Sonny Liew’s classy response to NAC’s terse congratulations

By July 31, 2017Current

TL;DR – Let’s hope NAC learns from this.

Sonny Liew became the first Singaporean to win at the prestigious Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, more commonly known as the Eisner Awards. That’s the Comic Industry’s equivalent of the Oscars. And Sonny didn’t just win one award. He won three.

One would have thought that Sonny would be treated by a celebrity by the government. After all, Joseph Schooling was. But the government’s response to Sonny’s win have been rather muted. And it didn’t surprise anyone.


Because the National Arts Council (NAC) had previously withdrawn a publishing grant it gave to Sonny for The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, the work that won big at the Eisner Awards.

Delayed response by NAC

There wasn’t any official statements from any government agencies immediately after Sonny’s win. No fanfare. Minimal coverage in the mainstream media. It was only after a couple of days after Sonny’s win that NAC released congratulatory message on their Facebook page:

“Congrats to Sonny on winning three Eisner awards over the weekend! We are pleased that a Singaporean has been accorded international recognition for artistic merit.”

As expected, NAC’s rather short and terse congratulatory message drew criticism. Most criticisms pointed out that NAC’s congratulatory message left out the title of Sonny’s work that won the awards.

Maybe NAC didn’t want to remind the public that it was incapable of recognising the artistic merit of The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye. 

Notable criticisms of the government’s terse response to Sonny’s wins include those from other authors and artists. Local author Jeremy Tiang said this:

“Good art challenges the status quo, interrogates accepted narratives, and speaks truth to power. Unfortunately, these things would be difficult to do while adhering to the NAC’s funding criteria.”

One of Singapore’s popular young novelists, Balli Kaur Jaswal, encouraged our government to have more faith in Singaporean readers. She said:

“The funding cuts are usually prompted by some pre-emptive fears of backlash or criticism, but our readers don’t need to be protected like that.”

Illustrator Dan Wong urged the government to be more flexible and open-minded for the sake of the development of Singapore’s cultural and visual identity:

“I think that while it’s natural for our government to want to control the historical narrative, being inflexible and closed-minded will stunt the developing cultural and visual identity of Singapore, and make us a poorer society for it.”

Best response by Sonny

But the best response to NAC’s congratulatory message is from Sonny. He acknowledged that NAC’s Facebook message was somewhat “terse”. But he said that “the willingness of the authorities to engage in dialogue with the arts community about its decisions and processes” was more important that “effusive praise”.

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It was clear that he was more concerned about how best to nurture artists and the arts in Singapore. He said:

“It would be too easy otherwise to form antagonistic tribes caught up in conflicts no one actually wants to be in, instead of having everyone work together to nurture artists and the arts here in Singapore”

And in an act of classy magnanimity, Sonny even defended NAC:

“It would be too easy otherwise to form antagonistic tribes caught up in conflicts no one actually wants to be in, instead of having everyone work together to nurture artists and the arts here in Singapore”

That is the voice of reason, the sort of attitude we expect from a world-class artist. Sonny is the artist we need, not the artist we deserve. Let’s hope that NAC learns from the whole incident and become better at being able to nurture artists and develop Singapore’s arts scene.


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Author CRC

Working on a startup is a scary crazy process. To destress, I write random stuff.

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