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Friday, April 9, 2010

Thai artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul wins inaugural Asia Art Award

Staff writer

SEOUL — A new chapter in Asian contemporary art commenced in Seoul on Thursday when Thai artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul won the inaugural Asia Art Award.

News photo
Apichatpong Weerasethakul

The 40-year-old artist said it was "surreal" to learn that he had beaten the five other finalists from throughout Asia to take the prize, which is sponsored primarily by the CJ Cultural Foundation, an offshoot of retail and entertainment conglomerate CJ Group. The award, which is open to artists, up to age 40, comes with a prize of $20,000.

Weerasethakul won the award with a video titled "Phantoms of Nabua." He told The Japan Times that the work, which was shot in the northeastern Thai village of Nabua and at one point depicts boys playing soccer at night with a flaming ball, is about "juxtaposing light and dark, happiness and sadness, danger and pleasure."

He added that there is a political dimension to the work in that Nabua was once the site of violent clashes between the Thai government and the communist farming communities that came under the influence of Laos and the Soviet Union in the 1960s.

The Asia Art Award is hosted by the Soma Museum of Art, a publicly funded museum in Seoul.

Award director Suh Jinsuk explained that the aim of the new award is to "make a powerful platform from which up-and-coming artists can communicate with the audience."

"From the beginning of the 20th century, everything — from art, culture, economics and science — was led by the West, and we in Asia followed," said the 42-year-old, who also directs the independent Seoul art venue Alternative Space LOOP. "Now is a turning point, a very important time. . . . We have a chance to lead by ourselves or make a new 21st century contemporary art together with the West, as equals."

The selection process for the award, which in the future will be held either annually or biannually, began late last year, when a committee of 42 curators and critics from throughout Asia, each nominated one artist. The nominees were then whittled down to the six finalists, whose works can also be seen at an exhibition at the Soma Museum of Art through June 6.

In addition to Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the finalists were Chim ↑ Pom from Japan, Ashok Sukumaran from India, Jompet Kuswidananto from Indonesia, Shi Jin Song from China and Yangachi from South Korea.

See related story on Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

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