In front of 300+ people in the grand ballroom of the Four Seasons Hong Kong last week, The Sovereign Art Foundation publicly revealed the winner of the 2016 Sovereign Asian Art Prize – Asia’s most coveted award for contemporary art. Baptist Coelho, a Mumbai-based artist known for incorporating various media into his practice such as installation, video, sound, photography, performance and found objects, was declared the official winner and recipient of US$30,000, while Philippines-based artist duo Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan were awarded the Schoeni (or public vote) Prize and US$1,000.



Baptist was understandably thrilled and said, “When I woke up the other morning and, with half-closed eyes, read the email informing me that I had won the main 2016 Sovereign Asian Art Prize award, I had to ask myself ‘is this a dream?’…only to realise it is for real! This recognition comes at a very poignant stage of my art practise and I am very grateful to the Sovereign Art Foundation for their support and to all who have been part of my journey. It was a pleasure to be part of the competition and to be a finalist amongst a group of such diverse and talented artists.”

Baptist impressed the panel of judges with his artwork Attempts to contain, 2015 – a piece consisting of 8 photographs on archival paper that explore how the body responds to the physical and psychological need to protect itself by forming a mesh of interlocking body parts.

baptist artwork

The inspiration for the artwork traces back to 1984, where the conflict between India and Pakistan over ownership of the Siachen Glacier was fought at an altitude of around 18,000 feet – the highest battlefield on earth. Bitter cold temperatures reaching to – 60 Celsius made living conditions unbearable for soldiers. In this work, the artist illustrates the trajectory of various attempts at weaving and intertwining the human body in order to provide its own layer of protection. This interaction between the warp and weft of mind and body implies a deeper psychological understanding; where the soldier seeks his own personal resolve; often unconsciously weaving a mesh that would psychologically hold, protect and contain.

Baptist was nominated into the Prize by longstanding Sovereign Asian Art Prize nominator Brian Curtain – an Irish-born lecturer, art critic and curator of contemporary art. Brian’s work has been published in Frieze, Flash Art,, Art Asia Pacific and Art Review Asia; and he has mounted curated exhibitions in China, New York, Korea and the UK as well as regionally. As well as acting as a SAAP nominator he has nominated for the Prix Pictet award in photography, and the Google Photography Prize in collaboration with Saatchi Gallery London.

Describing his work as an artist, Baptist says, “My projects frequently merge personal research with collaboration from people of various cultures, geographies and histories. This interaction begins the process of investigation, questioning and interpretation which often creates new ideas and outcomes. As I begin the research of conjuring meaning out of raw experiences, I am able to describe social and personal contexts, which often inspire inquiry and become the foundation for long-term projects.



During this process of research collection and documentation, I remain conscious of the physical and emotional responses of my audience.  Throughout my practice, I employ the use of atmospheric stimuli and residual work, such as found objects, to engage the viewer into the story and allow them an interactive space to reflect on their own surroundings and predicaments,” Baptist said.

To ascertain the Top 30 Finalists of this year’s Sovereign Asian Art Prize, fifty independent art professionals from around the Asia Pacific region first had to nominate 200+ mid-career artists. Then, a judging panel comprising world-class art professionals including curator David Elliot, Chinese artist Song Dong, independent Indonesian curator Asmudjo Irianto, Hong Kong-based Alexandra Seno and Taiwanese artist Michael Lin, voted to shortlist 30 artists from across 16 different territories. Each member of the judging panel then flew to Hong Kong to view the art a second time, in person, before deciding on an overall winner. The works were all exhibited at both Christie’s Hong Kong exhibition space, and the Rotunda at Exchange Square, Hong Kong, before the winners were announced.




Alfredo and Isabel, who won the public vote prize for their piece Left Wing, are partners in both life and art and live and work in Australia. They were unfortunately unable to attend the Gala Dinner to receive their award as they were installing an exhibition at the newly opened National Gallery Singapore, but Asia Art Archive’s Alexandra Seno kindly stepped in to receive it on their behalf.

Left Wing


The pair’s art practice is anchored to the idea of co-creation or collaboration, facilitating projects that involve and engage with communities, and forging relationships through shared experience. A core belief is that work created within a context powered by these fundamentals produces something that connects with a broader audience without sacrificing the content or integrity of the finished artwork. They conduct workshops and collaborative sessions with community groups that have a direct, emotional connection to the subject matter being addressed in the completed work. The “Left Wing” Project was created through these fundamentals and the concept conceived through a series of workshops with art students and farmers conducted in Indonesia that resulted in a number of works. “Left Wing” was created in a blacksmith community in Tabaco, Albay, a village south of the Philippines. In a form of a single wing made out of hundreds of hand-forged sickles bonded together, the “Left Wing” (pendulum) is a kinetic sculpture that creates a hammering sound when in motion.

Howard Bilton, Chairman and Founder of The Sovereign Art Foundation, said of the shortlisted artworks,

“Once again our world renowned judges have been pleased and excited about the quality of the finalists. The message they are giving us is that every piece in the final 30 is museum quality and that every year the standard gets better. This is, of course, very pleasing and reflects the hard work that the team have put into the prize over the last 13 years. This does tend to mean that the work is more “difficult” for our collectors and buyers but we are pleased to note that they too seem excited by the selection. We hope and trust that this will translate itself into sales of this investment quality art in support of the work of the Foundation in the community with disadvantaged children.”




The awards were handed out, and the remaining 29 finalists’ artworks auctioned off at a Gala Dinner at the Four Seasons on Friday June 3. The Sovereign Art Foundation flew in a dance troupe that had attracted international attention as Asia’s Got Talent grand finalists in 2015 just for the occasion – and Junior New System certainly knew how to get the crowd up and dancing.






Francois Curiel, head of Christie’s Asia Pacific and touted as the world’s greatest auctioneer, headed the art auction with a unique flair that many have come to know and love.





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