Art Radar nominee Anida Yoeu Ali wins 11th Sovereign Asian Art Prize

Cambodian artist Anida Yoeu Ali takes home the 2014-15 Sovereign Asian Art Prize. 

Anida Yoeu Ali, a Cambodian performance and installation artist, was named the grand winner of the prestigious Sovereign Asian Art Prize for making art that explores hybrid transnational identity. She was nominated to the prize by Art Radar’s Founder and Executive Editor Kate Cary Evans.

Anida Yoeu Ali, 'Spiral Alley', 2012. Nominated by Kate Cary Evans. Image courtesy the artist and The Sovereign Asian Art Prize.

Anida Yoeu Ali, ‘Spiral Alley’, 2012. Nominated by Kate Cary Evans. Image courtesy the artist and The Sovereign Asian Art Prize.

Anida Yoeu Ali (b. 1974, Cambodia) took home the 2014-15 Sovereign Asian Art Prize on 8 May 2015. The artist received her trophy along with a USD30,000 prize at The Sovereign Art Foundation‘s annual Charity Gala Auction and dinner in Hong Kong. Pakistan’s Alia Bilgrami was announced the winner of the 2014-15 Schoeni Public Prize.

The Sovereign Asian Art Prize 2014-15

Ali was named the winner from among thirty finalists (out of a total 236 nominations) representing thirteen countries across Asia. The judging panel comprised David Elliott, Emi Eu, Fumio Nanjo, Rachel Kent, Sunhee Kim and Pi Li. Her winning work, entitled Spiral Alley (2012), is part of her ongoing interdisciplinary “Buddhist Bug” series, which is rooted in an autobiographical exploration of identity.

The remaining 29 finalists’ artworks were auctioned at the Charity Gala Auction, raising a total of USD359,715. The money will be split between the artists and the Foundation’s charitable causes and projects. Howard Bilton, Chairman and Founder of The Sovereign Art Foundation, said in the press release:

This year the majority of funds will be applied towards our Make it Better programme, which focuses on assisting local disadvantaged children.

Anida Yoeu Ali was nominated to the Prize by Art Radar’s Kate Cary Evans. Click here to listen to Kate talk about the artist and her work. 

More about Anida Yoeu Ali 

Born in Battambang, Cambodia, Ali fled the country following the fall of the Khmer Rouge and grew up in the United States. The artist earned a BFA in Graphic Design from the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) and an MFA in Studio Arts/Performance from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. A recipient of grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation, Center for Asian American Media and the 2011 Fulbright Fellowship to Cambodia, Ali returned to her hometown in 2011 and co-founded Studio Revolt, an independent artist-run media lab in Phnom Penh.

Ali is the first Cambodian to win the prestigious prize in the award’s eleven-year history. The artist told Cambodia Daily that the win came as a surprise:

I remember posting something on my Facebook page saying ‘Oh everybody by the way I’m nominated for this thing but they never give this to a Southeast Asian artist so I’m sure I’m not going to win but if you want to vote for me you can’ and now I’m totally eating my words.

Anida Yoeu Ali, 'Enter Without an Exit Plan (Street 98)',  2012
, digital C-print. Performing multiple personas of both sameness and difference, the artist stumbles upon an old abandoned colonial mansion. These scenes are meant to be surreal moments set in everyday environments. This print is part of the “The Space Between Inside/Outside” series, a solo exhibition first presented at JavaArts in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Image courtesy the artist.

Anida Yoeu Ali, ‘Enter Without an Exit Plan (Street 98)’, 2012
, digital C-print. Performing multiple personas of both sameness and difference, the artist stumbles upon an old abandoned colonial mansion. These scenes are meant to be surreal moments set in everyday environments. This print is part of the “The Space Between Inside/Outside” series, a solo exhibition first presented at JavaArts in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Image courtesy the artist.

The press release quotes Ali’s statement upon receiving the award:

I am deeply humbled to receive the Sovereign Asian Art Prize. I hope that my win will motivate and inspire other artists to keep pursuing contemporary art making and performance art no matter how difficult. I can’t help but reflect on this moment in particular for Cambodians, on the 40th year commemoration of the genocide where 90 percent of Cambodian artists lost their lives along with nearly two million people. I am proud to be part of the returning diaspora of Cambodians who are passionately rebuilding our legacy through the arts […]. This moment is deeply meaningful.

Anida Yoeu Ali, 'Around Town 1', 2012, "The Buddhist Bug Project", digital color print on hard foam board. Photograph: Masahiro Sugano. Image courtesy Studio Revolt.

Anida Yoeu Ali, ‘Around Town 1’, 2012, “The Buddhist Bug Project”, digital colour print on hard foam board. Photograph: Masahiro Sugano. Image courtesy Studio Revolt.

Hybrid transnational identity

Ali’s winning artwork, Spiral Alley, belongs to a series of photographic prints from her ongoing interdisciplinary work, “The Buddhist Bug Project”. Previously featured by Art Radar in 2013, the Project was a response to the artist’s own “spiritual turmoil between Islam and Buddhism” and the quickly changing urban and rural landscape of Cambodia. The press release announcing Ali’s win explains:

In “The Buddhist Bug”, the creature seeks to map a new spiritual and social landscape through its surreal existence amongst ordinary people and everyday environments. […] Set amongst everyday people in ordinary moments, the Bug provokes obvious questions of belonging and displacement. In this particular piece, The Bug finds a staircase perfectly fit for her voluminous body. Could she finally be home?

According to the press release, the judges chose Ali for the award because of her interdisciplinary approach to art making that

investigate[s] the artistic, spiritual and political collisions of a hybrid transnational identity.

Alia Bilgrami, 'Diorama Desire'. Nominated by Naiza Khan. Image courtesy the artist and the Sovereign Asian Art Prize.

Alia Bilgrami, ‘Diorama Desire’. Nominated by Naiza Khan. Image courtesy the artist and the Sovereign Asian Art Prize.

People’s choice: 2014-15 Schoeni Prize 

Also announced at the Charity Gala and Auction dinner was the winner of the 2014-15 Schoeni Prize, which went to Alia Bilgrami of Pakistan. Bilgrami, whose work explores how various symbols elicit completely different responses from people from different cultural contexts, was chosen through public voting. She said, quoted in the press release:

My head is spinning and I feel overwhelmed and excited all at once. I can’t believe it! I am truly honoured and I feel extremely fortunate to have won this special award, indicating that not only family and friends but also people unknown to me also appreciate my art. This is an amazing and exhilarating feeling for any artist.

Michele Chan

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Related Topics: Cambodian artists, Pakistani artists, identity artinstallation, mixed media, auctionsawards ceremonies, prizesevents in Hong Kong

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