Spotlight on Robert Zhao Renhui : Sovereign Asian Art Prize Interview

This interview with Robert Zhao Renhui 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.


Robert Zhao Renhui (Singapore) was shortlisted for his work ‘And A Great Sign Appeared (Things from the Heat)’ capturing a moment on 22 December 2019, when thousands of birds suddenly appeared in Singapore. They were Asian Open Bill storks: birds foreign to Singapore.


How did you first become involved in photographing the natural world?

I have been documenting the natural world in my work since I picked up the camera. It was the only subject matter that I always turned my camera to for the last 20 years.


What in particular drew you to Asian Open Bill storks as a subject matter?

The sheer numbers, almost 10,000 of them and the distance they flew to reach Singapore. The flock of Asian Open Bill Storks that we saw in Singapore on the 24th of December 2019 were most likely from Thailand.

I was just very lucky to be able to witness them flying through that afternoon. Their story is one of concern. They were escaping an ongoing drought in Thailand, the worst drought in decades. I would not have imagined that something happening so far away could be visible in Singapore, in the form of storks appearing.


Is there any significance to the use of black and white in your photography?

In some of my work, I choose to discard colors. Colors can be a distracting quality in some of the images I create, especially when the images are contextualized in an event that has already been recorded widely.


How important is it to support artists from Asia-Pacific?

I think it is important to support artists anywhere. Some of the stories that are coming out from the Asia-Pacific region can only be told by artists. Sometimes, the artists are the only people telling the stories that matter.


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

To register interest in purchasing Robert’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 Robert Zhao Renhui’ courtesy of Sovereign Asian Art Prize, May 2022