University and currently resides in London, where she is completing her MFA in Fine Art Media at the Slade School of Media.

Among other honours, she represented Singapore in the Santa Fe International New Media Festival in New Mexico, and in 2013 was awarded the Lee Kuan Yew Gold Medal Award and the Kwek Leng Joo Prize of Excellence in Still Photography. She was also selected as the Photographer of the Year in the fine art photography category at the 4th International Pollux Awards.

Sarah Choo Jing was also the winner of the ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu 2013. ARTINFO quotes Agnes de Gouvion Saint-Cyr, a member of the jury, as saying that Choo’s works “masterfully address the theme of solitude with her multidisciplinary approach of [sic] photography.”

Ang Song Nian, '9 April 2012 (from series Towards a New Interior', 2012, Archival piezographic print, 110 x 140cm. Image courtesy Sovereign Art Foundation.

Ang Song Nian, ‘9 April 2012’ (from series “Towards a New Interior”), 2012, archival piezographic print, 110 x 140 cm. Image courtesy Sovereign Art Foundation.

Ang Song Nian

Singaporean Ang Song Nian (b. 1983) lives and works in London. As stated on the artist’s website, he

creates photographs that confront what we usually do not notice, places and spaces half-remembered, half forgotten; influenced and shaped by human presence.

Ang has exhibited internationally, in solo shows such as “Rote Learning – Many Detours: Washed-out & Interrupted” (2012) at CUSP Gallery in Leicester, UK, and “Unseeing Nature” (2012) at Galeria Eva Ruiz in Madrid, Spain.

Ang Song Nian was a 2011 Sovereign Asian Art Prize finalist and received Noise Singapore’s Award for Photography in 2012.

Urich Wai-Yuen Lau

Born in 1975, Singaporean artist and curator Urich Lau Wai-Yuen works with various media including photography, printmaking and video. His work explores notions of time, space and causality, and he experiments with image-making in both static and motion forms.

Lau has exhibited both locally and internationally, including at the 2013 Singapore Biennale and the 7th Tashkent International Biennale of Contemporary Art in Uzbekistan (2013). He holds an MFA from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and works as a lecturer at LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore.

Jeffrey Grunthaner

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Related Topics: Cambodian artists, Singaporean artists, Malaysian artists, photography, overviews, prizes, documentary art, art about the environment, events in Hong Kong

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