Spotlight on Boo Sze Yang: Sovereign Asian Art Prize Interview

This interview with Boo Sze Yang is part of a series of interviews highlighting the shortlisted artists for The 2022 Sovereign Asian Art Prize – the 18th edition of Asia’s most prestigious prize for contemporary artists. Selected from over 400 entries, the finalists hail from 16 countries and regions across Asia-Pacific. Of the artists, 27 are new to The Prize – appearing in the shortlist for the first time. Read on to discover more about the finalists, their key points of inspiration, and why it is important to champion the work of artists from Asia-Pacific.


Boo Sze Yang (Singapore) was shortlisted for his work ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’, which attempts to probe our perception of truth and reality. Contemplating a scene of civil unrest, characteristic of images circulating in modern media, Boo reframes reality with a sense of dark humour and exaggerated theatricality.


‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’ is quite different from your previously shortlisted artworks. What led you to develop the style of this piece?

I believed that a painter’s practice should not be defined by any particular style as this limits the freedom to create. This painting belongs to a new series probing our perception of truth and reality, looking at scenes of civic discontent and unrest that have been circulating in the global media in recent years. Social and political unrest arises mainly from a clash of interests between groups and societies, between political leaders and political parties, between the rulers and the ruled.

In the digital era, the content that streams through our monitors is highly curated, edited and repeatedly broadcasted to get its message through. We may have become passive receivers of what stream through our lives daily, but we need to be active thinkers to sift through the lies. The painting is a parody of the social drama we encounter in the world we live in, employing dark humour with an exaggerated theatricality, repetition of figures in synchronized dance moves, and poster-like mise-en-scene.


What in particular inspired you about Billy Joel’s eponymous song?

I wanted to name the painting after a song, like theme songs that are crucial to movies and stage drama. Billy Joel’s “We didn’t Start The Fire” seems perfect because it reminds us that social unrest, clashes and war will continue as long as we continue to exist.


What do you hope viewers will take away from the work?

Question everything, especially in the digital age.


How important is it to support the work of artists in Asia-Pacific?

The Asia-Pacific has a wealth of cultural diversity and a rich heritage in art, architecture and craft. The art world should not revolve around the USA & Europe.


To vote for Boo’s work, click here. The most popular finalist will receive the Public Vote Prize and USD1,000.

To register interest in purchasing Boo’s artwork, please email Artwork sales will be launched in person and online during Art Central, from 26 – 29 May 2022. Proceeds will be spilt equally between the artist and charitable programmes.

‘Spotlight on Boo Sze Yang’ courtesy of Sovereign Asian Art Prize, May 2022