Winner announced for the 2017 Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art

Aye Ko, Transfixed: What am I, 2008, giclée print on archival paper, edition of 2, 90 x 136 cm. Courtesy the artist  

Burmese performance artist Aye Ko has been awarded the 2017 Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art by the United States Embassy in Singapore and Art Stage Singapore, receiving a a cash prize of  USD 15,000, Art Asia Pacific reports. Aye Ko was selected among two other finalists (Arahmaiani and Chaw Ei Thein), by a jury including: Ute Meta Bauer, founding director of NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore; Zoe Butt, former executive director and curator at Sàn Art in Ho Chi Minh City; and Enin Supriyanto, independent art curator and writer from Indonesia. Meta Bauer, talking about the selection process, explained that the jury looked at ‘artists who through their art achieves an artistic language that creates awareness’.

Aye Ko announced that the prize money will go toward art education programs for children, which he has been developing through his nonprofit New Zero Art Space, established in Yangon in 2008. Having started his career as an impressionistic painter, Aye Ko turned to performance art after being jailed for three yaer as a political prisoner (1990–93), finding it a more radical way to address the social and political turmoil of his country. 

The Joseph Balestier Award was created in 2015 for an artist or curator from Southeast Asia whose work is dedicated to the ideals of freedom of art, an ideal that provoked scepticism from some in the region, when the awards were first announced, due to the Singapore government's strict views on freedom of expression. Previous winners include: Lee Wen (2016) and FX Harsono (2015).

11 January 2017