Finalists for the 2023 Sovereign Asian Art Prize Announced – S.E.A. Focus

Finalists for the 2023 Sovereign Asian Art Prize Announced

Seven Southeast Asian Artists Shortlisted

The Sovereign Art Foundation has shortlisted 30 artists for its 19th Sovereign Asian Art Prize. Founded as a charitable organisation in 2003, the foundation also launched a Make It Better (MIB) programme in 2013, where a dedicated team of art therapists run expressive art workshops to support the mental health and well-being of children in Hong Kong’s disadvantaged communities. The proceeds from an auction of the works will be shared equally between the artists and the programme.

Initiatives like the Sovereign Asian Art Prize and the SAM S.E.A. Focus Art Fund are forms of art patronage that provide important opportunities for artists to sustain their practice, including introducing their work to a wider audience and offering financial rewards. Whereas the SAM S.E.A. Focus Art Fund is built on the generosity of sponsors like the Yenn and Alan Lo Foundation by the arts patrons Yenn Wong and Alan Lo, the Sovereign Asian Art Prize seeks to raise funds through a selling exhibition as well as a special auction of the winning works. They share the common aims of promoting and preserving representative works of contemporary art, uniquely in Southeast Asian art for the SAM S.E.A. Focus Art Fund, and more broadly for Asian contemporary art for the Sovereign Asian Art Prize.

A panel of judges made up of art practitioners David Elliott, Yuko Hasegawa, Christopher K Ho and Siuli Tan, as well as the 2022 Sovereign Asian Art Prize winner Azin Zolfaghari, shortlisted the artworks based on nominations by a board of independent fellow art professionals. They will now also decide on two finalists, who will win a USD30,000 Grand Prize and a USD5,000 Vogue Hong Kong Women’s Art Prize respectively.

In this edition of the Sovereign Asian Art Prize, seven Southeast Asian artists have been shortlisted. They are Bjorn Calleja, Cian Dayrit and Luis Antonio Santos from the Philippines, Faris Nakamura from Singapore, Justin Lim from Malaysia, and Alisa Chunchue from Thailand and Nguyễn Thế Sơn from Vietnam. We check in with Cian, Faris and Justin, to find out about the inspiration behind their shortlisted works, and what it means to them to be a finalist for the prize.

Cian Dayrit. Image courtesy of the artist and The Sovereign Art Foundation.

Cian Dayrit

Cian Dayrit was nominated by Erin Gleeson for the work ‘Espasyo at Soberanya’ (2022). “The piece is a subversion of one of the most overlooked yet sinister tools of conquest: the colonial gaze,” says Cian. “My practice aims to find ways to redistribute power to the masses.” Elaborating further, Cian says, “My work is an affirmation of solidarity to all disenfranchised populations as I aim to appropriately echo their collective aspirations.”

Cian Dayrit, ‘Espasyo at Soberanya’, 2022, 140 x 110cm, embroidery and digital print on fabric.

The Filipino artist, who exhibits with Mono8 Gallery, a participating gallery at S.E.A. Focus 2023, notes that The Sovereign Art Foundation and similar entities are important to the art ecosystem. “I refuse to believe that contemporary art platforms are echo chambers and therefore it means a lot to be shortlisted and have the opportunity to share my work to a larger audience,” says Cian. “I encourage all cultural workers to anchor their practices to forging deeper alliances with grassroots organisations that push for progressive ideals.”

Faris Nakamura. Image courtesy of the artist and The Sovereign Art Foundation.

Faris Nakamura

Faris Nakamura, who is represented by Richard Koh Fine Art, another exhibiting gallery at S.E.A. Focus 2023, was nominated by Milenko Prvački. Faris says about his work, “Midnight Hour is a culmination of my inquiry of spaces in Singapore.” He adds, “Investigative, poignant with a poetic scrutiny, this work embodies the questions that I have had about privilege associated with the limited space in Singapore and its inevitable aftermath on the country’s architecture.”

The artist is known for creating minimalist works that are to be appraised from different angles for unexpected discoveries. “This work employs the distinctive trait of my practice, which is drawing the viewer in by coaxing alternate perspectives on viewing, conjuring different ways of looking at the obscured spaces in my work through squatting down, tiptoeing or shifting one’s regular movement and habits of viewing,” says the artist. “There is the constant motif of stairwells and suggestions of panels that maintain elusiveness, yet it is the focal point, calling on different layers in history such as the personal, the wider socio-economic environment and a certain political climate that anchors my continuing practice.”


The premise of the Sovereign Asian Art Prize to benefit disadvantaged children strikes a chord with Faris, who shares that he came from a single-parent family. He says, “It would be a full circle moment for me, being able to provide enriching experiences to the children and financial means of support for health and education that would improve the quality of their lives.”

Justin Lim. Image courtesy of the artist and The Sovereign Art Foundation.

Justin Lim

Justin Lim, who is also represented by Richard Koh Fine Art, was nominated by Tanya Amador. ‘Tell me about your daydream’ (2022) features a red plastic stool that is ubiquitous in Southeast Asian countries, and represents the artist’s experiences in the pandemic. “I spent many hours a day sitting and painting on one of these red plastic chairs,” says Lim. “Such an object to me can be seen as an invitation for someone to occupy an otherwise empty space or act as a reminder of a memory of someone dear who is now gone.”

The artist further ruminates on the built environment that we inhabit. “The chair itself can also be a signifier of class, identity, and hierarchies,” adds Lim. “All of these ideas seem apt to me during the pandemic, as this common everyday object accompanied me throughout this isolating period, and somewhat presented itself as a subject for my painting.”

Justin Lim, ‘Tell me about your daydream’, 2022, 64.5 x 79.5 x 4cm, acrylic on canvas. Nominated by Tanya Amador. 

The foundation’s goal to do good for the next generation resonates with the artist as well. Lim says, “I can’t think of a better cause if my painting can play a role in changing someone’s life for the better, and I am grateful for the opportunity.”


All 30 works can be seen online, and will also be shown at H Queen’s in Hong Kong from 10 to 18 May 2023. The public can visit for free, and vote for their favourite by 15 May. A USD1,000 Public Vote Prize will be awarded to the artist with the most popular work. Tiffany Pinkstone, Co-Founder and Director of the Sovereign Art Foundation expresses her hope that the audience will also bid on the finalists’ works, which can go towards starting or building an investment-quality art collection while supporting a worthwhile cause.

Please click here for more information about the Sovereign Art Foundation and the Sovereign Asian Art Prize, and to place a vote for your favourite artwork. The 2023 Sovereign Asian Art Prize Gala Dinner and Charity Auction will be held on 19 May 2023 in Hong Kong.