The Arts

Adeline Ooi

Adeline Ooi Art Basel

Nearly seven years into her leadership of the Asian branch of Art Basel, Adeline Ooi is determined to help bring fair representation and equal recognition of Asian art in the global art scene


Adeline Ooi has headed Art Basel in the region as the director for Asia since January 2015. But having grown up in rural Malaysia, she had never even seen a painting in real life until she was 18, when she moved to London to study a fine arts degree at Central Saint Martin’s. 

While her degree put her in good stead for her desired career, it did not furnish her with the specific Asian art knowledge that would set her apart. “If you think about my art education, it's as Western as you can get. I didn’t even know about my own art history,” she says. 

When she joined Art Basel in 2013, one of her most notable tasks was helping to set up the first fair in Hong Kong. One of the most important considerations was representation: “We set ourselves a quota: 50 per cent of the art has to be from Asia, and then 50 per cent from the rest of the world every year. 

(Photo: Art Basel)

:I don’t necessarily think that we always need validation from a Western institution or organisation. I’m not saying I reject the West. I’m just saying that we should do things in a balanced way. We need to first of all be proud of ourselves. We need to be better at giving acknowledgement and credit to whoever our Asian artists are, or the makers from this part of the world."

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Did you know?

Adeline Ooi’s first job was in 1999, working backstage with the theatre company Drama Lab on Ivan Heng’s Emily of Emerald Hill in Kuala Lumpur. The following year, she followed the show to a fringe festival in Hong Kong, her first trip to the city—and when she fell in love with it. 

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