The 2019 Singapore Biennale announced that participating artist Amanda Heng was named the twelfth recipient of the Benesse Prize. Established in 2016 and presented by Benesse Holdings, Inc. in collaboration with the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), the $37,000 prize recognizes works in the exhibition which embody an “experimental and critical spirit” and which are centered on the theme of benesse (well-being).
The sixty-nine-year-old multidisciplinary artist is the first Singaporean to win the award. For the biennial, she reprised her work Every Step Counts, which she first performed in 1999 to draw attention to the 1997 Asian financial crisis. For the latest iteration of the piece, Heng reflects on the limits and stamina of the body. Upon receiving the prize at a ceremony held on January 11, she said, it is “a great honor and privilege,” to win the accolade, especially since she is currently dealing with challenges that “come with ageing.” She told the Strait Times that the prize is a “great encouragement for the continuity of my practice.”
The 2019 prize jury comprised Ade Darmawan, artist and member of the ruangrupa collective; Eugene Tan, director of SAM and the National Gallery Singapore; Gong Yan, director of Power Station of Art; Valentine Willie, director of ILHAM Gallery; and Akiko Miki, the international artistic director of Benesse Art Site Naoshima, where Heng will have the opportunity to stage a future exhibition. The artists who were shortlisted for the prize include Dusadee Huntrakul (Thailand), Haifa Subay (Yemen), Hera Büyüktaşçıyan (Turkey), and Robert Zhao Renhui (Singapore).
Titled “Every Step in the Right Direction,” the biennial’s sixth edition, which kicked off on November 22, 2019 and runs until March 22, 2020, features seventy-seven artists and art collectives from thirty-six countries and territories. Commissioned by the National Arts Council and organized by SAM, the event is being hosted by eleven venues throughout the city including the National Gallery Singapore, Gillman Barracks, LASALLE College of the Arts, and Singapore Management University de Suantio Gallery.