Winners of the NUS Singapore Prize 2019

TWENTY-NINE homegrown brands ranging from healthcare providers to co-living operators were recognised at the 21st Singapore Prestige Brand Awards ceremony on Wednesday (Oct 25). The prestigious accolade, organised by Lianhe Zaobao and Singapore Pools, honours public agencies and not-for-profit organisations for their branding efforts. Among the winners, suicide-prevention agency Samaritans of Singapore was the recipient of the Special Merit award for branding excellence. “We hope that this year’s winners can serve as role models for fellow local businesses to pursue excellence in branding,” said Lianhe Zaobao executive editor Han Yong May.

The NUS Singapore Prize was introduced in 2014 with the intention of cultivating interest and understanding about the country’s past while sparking dialogue about its unique position in the world. It broadens the definition of history by soliciting writings that cover multiple perspectives and themes. This year, a number of works with a more personal slant made the shortlist. One is Sembawang by Jeremy Tiang (2019, available here), which follows an extended family through the leftist political movements and detentions in Singapore and Malaysia during the 1950s.

Another is The Last Song of the Day by author Tan Hui Leong, whose memoir centres on her mother’s love for singing and the impact that Alzheimer’s disease has had on her life and the lives of those closest to her. The memoir, which is a finalist for the National Literary Award for English, was written with the support of her mother’s caregivers and will be published this month.

A third is a short film titled The Unseen by Darren Lee, which explores the relationship between a father and his son who suffers from schizophrenia. The film won the Best Feature Film at the 2018 Golden Horse Festival in Taiwan and was screened at this year’s Singapore International Film Festival.

Lastly, there is The Trusted Media Challenge by AI Singapore, which invites developers to design and build an AI that detects audiovisual fake media such as videos and photos. The challenge runs for five months.

Kishore Mahbubani, a NUS Asia Research Institute distinguished fellow and the man who mooted the prize in a Straits Times column, says that the goal of the Singapore Prize is to promote a greater sense of belonging among the citizenry. He cites the American social scientist Benedict Anderson’s assertion that nations are ‘imagined communities’. A shared imagination, he adds, is the glue holding societies together. “And for that, the most important medium is storytelling,” he says. He adds that there could be plans to expand the range of works that can qualify for the award, citing movies such as 12 Years a Slave as examples. “But that’s still in discussion,” he said. “There’s a lot to be done.”