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Milenko Prvački is a Singapore artist and art educator. Born in the former Yugoslavia and trained as an artist in Romania, he migrated to Singapore in 1991 during the Yugoslav wars. Since then, he has taught at LASALLE College of the Arts for two decades, first as a fine arts lecturer, then as a faculty dean and now as a senior fellow and coordinator of its Tropical Lab.
He has also continued his art practice here, developing over the decades a profound body of work that has enriched Singapore's visual art scene. For his significant contributions to art, he has been honoured with the title of the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters) from the French government, and the Cultural Medallion from the Singapore government.
Milenko Prvački was born on 12 November 1951, the only child of an accountant and a housewife, in Novi Kozjak (formerly known as Ferdin), Vojvodina, Yugoslavia, during the country's totalitarian communist regime. His family home was in a small village 60km from Belgrade and he had as neighbours, a German artist and his wife.
The artist often invited young Prvački and his best friend to play with paints in his studio-home. By the time Prvački turned 11, he had, under his guidance, learnt to copy famous paintings such as those by Monet and Picasso. By the time he turned 12, he was sure he wanted to become an artist.
In Vojvodina, from 1964 to 1969, Prvački attended the Serbian tertiary institution Gimnazija "Uroš Predić" Pančevo. In 1970, he enrolled in the Institutul de Arte Plastice "Nicolae Grigorescu" (Nicolae Grigorescu Institute of Fine Arts) in the bustling city of Bucharest, Romania, where he studied philosophy, drawing (in particular, anatomy) and painting within the limits of the academy's rigorous methodology.
In 1971 while he was still studying, Prvački held his first solo exhibition, Paintings & Drawings, at Galerija mladih, Pančevo, Yugoslavia. In 1974, he held a second solo exhibition Drawings at the Yugoslav Embassy in Bucharest. That year, he received the Pesak Summer Painting Symposium Award in Pančevo, Yugoslavia. He graduated five years later in 1975 with both a master's degree in Fine Arts (Painting), and a girlfriend, fellow Romanian student Delia who would later become his wife.
After he graduated, Prvački returned to Yugoslavia where he and Delia married and his work was quickly recognised. In 1976, a daughter, Ana, was born. Although he found a job in 1978 as the Manager of Galerija savremene umetnosti (Gallery of Contemporary Art) at Centar za kulturu Pančevo (Pančevo Cultural Centre) in Vojvodina, a job he held until 1991, he devoted himself to his art and was very productive.
He held 15 solo exhibitions throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s up until 1990. He founded the Yugoslav Sculpture Exhibition in 1981, and participated in several art symposiums in various countries in Central Europe. His early paintings, such as those in his Dialog (1975–1979) and Heroes (1977) series reflected his engagement with the politics of Yugoslavia at the time with their socio-political overtones and satirical figures depicting alienation and the breakdown of communication.
He also explored his observation of political leaders (especially then President Josip Broz Tito) flaunting hunted "trophies" with his Trophy paintings, which grew from symbolic animal fur trophies (depicting both the fur side and the bloody skin side), the grisly rewards of hunting, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, to landscape trophies, reaped from the conquest of territory, in the ‘80s and ‘90s. By then, Prvački started exploring his own ideas about non-socio-political issues such as visual language with the use of abstraction, and for the first time, collage in the ‘80s.
It was around the same time when Prvački became an internationally celebrated artist, and won much acclaim. His many awards during this decade include the Annual Art Society Award in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia (1980), the Faber-Castell Award in Nurnberg, Germany (1982), the Special Jury Award at the 17th International Painting Exhibition, Cagnes-sur-Mer, France (1985), and the Special Jury Award from Academie Internationale De Lutèce, France (1986)
Yet, despite his success, life was becoming more and more unstable in Prvački’s home country. Back then, Yugoslavia was known as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which was a tenuous and troubled federation made up of six ethnically-diverse republics, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Serbia (including Kosovo and Vojvodina where Prvacki was from). It was rapidly crumbling under the onslaught of the Yugoslav wars.
In 1991, an escalation of inter-state conflicts, uprisings and civil unrest led to the dissolution of the federation. At that time, an old colleague of Prvački’s asked him to travel to Singapore for two months to work with her as an artistic designer of sets for a German company, which was working on the now-defunct Maritime Museum in Sentosa.
Prvački had never been to Asia but took up the offer, and after a month, he was offered a two-year contract. A few months later, his wife Delia and their daughter Ana left war-torn Yugoslavia and joined him in Singapore.
Prvački worked at the Singapore Maritime Showcase for two years. His new life in Singapore gave him a fresh outlook on both life and his practice, and his earliest paintings made in Singapore, which was expansive and more abstract, reflected that. In mid 1992, a teenaged Ana enrolled in LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts to study theatre.
LASALLE's founder, Joseph McNally, took an interest in Prvački's work after hearing about Ana’s account of the family's migration. In 1993, Prvački held his first solo exhibition in Singapore, Paintings, with his wife Delia at LASALLE's Earl Lu Gallery upon invitation by McNally
Another solo exhibition followed, Paintings & Drawings, which was organised by ART-2 Gallery, at The Substation Gallery. The following year, he held two more solo exhibitions—Untitled with his wife Delia at Singapore's Noble House, and Tropical Rain – Drawings at Centar za Vizuelnu Kulturu Zlatno Oko (Zlatno Oko Centre for Visual Culture) back in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia.
Then in 1994, McNally invited him to teach at the school and Prvački took up the offer to become a principal lecturer in the Faculty of Fine Arts at LASALLE. Prvački had been hesitant as, at the time, he spoke very little English, but McNally had given him six months to learn it. When Prvački arrived at LASALLE, he made a few dramatic improvements. He introduced individual tutorials and group critiques. Later, he also reduced teaching hours, giving students more time to practice.
Prvački’s first few years in Singapore proved challenging as he juggled the demands of his new job and spending time with his family, learning English, dealing with a sense of loss from having left his homeland, and working on his art. He also spent time getting to know his new surroundings in the tropics, making a few trips to countries in the region with Delia.
Throughout the ‘90s and 2000s, he was very productive, holding at least one solo exhibition virtually every year, several were collaborations with his wife. He also participated in many group exhibitions in Singapore and other countries including Thailand, China, Hong Kong, UK, Ireland, France, Holland, Germany, Belgium, Serbia and Australia.
Among his most successful exhibitions was The Ultimate Visual Dictionary, held together with Delia, at Caldwell House Gallery in CHIJMES in 1998. Prvački spoke mostly German and Serbian and had first approached the notion of the "dictionary" when he had to rely on a Romanian dictionary in his initial years studying in Bucharest.
He revisited the idea again when he had to rely on an English dictionary to get by during his early days in Singapore. Then, in 1997, a family trip to Australia and the Northern Territory deserts brought things together. Drawing his observations of the indigenous land in a sketchbook, the idea of collecting his images for use as a source for future work occurred to him, and The Ultimate Visual Dictionary was born. It became a series that was remarkable for the way it explored, among other notions, our relationship with prescribed meaning and the necessary plurality of meaning and ambiguity in language, specifically, visual language.
It was also during the ‘90s and 2000s that Prvački became active in the Singapore art community, participating in numerous events including a field trip organised by the Art Forum Gallery for artists from Singapore and Indonesia in 1996 and an artist talk at the FEAST! Food in Art exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum in 2000.
He even brought his newfound knowledge of Singapore and regional art back to his homeland of the former Yugoslavia when he participated in an artists' talk on Southeast Asian Art in Belgrade in 2001. That year, he created three massive outdoor works entitled Beehives using concrete, brick, sand, mosaic and other materials. Located on LASALLE's premises at Goodman Road, they were a departure from his paintings, collages, and works on paper, and were part of his exhibition at Earl Lu Gallery, Construction Site, exploring the construction of three-dimensional "images", "methods" and "materials".
In 2002, Prvački reached two milestones in his life. He became a Singapore citizen, and he was appointed Dean of LASALLE's Faculty of Fine Arts. After two successful solo exhibitions in Singapore that year, he held another solo exhibition in 2003 in the former Yugoslavia, only his second there since he left the country 12 years ago. Construction Site, which had been held at Earl Lu Gallery the year before, was held at several venues—the Likovna galerija, Kulturni centar Beograda (Art Gallery, Belgrade Cultural Center) in Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro; Galerija savremene umetnosti, Centar za kulturu Pančevo (Contemporary Art Gallery, Centre for Culture Pančevo) in Serbia and Montenegro; and City Art Gallery in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
There, it had special resonance for its allusions to the cycle of tearing down and rebuilding that applies to so many civilisations in the world, something Prvački had observed when he had travelled with Delia to Rajasthan, India, in 1999 and to Turkey in 2002.
Despite a busy schedule, Prvački continued to put up solo exhibitions every year and also heavily involved in academia. He served as a Visiting Professor three times, once at Musashino Art University in Tokyo, Japan in 2004, then at Sabanci University in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2010, and lastly at Washington University in 2015. He also participated in an artist talk at the Istanbul Biennale 07 in 2007 and a panel discussion on Contemporary South East Asian Painting at the Singapore Art Museum, and conducted a workshop at Singapore's new School of the Arts. He is currently Adjunct Professor at RMIT University, Australia, having been appointed in 2014.
In 2005, he founded the Tropical Lab, an annual international art workshop at LASALLE, which he continues to coordinate as "Tropical King". A yearly two-week event which brings Master's candidates from the world's top arts institutions together to research, experiment and collaborate in order to create contemporary art, Tropical Lab has since become an important programme that has yielded fruitful exchanges and work.
In 2011, Prvački was made LASALLE's Senior Fellow in the Office of the President. That same year, he was conferred the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters) by the French government, in recognition of his significant contributions to the arts. The following year, he also received the Cultural Medallion.
That year, Prvački held two solo exhibitions that took the artist and his audience back to his past. Remembrance of Things Past, held at iPRECIATION in Hong Kong, looked back to his past, remembering his beginnings in his homeland, a country that he said "does not exist anymore".
Milenko Prvački: A Survey, 1979 – 2012, held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore in LASALLE College of the Arts, displayed his development as an artist. It featured more than 100 works spanning for decades of his practice, from his early, more figurative paintings thickly imbued with socio-political significance to his later works of non-narrative abstraction (featuring not only paintings, but collages, watercolours, sketchbooks and notebooks) that explored his concerns about visual language, with the notions of representation, collection and construction, with history, displacement, loss and memory.
Today, Prvački’s works may be found in the permanent collections of various national museums and corporate bodies in Singapore, the former Yugoslavia, Australia and Germany including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade, the Museum of Contemporary Drawing in Nurnberg, Germany, Gallery of New South West, Sydney, National Gallery and the Singapore Art Museum.
They may also be found in many private collections around the world in Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Singapore, Slovenia, The Netherlands, and the United States.
Prvački continues to engage participants with workshops and exhibitions at Tropical Lab, and to coordinate and edit the Tropical Lab PRESS, and fine arts newspaper PRAXIS PRESS and art journal, ISSUE (both of which he founded).
Emotional without being nostalgic, historical without being chronological, Prvački’s art is, in many ways, a process of remembrance by an artist who has always been fully engaged with the world and the communities he has lived in. They are also deeply marked by his life experiences, and his inability to both fully remember and forget them.
Born in Novi Kozjak (formerly known as Ferdin), Vojvodina, Yugoslavia.
Attended Serbian tertiary institution Gimnazija "Uros Predix" Pancevo, in Vojvodina, Yugoslavia.
Obtained a Master of Fine Arts (Painting) from Institutul de Arte Plastice "Nicolae Grigorescu" in Bucharest, Romania.
Held solo exhibition Paintings & Drawings at Galerija mladih, Pancevo, Yugoslavia.
Received the Pesak Summer Painting Symposium Award in Pancevo, Yugoslavia.
Held solo exhibition Drawings at the Yugoslav Embassy, Bucharest, Romania.
Held solo exhibition New Paintings with Rada Cupic at ULUV Gallery, Novi Sad, Yugoslavia.
Held solo exhibition Dialog – Paintings at Galerija savremene umetnosti, Centar za kulturu Pančevo, Yugoslavia.
Participated in Bidgousch International Art Symposium in Bidgousch, Poland.
Manager of Galerija savremene umetnosti (Gallery of Contemporary Art) at Centar za kulturu Pancevo (Pancevo Cultural Centre) in Vojvodina, Yugoslavia.
Held solo exhibition Dialog – Drawings at Galerija mladih, Novi Sad, Yugoslavia.
Received the Annual Art Society Award in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia.
Received the IM Award for Drawing, International Portrait at the Drawing Exhibition in Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Received the Award for Best Annual Solo Exhibition, Kolarceva Zaduzbina, Belgrade, Yugoslavia.
Held solo exhibition Paintings at Kolarceva Zaduzbina Gallery, Belgrade, Yugoslavia.
Participated in Herculane Art Symposium in Herculane, Romania
Founder of the Yugoslav Sculpture Exhibition.
Received the MP Award at the 1st Watercolour Bienale in Karlovac, Croatia.
Held solo exhibition Fur-Trophies – Paintings at Galerija kulturni centar Apatin, (Gallery of Cultural Centre in Apatin), Yugoslavia.
Participated in Teslic Summer workshop in Teslic, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Received the 2nd International Drawing Triennial, Museum of Contemporary Drawing Award.
Received the Faber-Castell Award in Nurnberg, Germany.
Received the Ex-tempore Art Symposium Award in Piran, Slovenia.
Held solo exhibition Islands – Drawings at Mali likovni salon, Novi Sad, Yugoslavia.
Participated in Becej Art Symposium in Becej, Yugoslavia.
Held solo exhibition Islands – Paintings at two venues: Moderna galerija Likovni susret, Subotica, Yugoslavia and; Likovna jesen (Visual Autumn), Sombor, Yugoslavia.
Participated in Pocitelj International Art Symposium in Pocitelj, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Received the Visual Outam Award for Drawing, Yugoslavian Drawing Biennale, Sombor, Yugoslavia.
Held solo exhibition Avignon – Drawings at Barbantan Gallery, France.
Held solo exhibition Islands – Paintings at two venues: Galerija Likovne kolonije Ecka, Zrenjanin, Yugoslavia and; Galerija savremene umetnosti, Centar za kulturu Pancevo, Yugoslavia
Received the Special Jury Award at the 17th International Painting Exhibition, Cagnes-sur-Mer, France.
Held solo exhibition Volcano – Drawings at Galerija Grafički kolektiv, Belgrade, Yugoslavia.
Held solo exhibition Paintings at Meduza Gallery, Koper, Yugoslavia.
Participated in Ex-tempore Art Symposium in Piran, Slovenia
Received the Special Jury Award from Academie Internationale De Lutece, France.
Received the Ex-tempore Art Symposium Award, Piran, Slovenia.
Held solo exhibition Trophy Paintings at ULUV Gallery, Novi Sad, Yugoslavia
Participated in Ecka International Visual Art Symposium in Zrenjanin, Yugoslavia.
Received the October Salon Award in Pancevo, Yugoslavia.
Received the S.M. Salon Award in Sremska Mitrovica, Yugoslavia.
Held solo exhibition Collage at Mala galerija, Kulturni centar Pančevo, Yugoslavia.
Won Best Watercolour at the 6th Watercolour Biennale, Karlovac, Croatia.
Won Best Participant at Ecka Art Symposium, Zrenjanin, Yugoslavia.
Held solo exhibition Trophy Paintings at two venues: Galerija Franzer (Franzer Gallery), Subotica, Yugoslavia and; Obalne galerije (Obalne Gallery), Piran, Yugoslavia.
Held solo exhibition Trophy Paintings at two venues: Likovna galerija, Kulturni centar Beograda (Art Gallery, Belgrade Cultural Centre), Belgrade, Yugoslavia and; Galerija Doma mladih (Youth Gallery), Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Participated in Summer Painting Symposium Pesak in Pancevo, Yugoslavia.
Participated in the St. Andreja Symposium in St. Andreja, Hungary.
Artist Designer, Singapore Maritime Showcase, Singapore.
Held solo exhibition Paintings with wife Delia Prvacki at Earl Lu Gallery, LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts, Singapore.
Held solo exhibition Paintings & Drawings, organised by ART-2 Gallery, at The Substation Gallery, Singapore.
Held solo exhibition Tropical Rain – Drawings at Centar za Vizuelnu Kulturu Zlatno Oko (Zlatno Oko Centre for Visual Culture) in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia.
Held solo exhibition Untitled with wife Delia Prvacki at Noble House, Singapore.
Principal Lecturer, Faculty of Fine Arts, LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts, Singapore.
Held solo exhibition Painting in spite of… at Takashimaya Gallery, Singapore.
Participated in a field trip involving artists from Singapore, Bali and Indonesia which was organised by Art Forum Gallery, Singapore.
Held solo exhibition Fire in Kakadu with wife Delia Prvački at Art Forum, Singapore.
Held solo exhibition The Ultimate Visual Dictionary with wife Delia Prvacki at Caldwell House Gallery, CHIJMES, Singapore.
Held solo exhibition Collection at Plastique Kinetic Worms, Singapore.
Participated in Community and Modes of Practice at the Nokia Symposium Singapore Art Museum, Singapore
Participated in an artist talk at the FEAST! Food in Art exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum, Singapore.
Held solo exhibition Collection at Sentosa Artist Village Gallery, Singapore.
Participated in artist talk South-East Asian Art in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.
Became a Singapore citizen.
Held solo exhibition Methods & Materials at Plastique Kinetic Worms, Singapore.
Held solo exhibition Construction Site at Earl Lu Gallery, LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts, Singapore.
Dean, Faculty of Fine Arts, LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore.
Held solo exhibition Construction Site at several venues: Likovna galerija, Kulturni centar Beograda (Art Gallery, Belgrade Cultural Center), Belgrade, Serbia & Montenegro; Galerija savremene umetnosti, Centar za kulturu Pancevo (Contemporary Art Gallery, Centre for Culture Pancevo), Serbia & Montenegro and; City Art Gallery, Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Held solo exhibition The New Paintings at TAKSU Gallery, Jakarta Indonesia and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Held solo exhibition Trophy Paintings at TAKSU Gallery, Singapore.
Visiting Professor at Musashino Art University, Tokyo, Japan.
Founder of Tropical Lab, LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore.
Held solo exhibition Farming and Positioning of the Elements at Plastique Kinetic Worms, Singapore.
Held solo exhibition Farming and Positioning of the Elements at Plastique Kinetic Worms, Singapore.
Participated in Artist Talk at Istanbul Modern, Real Presence at Istanbul Biennale 07.
Held solo exhibition Now you see it, now you don’t with wife Delia Prvački at Combinart Studio, Singapore.
Held solo exhibition Trajectory with wife Delia Prvački at Combinart Studio, Singapore.
Conducted a workshop at School of the Arts, Singapore.
Visiting Professor at Sabanci University in Istanbul, Turkey.
Awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France.
Participated in a panel discussion Contemporary South East Asian Painting at the Singapore Art Museum, Singapore.
Senior Fellow, Office of the President, LASALLE College of the Arts Singapore.
Received the Cultural Medallion from National Arts Council, Singapore.
Held solo exhibition Milenko Prvacki: A Survey, 1979 – 2012 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore.
Held solo exhibition Remembrance of Things Past at iPRECIATION, Hong Kong
Participated in a number of group exhibitions:
Paper, AndrewShire Gallery, Los Angeles, USA.
Painting in Singapore, curated by Tony Godfrey, EQUATOR Art Project, Singapore.
Island Vernacular, Milenko Prvacki and Ian Woo, paintings, curated by Christopher Cook, Peninsula Arts with Plymouth University, UK.
The Realm in the Mirror, the Vision out of Image, An Exhibition of Singapore Contemporary Art curated by Feng Boyi, Suzhou Jinji Lake Art Museum, China.
Postmodernism in Vojvodina (1976-1990), curated by Svetlana Mladenov, Museum of Contemporary Art Voivodina, Novi Sad and Gallery Kulturni Center Belgrade, Serbia.
Cascadence - SG redux, curated by Joanna Lee, iPreciation Gallery, Singapore
Held solo exhibitions at big arts events:
Johor Strait, Building Bridge Art Foundation, Baik Art, Bergamont Station Art Center, Santa Monica, California, USA.
Art Stage, Singapore, iPreciation Gallery, Singapore.
Participated in the following group exhibitions:
Market Forces, Erasure: From Conceptualism to Abstraction, curated by
Dr. Charles Merewether, Osage Gallery and City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Passage, with Delia Prvacki, The Luxe Art Museum, Singapore
Departure, iPreciation Gallery, Singapore
Art Stage, iPreciation, Singapore
Do you believe in Angels? curated by Tony Godfrey, M0_Space, Manila, Philippines and Singapore
We do, we do Art, One East Asia Gallery, Singapore.
Held a solo exhibition E La Nave Va (And the Ship Sails on) at iPreciation Gallery, Singapore.
Participated in the following group exhibitions:
Permanent Collection, Singapore Art, National Gallery, Singapore.
Art Silicon Valley, USA.
Art Fair Paris, Grand Palace, France.
Portable Art Week, iPreciation Gallery, Singapore.
Art Silicone Valley, San Francisco, USA.
A New Dialogue, Southeast Asian Abstraction, Sotheby’s, Singapore, Hong Kong.
The Cultural Medallion and Visual Arts, The Ngee Ann Kongsi Galleres 1&2, NAFA, Singapore
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Milenko (right) with his wife Delia and daughter Ana, at age four, reading a book, Bucharest, Romania. 1979.
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Milenko (second row, second from the right) and fellow artists at the Becej Art Symposium in Yugoslavia. 1982.
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Milenko (left), Delia and Brother Joseph McNally at Delia's exhibition entitled Celebration, Sculpture Square, Singapore. 1999.
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Beehives. Concrete, brick, wood, bitumen, zinc, sand, fibreglass, and mosaic. Dimensions are variable. Installed in LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts at Goodman Road, Singapore. 2001 – 2002.
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Installation view of exhibition Construction Site at Earl Lu Gallery, LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts, Singapore. 2002.
TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.
In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.