What inspires top artists and keeps them going
(From left) Chairman of National Arts Council, Ms. Goh Swee Chen; 2020 Young Artist Award recipient Irfan Kasban; 2020 Cultural Medallion recipient Sarkasi Said; 2020 Young Artist Award recipient Nicole Midori Woodford; President Halimah Yacob; Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Second Minister for Law, Mr. Edwin Tong; 2020 Young Artist Award recipient Sushma Soma; 2020 Cultural Medallion recipient Dr. Vincent Leow; 2020 Young Artist Award recipient Dr. Yanyun Chen; and Chief Executive Officer of National Arts Council, Mrs. Rosa Daniel. (Photo: National Arts Council)

What inspires top artists and keeps them going

Six outstanding arts practitioners have received the Cultural Medallion and Young Artist Award – Singapore’s top honours in arts and culture.  

The Cultural Medallion, which recognises exemplary Singaporean artists has been conferred on painter Sarkasi Said, 80, and visual artist Dr. Vincent Leow, 59. Sarkasi is widely regarded as the pioneer of batik painting in Singapore, and Leow is a key figure in promoting contemporary art practices in Singapore and the region. Cultural Medallion recipients can access funds of up to $80,000 administered by National Arts Council, to support their continuous artistic pursuits and their efforts towards advancing Singapore’s artistic development for the benefit of society.

The Young Artist Award recipients are visual artist Dr. Yanyun Chen, multidisciplinary artist Irfan Kasban, film director, writer and editor Nicole Midori Woodford, and Carnatic practitioner Sushma Soma. The award is conferred on those aged 35 and below who have pushed the boundaries of their artistic practices. Recipients of the award are eligible for a grant of of up to $20,000 that supports their future artistic pursuits and development.

Find out what inspires them as artists, what they hope to achieve and their advice for budding talent.  

What, or who, inspires you?

Sarkasi: I have always been inspired by nature because to me, nature is like life. No matter what, it goes on and it always comes full circle. 

Soma: I am inspired by music itself and by what I feel when I am listening or singing. Music takes me to a very intimate and peaceful space, and I seek to have that experience constantly. 

Irfan: I am very inspired by stories told in film, music and dance. I am also inspired by nature, human interactions and how life unfolds for me. Anyone who continuously, and unapologetically, creates sincere and honest works also inspires me.

How did you feel upon hearing the news that you had been conferred top honours in arts and culture? 

Sarkasi: I was delighted and grateful. As an artist, receiving the Cultural Medallion is a testament to my contributions to the art of batik. I intend to apply to the Cultural Medallion Fund to publish a series of books about different batik techniques and to organise my own batik exhibition.

Chen: It had been a rough year at that point, so when the call came, it felt very surreal, and it didn’t quite sink in. I am incredibly grateful for the encouragement, and I hope to continue crafting works that resonate sincerely. 

Soma: I initially thought it was a prank, but once the news sank in, I was squealing in excitement. I haven’t thought about what to do with the Young Artist Award Grant yet, but I am starting my work on a project that is supported by the National Arts Council’s Creation Grant, and I can’t wait to start on another meaningful project.

What do you hope to achieve moving forward? 

Leow: This award and the Cultural Medallion fund will give me the additional motivation and confidence to further pursue my art making and to conceptualise new art initiatives.

Irfan: I hope to be able to create more works that inspire more people to be kinder to themselves and others. I also hope to be able to find ways to inculcate peace and understanding in people, so that society can progress in more profound ways. 

Woodford: I hope to work on more narrative filmmaking projects and be able to reach a wider international audience with my films. Art cannot just be about pure self-expression, it should also be a dialogue with the audience. 

What words of advice do you have for emerging artists?

Leow: The art journey is never straightforward; it is a difficult one. But I would encourage all emerging artists to not give up on their passion and focus on the work they are doing. 

Chen: The only thing I can offer is what my mother told me since I was little. She said, “I don’t care what you do, just pick something and become incredibly good at it. The rest of it will come, but they remain as ‘the rest of it’.” 

Woodford: I always believe you need to allow yourself to be vulnerable in the process of creating your work. Vulnerability allows us to truly listen and be able to perceive the inner emotional depths of others. Tell yourself it is alright to fall while you walk that creative tightrope.

Replies were edited and condensed for clarity. 

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