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Hong Kong [May 2019] The Sovereign Art Foundation (SAF) is delighted to announce that Ahmed Javed from Pakistan has been awarded the 15th annual Sovereign Asian Art Prize for his work, Imran Qureshi Studio. Javed’s work received the highest score ever achieved by a work in the Prize.

The Prize is Asia’s longest established and most prestigious award for contemporary art. Along with the title, Ahmed Javed was awarded a trophy and US$30,000 at the Foundation’s annual Gala Dinner and Auction on May 17 in Hong Kong. The public’s favourite artwork was recognised when Munawar Ali Syed, also of Pakistan, clinched the popular vote and an award of US$1,000 with his artwork My 3rd Story in English. Fu Xiaotong, of China, the highest scoring female artist in the competition, was awarded the newly launched Vogue Hong Kong Women’s Art Prize and US$5,000 for her work 163,680 Pinpricks.

To reach the final shortlist of 30 artworks, over 70 independent art professionals from across Asia Pacific nominated 400 mid-career artists, hailing from 28 countries, for the Prize. A total of 19 countries were represented amongst the 30 finalists, making it the most geographically diverse shortlist in the history of the Prize. The entries were shortlisted by an international panel of world-class art specialists, including writer, curator and museum director David Elliott; Jan Dalley, Arts Editor of the Financial Times; Mami Kataoka, Deputy Director and Chief Curator at Mori Art Museum, Tokyo; Hong Kong architect, artist and educator William Lim; and internationally renowned artist Zhang Huan.

Local and international visitors flocked to the finalist’s exhibition that was held at HART Hall at H Queen’s, G/F 80 Queen’s Road Central in Hong Kong. Their artworks explored and encouraged discourse on a wide range of subject matters, including ideas of family, identity, growth, cultural heritage and diaspora; space, time, urban development and the spatial rhythms of modern cities. Ahmed Javed said of his win:

I can’t thank SAF enough for giving me such a platform and providing artists with this amazing opportunity. I am extremely thankful to my nominators Adeel Uz Zafar and Naiza Khan for considering my work and believing in me.

Javed was nominated into the Prize by two fellow artists – Adeel Uz Zafar, internationally-acclaimed Karachi born illustrator and painter and fellow alumni of the prestigious National College of Arts, Lahore; and Naiza Khan, Senior Advisor at the Department of Visual Studies, University of Karachi, and a member of the Board of Governors, Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, Karachi.

Chair judge David Elliott commented on the winners:

In a field of extremely tight competition, Ahmed Javed’s gouache ‘Imran Qureshi Studio’ has been unanimously proclaimed the winner of The 2019 Sovereign Asian Art Prize. Working on a large scale that quotes the neo-miniature style taught at his alma mater, the National College of Arts in Lahore, Javed comments on and transforms this traditional way of working. By concentrating on a moment of creation in Imran Qureshi’s studio where he was an assistant, not only does he stress the importance of his former teacher’s work but also reveals its powerful context. Qureshi is shown making the gestural, blood-red hand paintings that shattered the atmosphere, scale and hierarchical methods of the traditional Mughal miniature to depict horror and terror in the present. In this work, Javed records, frames, amplifies and pays homage to this moment.

The winner of the public vote prize is Munawar Ali Syed, an artist from Pakistan who has studied both in the US and at the historic National College of Art in Lahore. In this pen-and-ink drawing, one of a series, the artist appropriates a minimal approach, using an agglomeration of straight black lines over a coloured horizontal grid, to express his psychological state. The subject is fear and frustration: the conflict between the desire for knowledge and the imperative to achieve material success. For Syed, this is exacerbated by the, at times brutal, competing chaos of a southern Asian city in which, according to how it is used, the acquisition of English as a foreign language may lead either to enlightenment or to ignorance and despair.

Beijing-based artist Fu Xiaotong’s conceptual work ‘163,680 Pinpricks’ was widely acclaimed as the winner of the first Vogue Hong Kong Women’s Art Prize. A graduate in Experimental Art at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, she works both minimally and conceptually. Here, by applying pressure from behind, she has moulded a form of relief, with different depths, intensities and shapes, that rises out of the surface of a large sheet of hand-made rice paper. Using traditional embroidery tools, she has worked on these forms by multiple penetrations of the paper’s surface to create lines, stippling and shadows as if she were making a drawing. The title of the work refers to the vast number of “pinpricks,” that governed this process. The surface created by this “aesthetic acupuncture” suggests a multitude of forms. Teetering on an edge between material and void, the artist has created a territory that is indefinable other than by suggestions of gender. Whether landscape or map, it is characterised by a fecund balance of mountains, breasts, snake eggs and dreams.

Howard Bilton, Founder and Chairman of The Sovereign Art Foundation, said:

As with last year’s Prizewinner, Ahmed Javed and Munawar Ali Syed are both from Pakistan. What is going on in Pakistan?  I think we should be told. Fu Xiaotong, shortlisted once before, was the overwhelming winner of the Vogue Hong Kong Women’s Art Prize. We are again indebted to Henderson Land Development Company Ltd. and HART Collective for allowing us use of HART Hall at H Queen’s. Having a dedicated gallery space to show the finalists makes a huge difference to the artists, to SAF and the general public who came along in droves to see the show. As ever, the work in the show gets better.  The prize goes from strength to strength and the money raised is now over US$8 million, which we have ploughed back into helping disadvantaged children. Our thanks to all our supporters for making this possible.

All finalists’ artworks, with the exception of the Grand Prize winner, were sold at exhibition or auctioned at The ‘Make It Better’ Gala on May 17, 2019 at Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong. Auction proceeds were split evenly between the artists and SAF’s charitable projects.