Founding Director, DECK Photography Art Centre Ltd.
(In her 40's)
Her story (as shared by her nominator)
Gwen Lee is a trailblazer who has a bold vision to transform Singapore into a photography nexus of Southeast Asia. Fuelled by her unyielding passion, she boldly forewent financial security and left her curator role at the Singapore History Museum to start 2902 Gallery in 2008.
In the face of scepticism, Gwen toiled relentlessly in the male-dominated industry to elevate photography as a form of contemporary art. Driven by her ambition to position Singaporean artistry on the global stage, she co-founded the Singapore International Photography Festival, which is now one of the longest running photo festivals in Southeast Asia.
In 2014, she went on to establish DECK, a non-profit arts organisation and built a container art centre from ground up through crowdfunding. Setbacks, including a battle with cancer and COVID-19, did not stop her from pursuing her dream.
Her unyielding commitment to the arts has earned her the prestigious JCCI Arts Awards recognition in 2011, and the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres accolade in 2022. Not resting on her laurels, Gwen is still full of zeal at 47, currently working hard to build a new arts centre that will break new ground for Singapore’s visual culture.
Gwen Lee's story resounds as a symphony of triumph over adversity. From humble beginnings to revered accolades, her journey is a chronicle of fervour and a testament of her tenacity, reminding us that courage, resilience, and faith in one's dreams can pave the way towards new frontiers.
In her own words:
The construction of DECK, the first award-winning container arts space in Singapore. Contrary to public perception, DECK is built through fundraising, and support of individuals, and made possible without Govt grant. It is unprecedented, a bold move to build an art space independently from an empty plot of land, and transform it into possibilities, which revitalise the neighbourhood. In 2022, I was awarded a medal award from Ministry of Culture, France - l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (The Order of Arts and Letters) to recognize eminent artists and writers, and people who have contributed significantly to furthering the arts in France and throughout the world. I am happy that this award places Singapore and DECK on a global platform.
Biggest challenge thus far
I think the challenge to arrive at one idea, and to acknowledge it died, and then continue to embark a new idea and new life. For me, DECK was built in 2014 and demolished in 2021. Then came the new idea on DECK as a commune art space to become a permanent place in the heart of the community. I think it is a powerful message for myself - to rise and fall, and to continue onwards relentlessly towards a vision I believe in passionately.
what judges say
SiSingapore was once regarded as a cultural desert in the 70s and 80s, but has become known as the ultimate creative city in recent years. The success of this transformation was attributed to individuals like Gwen.