Man, this has to be a milestone of sorts.
Three and a half of the five recipients are film-makers.
I say “and a half” because Ho Tzu Nyen – notwithstanding his participation in the Asia Pacific Triennale with fellow Singaporean Cheo Chai-Hiang in December – has recently been doing the rounds of film festivals with HERE and Earth.
So really, you’ve got four film-makers – Tzu Nyen, Boo Junfeng, Anthony Chen, Han Yew Kwang – and… Donna Ong.
I’m not complaining about this year’s film-heavy batch of recipients. I’m a vocal admirer of some of them – and my colleague, Miss Flick Chick had cited Tzu Nyen and Junfeng as those belonging to the “new wave” of film-makers in an article not long ago.
But it does make you wonder why. Or rather, wonder what this all means.
Looking down the list, the most number of recipients for a category is two.
Except 2006, I guess, when along with Beatrice Chia-Richmond and Chong Tze Chien, there was Yo Shao Ann who got it for “technical theatre”.
Even then, there were recipients from at least two other fields to sort of, uhm, balance out the disparity.
But this is, like, an almost-clean sweep, yo.
Visual artist Michael Lee, himself a 2005 YAA recipient, sent me a link to his Facebook account. He basically wrote down a hilarious list of reasons why some deserving artists didn’t get it.
Along with the funny (“They have children”; “They don’t smile often enough”) are the practical and obvious ones (“They waited patiently to be nominated instead of actively finding a nominator” – Yes, reality check. That’s how these things work, even if you’re a genius.)
So were the visual artists too lazy to push for their own peers? (Didn’t Ming Wong surprise everyone by winning at the Venice Biennale?)
Were the theatre peeps too busy rehearsing? (It’s the first time since 2004 that there aren’t any YAAs from theatre.)
Is the dance scene finally scraping the bottom of the barrel?
Pop musicians? Let’s not even go there. (Let’s see if colleague/blogger The Abang of the Airwaves has got something to say regarding this.)
Or maybe it’s simply because this is the year of film-makers?
The National Arts Council is not releasing a breakdown of how many nominees it received per field.
But they did get a total of 29 submissions (around the usual numbers) for the now four “broad categories” of literary arts, performing arts, visual arts and film.
From what I understand, the council isn’t conscious about equal representation. After all, if you’re good, you’re good. And a lot of people think you’re worth lobbying for.
But really now, three and a half? Wow.
One can only surmise that YAA 2009 is a “catch-up” year. After all, there have only been four film-makers among the 91 96 YAA recipients. (And no, Jack Neo isn’t one of them. He went straight for the Medallion.)
It’s no secret that the government has been looking more intensely at beefing up the film-making scene here.
I won’t be surprised if this whole “long live Singapore cinema” thrust – and overall environment that’s cultivating film-makers — would have, consciously or otherwise, something to do with the make-up of this year’s list.
The YAA is about the institutional acknowledgement of an artist’s creative efforts.
This year, it’s an institutional acknowledgement of an entire field’s creativity.
But hmm, don’t you think it could have been done way, way earlier?
PS, I had already formed my thoughts on this particular post before Michael brought up certain important points that’s worth thinking about too.
Inasmuch as this year’s list seems to signal a kind of out-and-out “welcoming into the fold” (“Oh yah, film-makers, they’re artists too!), an act of inclusion, let’s not forgot the other side of the coin — what has, inadvertently or otherwise, been excluded.
I’m listing down some of Michael’s points which I agree with.
1. Art collectives. There have been none.
2. Other people that make up the arts environment, like curators. Although, it’s good to point out that the theatre folks have got one recipient for technical theatre.
3. The age criteria. As Michael rightly points out, some artists peak much later than 35.