Who inspired the Young Artist Award recipients?
The recently named 2021 Young Artist Award recipients at the Istana. (Photo: National Arts Council)

Who inspired the Young Artist Award recipients?

The National Arts Council (NAC) has honoured six of Singapore’s best and brightest artists (aged 35 and below at the point of nomination) with the Young Artist Award for excellence in theatre, filmmaking, dance, visual arts, and music. The award also recognises their commitment to enriching Singapore’s cultural landscape by teaching and mentoring the next generation.

Singer-songwriter and producer Charlie Lim broke through in 2011 with his eponymous debut EP and followed up with stellar performances at music festivals in Singapore, Korea, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Australia. His critically acclaimed double album, TIME/SPACE, shot to #1 on Singapore’s iTunes charts within an hour of its release in 2015, propelling Lim to his first major record deal and the release of CHECK-HOOK in 2018.

Screenwriter and director Yeo Siew Hua made his mark in 2009 with In the House of Straw, an experimental film that came to be seen as a significant contribution to the Singapore New Wave. Yeo has since gone from strength to strength, making The Obs: A Singapore Story in 2014 and winning several awards including the Golden Leopard grand prize at the Locarno Film Festival in 2018 for A Land Imagined. Yeo is a member of the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) Academy and a founding member of 13 Little Pictures, a collective that has made some 30 films screened to audiences all over the world.

Chitra Poornima Sathish is a musician and composer in the ancient South Indian system of Carnatic music. Her music has adorned performances by Apsaras Arts Dance Company here in Singapore and the renowned Akram Khan Company in London. Chitra is also an educator, teaching regularly at the Temple of Fine Arts Singapore.

Han Xuemei pushes the boundaries of audience participation in theatre. Two of her works, MISSING: The City of Lost Things and FLOWERS, explore the relationship between the audience, the actors, the set, and the performance space itself. Drama Box’s youth programme, ARTivate, helped open the door to a theatrical career, and now Han gives back by mentoring at ARTivate herself. She has been a resident artist at Drama Box since 2012.

Bymoulding and subverting Malay folk dance heritage, in which he was trained to grapple with issues around traditionalism and the identity of the Malay minority in Singapore,

Norhaizad Adam has succeeded in expanding the horizons of his chosen art form. As artistic director of P7:1SMA (pronounced ‘PRISMA’), he choreographs innovative performances and mentors emerging talent.

Zen Teh Shi Wei is an environmental artist and educator whose vision has led to collaborations with geologists, historians, architects and environmental groups. She works primarily in photography, shooting Singapore’s changing environment with a medium format camera to produce hand-crafted images. Zen Teh was a plenary speaker this year at the UNESCO-UNITWIN (University Twinning and Networking) symposium on arts education during the pandemic crisis, building on her work as a teacher for School of the Arts (SOTA) and the NAC’s Teaching Through the Arts Programme.

The A List asked these six talented 2021 Young Artist Award recipients about guidance, sources of inspiration, and lessons learned as they chart their career course in the arts.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received as an artist?

Charlie Lim: Anyone can have a good idea, but the real work lies in the editing and the execution of it. 

Yeo Siew Hua: I don’t trust words enough to live by any, but I guess I try not to ignore the simple coincidences, accidents, and happenstance. Filmmaking has no set rules and goals. It is a personal relationship; one that you care for and grow with.

Chitra Poornima Sathish: To be open to criticism; to have the humility to take all sorts of feedback and the wisdom to know which pieces are truly valuable. 

Han Xuemei: One piece of advice has helped me stay grounded: ‘One does many things on the way to becoming an artist. There is much to learn from entering these different worlds, just so one does not get stuck.’ There is something magical and humbling about being on the way, yet never arriving.

Norhaizad Adam: ‘Stop trying to be interesting and start being interested.’ (From Zaini Tahir, one of Singapore’s most celebrated choreographers).

Zen Teh Shi Wei: ‘An artist’s work is a form of communication, thus you should think of how people would understand your practice’. These are not his exact words of wisdom but it remains one of the best pieces of advice given to me by Robert Zhao, who was my mentor during the NAC’s Noise Singapore Apprenticeship Programme, which I was part of in the early years of my career. Thank you, Robert, for sharing so generously! 

Who has been most influential in your career as an artist, and why?

Chitra Poornima Sathish: My teacher and mentor, Bombay Jayashri. She taught me to look at music that is present in everyday moments, to ‘listen to life’. She taught, by example, the value of discipline, hard work, and passion. I learnt much more than music from her; I learnt sensitivity and an aesthetic that I could not only bring to my art but also to my interactions and relationships.

Han Xuemei: Teachers and schoolmates, and my mentors at Drama Box, Koh Hui Ling and Kok Heng Leun. My theatre-making philosophy has also been influenced by the ideas of Paulo Freire [Brazilian educator and philosopher who was a pivotal figure in the field of critical pedagogy] and Augusto Boal [Brazilian theatre practitioner, drama theorist and political activist].

Norhaizad Adam: In early 2004, I joined Azpirasi, a Malay dance group at Yew Tee Community Centre. My first guru, Azmi Juhari, was a generous teacher who often shared the ups and downs of being a Malay dance practitioner. Initially, I never thought of becoming an artist as a career. After spending a lot of time performing and thinking about dance, and under the influence of Azmi Juhari, I began to clarify my purpose and decided to make a meaningful living as an artist.

Zen Teh Shi Wei: An artist’s work is largely collaborative, even when the artist may be seen as sole creator of a work. Moreover, the relationship between the artist’s cultural resources and art making is complex. We process our environment intuitively, and learn bits and pieces from many different sources. Amidst all of these, of course, is my family, particularly my mother, who has been a pillar of positivity and wisdom throughout. For that, I am most thankful.

Charlie Lim: Probably my mother, who plays the piano and used to conduct the church choir when I was a kid. My parents were always supportive of me pursuing my passion for music and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

Yeo Siew Hua: I think nature is a great source of inspiration so long as we don’t differentiate humans from nature, and by extension, human creation and culture.

Replies have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Find out more about the 2021 Young Artist Award recipients here.

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