Mounting A Hunt For Genius

LOVING back is the reason artist Tan Swie Hian is setting up a $10 million fund that will be the seed from which an award for artists will be its annual fruit.

A recipient of several awards, including the Cultural Medallion, Swie Hian says the idea of “loving back recurred in my mind. It has been a dream for many, many years as I am the most awarded poet-painter in Singapore.

“My fellow poet Dante says, ‘Love insists the loved loves back.’ I am just loving back.”

The Tan Swie Hian Award will be broad-based in its scope, reflecting the donor’s own worldview.

“The objective is to honour great creators in the fields of the arts across the world. The award will comprise a pure gold medal by Singapore Mint designed by me, a poem in praise of genius written by me and a cash prize of some S$100,000 depending on how much interest the annual yield the seed fund of $10 million can generate.”

When announced, the award presentation ceremony will be held in the “humble courtyard” of his Geylang terrace house, that belonged to his late parents.

“This is where the Chinese Modernist literary movement was started by me in the late 1960s, and where I have been living for the past 50 years despite Geylang being a cowboy town. But Geylang is the capital of Singapore.”


While he will welcome submissions, Swie Hian says he will rely on his experience and his own homework as he hunts for geniuses.

One Off The Bucket List

“It is going to be the first thing on my bucket list for sure, but I should not set up a timetable to pressurise myself. I will definitely do it and do it well as this is my style of approach in life, and this one is my lifetime dream of ‘loving back’.”

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Swie Hian’s varied body of work is on show at the National Library Building. Anatomy Of A Free Mind: Tan Swie Hian’s Notebooks And Creations offers glimpses into the vast vistas of the artist’s mind, that through years of meditation continuously explores and seeks new realms of creative interpretation.

In this video, the artist explains his latest calligraphy piece.

To get a better understanding of Swie Hian — the man, the poet, the artist, the philosopher — do attend his talk A Thousand-Year Debate On The Imagery Of A Plantain Tree In Snow, this Friday. It will offer invaluable insight into the mind of a gifted individual who has the ability to turn the mundane into poetry, and see beyond the rhetoric at the fantastic.

Admission to the ticketed talk is free. Please register via

This programme is held in conjunction with Anatomy Of A Free Mind: Tan Swie Hian’s Notebook And Creations exhibition, which is currently on until April 23. 

The artist’s work from the exhibition are used to illustrate this article.

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