Exhibition: 16 January ­‐ 27 March 2016, ArtScience Musuem
Awards: 19 January 2016, Sands Theatre, Marina Bay Sands

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Head slide 4
22 Jan 2016

For Artist Sareth Svay, a Lifetime of ‘Heart’ Pays Off

Singapore. “You see this?” says Sareth Svay, holding up a wine glass. “I can design something like this. I can design it and make it beautiful.

“But it means nothing to me,” he goes on, lowering the glass. “You know why? Because I don’t feel anything about it. There’s no heart in it.”

Sareth, at 43, cuts a stylish figure in a sports blazer in the bar at the legendary Raffles hotel – home of the Singapore Sling – on this balmy January night. It’s a far cry from his humble beginnings growing up in a refugee camp in Thailand, and the energy and effusive friendliness that has endeared him to his peers and protégés in the art scene in his native Cambodia emanates from him in spades tonight.

For Sareth, the concept of “heart” is important. It’s about making a meaningful impact through art – in his case, running the gamut from sculpture to installation to performance art – by tackling prickly social and political issues.

Twenty-four hours later, Sareth was practically glowing. On Tuesday night, the one-time child refugee was crowned the best emerging artist in Asia at the prestigious Prudential Eye Awards at Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands, at a gala event that also featured two rising Indonesian acts among the finalists.

The annual awards, now in their third year, aim to shine a light on talented but little-known artists from across Asia, and the field of nominees this year reflected the region’s creative diversity.

“Sareth Svay’s story is incredible and inspiring,” said Niru Ratnam, the director of the Prudential Eye Awards. “His art work draws on a very specific context but transcends that. He produces works that are funny, poetic and confident. He is a worthy winner of the Prudential Eye Awards.”

Sareth was earlier in the evening named the best emerging artist using sculpture, one of five categories featuring three finalists each. The other categories were painting, installation, photography, and digital/video, each with a $20,000 prize.

Manish Nai of India won in the painting category, while Shumon Ahmed – one of two artists from Bangladesh among the 15 finalists – took home the prize for photography. The digital/video award went to Vietnam’s Trinh Thi Nguyen, while in installation, Taiwan’s Huang Po Chih emerged the winner over Aditya Novali and indieguerillas, both from Indonesia.

For winning the overall best emerging artist prize, Sareth received an additional $30,000 and an opportunity for a solo exhibition at the world-renowned Saatchi Gallery in London.

It’s been a long journey for Sareth from the refugee camp on the Thai border, where his family fled the murderous rule of the Khmer Rouge. Today, he runs a grass-roots initiative to train and empower more than a thousand handicraft artisans in the scenic town of Siem Reap that he calls home.

Design is something that comes naturally to him, but contemporary art will always be where his heart is. Perhaps just as important is the pride and satisfaction he takes in his art: “We work in order to eat,” he says. “So if you just work, work, work and don’t eat, then what’s the point?”