Sep 07 2016

Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul named Principal Prince Claus Laureate

by Ysabelle Cheung

Apichatpong Weerasethakul at Hong Kong. Courtesy Zicchieri Stefano. 

On September 6, the Prince Claus Fund in Amsterdam announced its six laureates for 2016, with Thai filmmaker and artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul receiving the Principal Prince Claus Award. The Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) director will collect his laureate title at the Royal Palace in Amsterdam on December 15, along with five other renowned artists, curators and cultural leaders such as Lebanese-Egyptian art historian Bahia Shehab and Vietnamese architect Vo Trong Nghia.

Every year, the Prince Claus Fund presents one Principal Prince Claus Award, as well as ten Prince Claus Awards, to figures of “outstanding achievements in the field of culture and development.” As 2016 marks a special occasion—the organization’s 20th anniversary—only six laureate awards (including the Principal Laureate) were selected this year in a bid to focus more intimately on the candidates. In that vein, each awardee is invited by the Fund to support any project of their choosing, the only restriction being that the project must, in some way, enhance the work being produced in their environment. Apitchatpong has chosen to continue funding the construction of his studio, which he mentions has been delayed for years. “I want to have a space in Chiang Mai to host a proper workshop and discussion with filmmakers, artists,” he says to ArtAsiaPacific.

This year’s committee includes visual artist Dinh Q Lê and Sharjah curator Sheikha Hoor al-Qasimi, who whittled down 85 nominations to six award recipients after a period of assessment, research and discussion. The committee says of Apichatpong’s work: “Apichatpong Weerasethakul is awarded for the visual richness, spiritual lyricism and intellectual depth of his provocative works; for his subtle yet powerful examination of Thai realities that resonates beyond his own society; for inventing an original cinematic language that evokes a live experience of the animist sense of being . . . clearly demonstrating that artistic excellence creates experience and is inseparable from the social and political.”

Earlier this year in April, Apichatpong presented a 14-hour marathon of his various moving image works at London’s Tate Modern, including trailers and short films as well as full-length features. His most recent film, Cemetery of Splendor (2015), premiered at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, although he has received criticism in his native Thailand due to his refusal to cut offending scenes from his 2006 feature Syndromes and a Century, as requested by the Thai Censorship Board. In regards to his ongoing relationship with censorship and narrative, Apichatpong states: “Working is a way to understand myself and this place I am living in. Thailand always has many masks. There are fears of military’s brutality, unjust laws, social shaming, self-censorship, etc. I am concerned less about where I show the work but more with how to reflect these fears, these memories.”

Ysabelle Cheung is managing editor at ArtAsiaPacific.