Sara Sejin Chang (Sara van der Heide) Wins the Largest Dutch Arts Prize
By Tong Tung Yeng
On March 8, Korean-Dutch artist Sara Sejin Chang (Sara van der Heide) was named the latest laureate of the biannual Theodora Niemeijer Prize—the largest Dutch arts prize and the only one dedicated to female artists as of 2023. Her recent film installation Four Months, Four Million Light Years (2020), highlighted by the jury, was featured at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam. The EUR 100,000 (USD 107,200) cash prize will be split between Chang and a Dutch museum, with the artist receiving a freely disposable amount of EUR 75,000 (USD 80,400) and the museum EUR 25,000 (USD 26,800) for the acquisition of her work.
Born in 1977 in Busan, Chang studied at the Amsterdam University of the Arts and De Ateliers (1999–2001) in Amsterdam before moving to Berlin where she is now based. Central to Chang’s practice is the challenging of notions related to Eurocentrism and racialization. She is a current fellow of the Berlin Artistic Research Grant Programme 2022-2023. Often likened to poetry and intimate gestures, her rich body of work—encompassing film, text, sound installations, performance, and painting—encourages inclusive approaches to modernity.
As with her previous works, the film installation Four Months, Four Million Light Years combines historical research with spiritual evocations as a shamanic response of healing against the traumas of a global, transnational adoption industry. The film begins with the Dutch participation in the Korean War (1950–53) and uncovers the sinister realities of transracial adoption, including child trafficking and child abduction.
Introduced in 2012 by the Niemeijer Fund, the Theodora Niemeijer Prize is awarded to mid-career women artists. It was conceived in consideration of the underrepresentation of works by contemporary women artists in museum collections. This year’s prize has been increased tenfold from its previous sum of EUR 10,000 (USD 10,700). The jury includes drawing-and-film artist Ansuya Blom; director of Quetzal Art Center, Aveline de Bruin; director of the Niemeijer Fund Foundation, Andrea Davina; Gropius Bau’s head of curatorial department and outreach, Zippora Elders; and director of Van Abbemuseum, Charles Esche.
Four Months, Four Million Light Years is currently on view at Amsterdam’s gallery ROZENSTRAAT – a rose is a rose is a rose until April 9, 2023 and Moderna Museet, Stockholm, until 27 August, 2023.