Spotlight on Zulkifli Lee : Sovereign Asian Art Prize Interview

A closer look at the finalists for The 2022 Sovereign Asian Art Prize

This interview with Zulkifli Lee 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.


Zulkifli Lee (Malaysia) was shortlisted for his work ‘Myth Party’, contemplating the paradoxical coincidence of opposites. According to the artist, all paradoxes can be reconciled; nature is built in opposites.


Where did you find the Chengal wood in your piece, and what initially drew you to it as a material for art creation?

The Chengal wood is reclaimed wood I found and bought from a reclaimed wood shop. There are many of these kind of shops near my place. They normally sell remnants of old traditional wooden houses that have been torn apart to give way to new development or simply the owner wants to replace it with concrete/brick house that are more popular nowadays.

I view it as a medium that shows value shifts in material culture in the community. It’s always interest me to give new identity or value to an old discarded thing – how it can be reconstructed and reproduced. In addition, I love old wood as it has more character compared to new wood bought from a factory. The imperfection, patination of color, the trace of human intervention and time inherited by the wood, gives impersonal character to my work. Something that I can’t simply replicate. On a technical aspect, the old wood does not shrink like new wood. It’s made the interlocking part with the steel more secure and strong.


Can you tell us a bit more about the title of your work, which translates to ‘lexicon of unity’?

The work “Peripaduan” deals with the concept of an interdependent relationship. I believe reality is the network of relationships. I guess the pandemic showed us how interconnected our existence is. In fact, we are struggling to be apart. My work is a manifestation that we are always part of something larger than ourselves. My works intended to re-conform an appeal of the familiar interconnecting relationships. Pushing the paradoxical coincidence of opposites. I believe all paradoxes may be reconciled. Opposites are just how nature is built. Sculpture for me is a lexicon of object and process. I do not cover the trail of the making process. For me, the mistakes in the trail of process, the cutting, the burned mark, is part of the work, and inherent to the intent behind it. The process of unifying the relationship and harmony between the contradictory opposites.


How do you hope for audiences to interact with the work in the exhibition space?

I don’t have any specific wish on how audiences should interact with the work. They are free to experience, engage and appreciate it anyway they like. It’s flattering to know audiences are interested in how the artist wants them to see the work but it’s also sad if it just starts and end there. I believe the viewer is also the participant with the work and the space. The process is like “seeing yourself seeing”. One may include but is not limited to artist’s opinions, one can create their own meaning and value. Viewers presence and their perception is integral with artists and their intentions.


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

Art can shape opinions, envision cultures and ignite social dialogues. Supporting artists is empowering the discourse and enriching our values.

‘Spotlight on Zulkifli Lee’ courtesy of Sovereign Asian Art Prize, May 2022