The Sovereign Art Foundation (SAF) established in 2003 has well-defined twin focus: to recognise the growing wealth of contemporary art talent in Asia, and bring the proven benefits of expressive arts to underprivileged children. Held annually, the Sovereign Asian Art Prize invites mid-career contemporary artists - nominated by a carefully selected board of independent art experts from the region - to enter up to three artworks online. Entries are then shortlisted by a small judging panel consisting of world-class art specialists, who select the best 30 artworks from a range of digital images. These 30 artworks are exhibited in a prominent public space in Hong Kong, where the pieces are judged a second time, in person.
All shortlisted artworks are auctioned to the public - with the exception of the winning entry, which becomes the property of the Foundation and is used to further its charitable aims. The Public Prize is presented to the artist whose artwork receives the most votes from the public.
This year, the exhibition shows the diversity of contemporary art in the region: with artists from Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore. Among the winners this year, Pakistani artist Halima Cassell’s Acapella won the 14th Sovereign Asian Art Prize and Muhammad Onaiz Taji’s 25th December 2016 has won The Public Vote Prize.
The winners were selected from a strong shortlist of 30 artworks by a panel of specialists.
Nigaah speaks with these two artists who tell us their inspirations and feelings on winning the award.
Inspirations behind her carved spaces.
Halima Cassell: I seek inspiration from a diverse range of sources. I have been fascinated by the buildings of different cultures, especially those with elements which have been sculpted by hand. The facets and shadows created as a result of these carvings are a part of this attraction. I try to capture how the play of light dramatizes and gives vitality to the architecture. It is the notion that these structures have a life presence which fascinates me. I imagine basic shapes, repeating, distorting and creating form in order to create beauty out of the earth. For example, ‘Acapella’ a recent work, is inspired by, my deep love of music, the ripples and flows representative of musical movement and rhythm. The dark patina resembles a ‘noctune’, a musical composition that is inspired by or evocative of, the night. The polished edges shimmer like the light created and transmitted through the dark sky, enhancing the overall movement of the heavily incised elements of the sculpture. The model for this piece was carved in clay and then cast in bronze.
Winning the Sovereign Asian Art Prize.
Halima Cassell: I am so happy to receive the grand prize from the Sovereign Art Foundation 2018. I was extremely excited by this, for me it was a wonderful privilege and opportunity for my work to be awarded this prestigious prize. I have also been working on numerous exciting commissions, projects and exhibitions, one of which is my solo exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery in February 2019.
Advice to aspiring sculptors.
Halima Cassell: My advice to aspiring sculptors is that you have to be true to what you do and the creative journey that undertake for you to succeed in creating sculpture which is true, meaningful and very personal to you. Born in 1975 in Pakistan, brought up in Lancashire and now living in Shropshire, Halima’s varied, multi-cultural background is tangibly present in her work.
A natural creativity presented itself at an early age and was nurtured to fruition as Halima carved her way through an art-based education: an undergraduate degree in 1997 and an MA in 2002.
The culmination of this process is Halima’s precociously mature work. Fusing her Asian roots with a fascination for African pattern work and her deep passion for architectural geometry, Halima’s work is intense yet playful, structured yet creative; substantial yet dynamic and invariably compelling in its originality.
Muhammad Onaiz Taji
Inspirations behind his designs.
Onaiz Taji: While I was studying Indo-Persian miniature technique I was really inspired by the ‘kalam’ or the line work. I keep exploring the technique of my brush and pushing the limit of my stroke and control. The line is important in my work because I view it as the defining characteristic of the people in my pieces yet the line is both unique and different at the same time. I was inspired to investigate a large number of people gathered together in a disorganized or unruly way. I have been interested in dealing with ‘individuals’. The whole Image for me resembles organic shapes or patterns but upon closer inspection, the thousands of smaller units (individuals) do not lose their organic quality. In the macro sense their placement deeply affects the feel of every piece and characterizes newer aspects to look at upon every viewing of the work. Such details reveal what goes on where there is a lot of activity such as a social event or any incident involving a multitude of individuals, how collaborative thinking work resulting in a group of individuals functioning with a singular or similar intent. I associate my perpetual dealing with the individual subjects as the core of my imagery development.
Winning the Sovereign Asian Art Prize.
Onaiz Taji: Nomination for the Sovereign Asian Art Prize was solely a huge achievement for me. I was overwhelmed by this nomination but then when I got the email that I have won the prize, I couldn’t believe it, I called them to confirm that was it really me. Winning this prize was a dream-come-true for me, the nomination itself was a massive accomplishment. I had never in my wildest dreams thought of going to Hong Kong to receive this award presented by the Sovereign Art Foundation.
Advice to aspiring artists.
Onaiz Taji: I feel like ‘struggle’ is the core to any form of success. The most basic advice that I want to convey to aspiring artists is that do visit galleries and exhibitions, study the kind of work artists are currently doing and exhibiting, stay an active member of the artist community, keep yourself indulged in intellectual discussions. And the most important thing I think is that whatever work an artist produces should be a mirror image of what the artist truly wants to exhibit, and feels like from the inside; and not the work that people want to see or to please someone. The work should be a true epitome of the artist. The neglected part of any success story is the struggle. There comes a point in the life of an artist where they’re not getting back from their work, the effort they put in. So for all the struggling artists, do not lose hope, hang in, you’ll get there.
Onaiz Taji, born in Karachi has been working as an artist after receiving his BFA from National College of Arts, Lahore in 2016. His works have been featured in several local group exhibition; notably Degree Show at National College of Arts, Everyone Everyday at Taseer Art Gallery, Collective Renditions at Satrang Art Gallery and Amalgamate at Sanat Gallery.