Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Indian artist Nalini Malani have been named the 2013 laureates for the Fukuoka Arts and Culture Prize, awarded annually to promote exchange between the diverse regions of Asia.
Malani, whose oneiric installations and videos frequently address political conflict in India, is the first woman from Asia to be recognized by the Art and Culture award in its over-two-decade history. The distinction is a sign of progress and a cause for retrospection for the 67-year-old pioneer of new media. After receiving news of the prize, in an interview with ArtAsiaPacific, Malani described her early artistic career in the 1970s and 80s as a relentless fight for women’s equality. “Nowadays, the young [female artists] who fly around the world have no idea how humiliating the situation was in the past,” she said. Today, her work frequently grants agency to strong, often historical, female characters.
“Nalini Malani broke through in a largely male-dominated sphere,” Indian art critic and AAP’s India desk editor Jyoti Dhar has written in response to the news. “She deserves to be recognized, not only [. . .] as a front-runner in video art in India, but also as a woman artist of her generation.” In the 1990s, Malani, along with Rummana Hussain and Vivan Sundaram, were the first to begin experimenting in new media in the country.
The Fukuoka Prize citation notes the female artist shows studding Malani’s CV, such as “Text and Subtext” (2000) in Singapore, the travelling exhibition “Through the Looking Glass” (1987–89)—the first female-organized exhibition for female artists in India–and “Women In-Between: Asian Women Artists 1984–2012” (2012), in Japan.
The young generation of Indian artists today have paid tribute to Malani. Shilpa Gupta, a new media artist also based in Mumbai told AAP, “A lot of young artists respect her. She has always lent us her support.”
Like Malani, Apichatpong explores a national history of political violence and upheaval in his lyrical films. His stories often take place in dark forests and are frequented by ghosts, both literal and historical. One esteemed work, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010), established Apichatpong as the first Thai filmmaker to be awarded the prestigious Palme d’Or Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
The Fukuoka Prize represents another milestone achievement for the 42-year-old artist. “I truly admire the past award recipients,” Apichatpong said in an interview with AAP, noting previous winners such as Chinese artists Cai Guo-Qiang and Xu Bing, Singaporean artist Tang Da Wu and Korean video artist Nam June Paik. “They made the differences. It’s a drive for me to continue exploring Thailand in this conflicting, violent time.”
The laureates will be honored at an award ceremony to be held in Fukuoka City, Japan on September 12.