Asia's Most Influential: The Culture List 2021
- Claire HsuClaire Hsu
- Suhanya RaffelSuhanya Raffel
- Stephen Wong Chun HeiStephen Wong Chun Hei
- Patrick SunPatrick Sun
- Cosmin CostinasCosmin Costinas
- Ann HuiAnn Hui
- Jackson WangJackson Wang
- Chris BChris B
- Yang YuntaoYang Yuntao
- Gillian ChoaGillian Choa
- Xu BingXu Bing
- RongRong and InriRongRong and Inri
- Cao FeiCao Fei
- Zeng FanzhiZeng Fanzhi
- Jiang WenJiang Wen
- Chloé Zhao TingChloé Zhao Ting
- Shuang XuetaoShuang Xuetao
- Zhai YongmingZhai Yongming
- Li DanLi Dan
- Lang LangLang Lang
- Wang YujaWang Yuja
- Wu TongWu Tong
- Shi YijieShi Yijie
- Jin ChengzhiJin Chengzhi
- Wang LinkaiWang Linkai
- Meng JinghuiMeng Jinghui
- Shen WeiShen Wei
- Zhu JiejingZhu Jiejing
- He HuiHe Hui
- Sinta TantraSinta Tantra
- FX HarsonoFX Harsono
- Mira LesmanaMira Lesmana
- Indro WarkopIndro Warkop
- Reza RahadianReza Rahadian
- Dewi LestariDewi Lestari
- Ananda SukarlanAnanda Sukarlan
- Erwin GutawaErwin Gutawa
- Didik HadiprayitnoDidik Hadiprayitno
- Happy SalmaHappy Salma
- Marini RamlanMarini Ramlan
- Ivan LamIvan Lam
- Anniketyni MadianAnniketyni Madian
- Chong Keat AunChong Keat Aun
- Tan Twan EngTan Twan Eng
- Tengku Ahmad IrfanTengku Ahmad Irfan
- Joe SidekJoe Sidek
- Jo KukathasJo Kukathas
- Tiara JacquelinaTiara Jacquelina
- Ramli IbrahimRamli Ibrahim
- Mark NicdaoMark Nicdao
- Ronald VenturaRonald Ventura
- Neal OshimaNeal Oshima
- Geraldine JavierGeraldine Javier
- Brilliante MendozaBrilliante Mendoza
- Lav DiazLav Diaz
- Moira Dela TorreMoira Dela Torre
- Ely BuendiaEly Buendia
- Lea SalongaLea Salonga
- Madrigal SingersMadrigal Singers
- Emi EuEmi Eu
- Eugene TanEugene Tan
- Khai HoriKhai Hori
- Chen YanyunChen Yanyun
- Edmund WeeEdmund Wee
- Marylyn TanMarylyn Tan
- Kevin KwanKevin Kwan
- Tat TongTat Tong
- Adrian Pang, Gaurav Kripalani and Ivan HengAdrian Pang, Gaurav Kripalani and Ivan Heng
- Kwok Min YiKwok Min Yi
- Ju MingJu Ming
- John YuyiJohn Yuyi
- Huang Hsin-ChienHuang Hsin-Chien
- Wei Te-shengWei Te-sheng
- Chiang HsunChiang Hsun
- Sandee ChanSandee Chan
- Yo-Yo MaYo-Yo Ma
- Cheng Tsung LungCheng Tsung Lung
- Sun Tsui-feng and Chen Sheng FuSun Tsui-feng and Chen Sheng Fu
- Stan LaiStan Lai
- Bang Si-hyukBang Si-hyuk
- Yayoi KusamaYayoi Kusama
- Takashi MurakamiTakashi Murakami
- Haruki MurakamiHaruki Murakami
- Bong Joon-hoBong Joon-ho
- Hayao MiyazakiHayao Miyazaki
- Shintaro TsujiShintaro Tsuji
- Shah Rukh KhanShah Rukh Khan
- Ryuichi SakamotoRyuichi Sakamoto
- Haegue YangHaegue Yang
- Bao NguyenBao Nguyen
- Sonam and Rhea KapoorSonam and Rhea Kapoor
- Javed AkhtarJaved Akhtar
- Rahat Fateh Ali KhanRahat Fateh Ali Khan
- Alia BhattAlia Bhatt
- Priyanka ChopraPriyanka Chopra
- Ranveer SinghRanveer Singh
- Janice LeeJanice Lee
- Michelle YeohMichelle Yeoh
- Benedicto CabreraBenedicto Cabrera
- Ryan CayabyabRyan Cayabyab
- Kidlat TahimikKidlat Tahimik
- F Sionil JoséF Sionil José
- Alice ReyesAlice Reyes
- Ang LeeAng Lee
- Cai Guo-QiangCai Guo-Qiang
- Zhang YimouZhang Yimou
- Chen KaigeChen Kaige
- Tan DunTan Dun
- Liu CixinLiu Cixin
- Mo YanMo Yan
- Gong LiGong Li
- Zhang ZiyiZhang Ziyi
- John WooJohn Woo
- Johnson ChangJohnson Chang
- Wong Kar-waiWong Kar-wai
- Frog KingFrog King
- Chow Yun FatChow Yun Fat
- Adrian ChengAdrian Cheng
- Guruh SoekarnoputraGuruh Soekarnoputra
- Remy SyladoRemy Sylado
- Lin Hwai-minLin Hwai-min
- Tan YuanyuanTan Yuanyuan
Tatler introduces an ambitious new directory of the most influential individuals who are defining the culture of Asia: The Culture List
Introduction the 2021 Culture List, the second instalment of Tatler’s Asia’s Most Influential series that identifies leaders across Asia in their respective fields making indelible impacts this year. Focusing on the industries of museums, performing arts, literature and cinema, the selections include decorated Hong Kong film director Ann Hui, the Taiwanese choreographer Cheng Tsung-Lung, and mainland Chinese artist Xu Bing.
Profession: Co-founder and executive director, Asia Art Archive
Location: Hong Kong
Impact statement: The co-founder and head of the world's largest Asian art resource
As the co-founder and executive director of Asia Art Archive, Claire Hsu has spent the past two decades building the world’s largest physical and online archive of materials related to the history and culture of art in Asia. The organisation also hosts talks and initiates numerous educational and cultural events, as well as providing regular residency opportunities for artists. The archive is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary with its first institutional exhibition, at Tai Kwun.
Profession: Museum director, M+ Museum for Visual Culture
Location: Hong Kong
Impact statement: Spearheading the wildly ambitious museum at the heart of Hong Kong's cultural district
With a curatorial career that began in 1984, Suhanya Raffel brings vast experience to the challenging role of museum director of the M+ Museum for Visual Culture, which opens in 2021 in Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District. Aiming to incorporate more international art while retaining a local focus, she has also vowed to defend the museum from political interference. She previously worked as a curator and museum director at various institutions in Australia.
Stephen Wong Chun Hei
Location: Hong Kong
Impact statement: His beautiful but unsettling Hong Kong landscapes have got collectors obsessed
Inspired by his hikes through Hong Kong’s mountains, Stephen Wong paints sumptuous, impressionistic depictions of the local landscape, which nonetheless provoke a sense of dislocation with their over-saturated hues and uncanny, VR-like textures; his earlier work drew on video games to examine the virtual world more directly. Collectors are certainly convinced of his merits: when Gallery Exit hosted a booth selling his work at the recent Spotlight by Art Basel, the works sold out on day one.
Location: Hong Kong
Impact statement: A tireless champion through art of Asia's LGBTQ communities
Collector Patrick Sun is using art to change the world for the better. He supports LGBTQ communities across Asia, buying works by LGBTQ artists and organising exhibitions, including the breakthrough Spectrosynthesis—Asian LGBTQ Issues and Art Now, Asia’s first LGBTQ-themed show, at Taipei’s Museum of Contemporary Art in 2017. Included on contemporary art magazine ArtReview’s Power 100 list for the first time in 2020, he also aims to advance LGBTQ rights through art via his Sunpride Foundation.
Profession: Executive director, Para Site
Location: Hong Kong
Impact statement: Pushing the boundaries at one of Asia's most interesting art spaces
Curator Cosmin Costinas has been executive director of Para Site, Hong Kong’s most innovative art space, for the past decade. Overseeing its relocation and expansion in 2015 and taking a curatorial role in many of its shows, he is committed to both supporting artists and connecting them around Asia and further afield. Currently curating the Kathmandu Triennale that has been rescheduled for 2021, he was included on contemporary art magazine ArtReview’s Power 100 list for 2020.
Location: Hong Kong
Impact statement: The pre-eminent chronicler of the everyday lives of Hongkongers, in all their beauty and poignancy
Director Ann Hui has shone a light on the stories of ordinary Hongkongers throughout a lengthy career making gritty, down to earth films across a range of genres. Her work addresses numerous social issues, humanising and dignifying marginalised people, and articulating the heroism of their everyday struggles. She premiered her latest film, Eileen Chang adaptation Love After Love (2020), at the Venice International Film Festival, where she also received a Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement.
Location: Hong Kong
Impact statement: How to go from fencer to K-pop artist to solo star
Hong Kong rapper and singer Jackson Wang has undergone quite a career change. A former member of the Hong Kong fencing team, he turned down a Stanford University sports scholarship, instead moving to South Korea and reinventing himself as a K-pop performer. A member of the boyband Got7, since 2017 he has also developed a formidable following in China as a solo artist, while also acting as lead designer of his own fashion brand, Team Wang Design.
Profession: Concert promoter
Location: Hong Kong
Impact statement: A tireless supporter of Hong Kong's underground music scene and the interests of musicians
A pillar of Hong Kong’s alternative music scene, promoter Chris B has organised more than 500 events over 20 years through her company The Underground. Founder of the Mellow Yellow Music Festival in Central, which focuses on folk and jazz, she is also a songwriter, singer and guitarist. Her profile rose in 2020 when she succeeded in winning government support for Hong Kong’s struggling professional musicians, who had suddenly found themselves unable to work.
Profession: Yang Yuntao
Location: Hong Kong
Impact statement: Updating traditional Chinese dance for a new generation
Blending tradition with innovation, Yang Yuntao revives and updates traditional Chinese dance for contemporary Hong Kong as artistic director of Hong Kong Dance Company, a position he has held since 2013, after joining the company as a principal dancer back in 2002. He is renowned for his adaptations of Chinese classics and legends into award-winning productions such as The Legend of Mulan (2014) and L’Amour Immortel (2017), both of which also toured extensively overseas.
Profession: Director, The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts
Location: Hong Kong
Impact statement: Director, The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts
The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts director Gillian Choa has worn many different hats across the performing arts. A set, costume and lighting designer, director and art director for theatre, film and TV, she is also an arts educator and a government adviser and has been a TV presenter. The first woman to become HKAPA director, she was promoted to the role in 2021 after joining the organisation’s staff in 1996.
Impact statement: A giant of Chinese contemporary art who questions the nature of meaning through his work
One of China’s most important and best known contemporary artists, Xu Bing first emerged during the Cultural Revolution, beginning his career as a printmaker, but his oeuvre has since expanded to include everything from installation to sculpture. His work examines the impact of culture on worldview, the nature of language and how meaning is constructed. Now based in New York, he was formerly the vice-president of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.
RongRong and Inri
Impact statement: The duo, both artistic and romantic partners, have had a pivotal role in guiding contemporary photography in China
Beijing based husband and wife duo RongRong and Inri, the former Chinese and the latter Japanese, have helped to shape the development of contemporary photography in China. Working together since 2000, they received the Outstanding Contribution to Photography award from the World Photography Organisation in 2016. The founders of Beijing’s Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, China’s first independent photography centre, in 2007, they are also behind the annual Three Shadows Photography Award for new art photographers.
Impact statement: No one captures the dramatic evolution of the modern China more sharply than this multidisciplinary artist
Beijing based multimedia artist and filmmaker Cao Fei is one of the most astute chroniclers of the modern China’s dramatic transformation over recent decades, in particular the influx of overseas influences to the country. Working in a range of media, including video, digital media and photography, she focuses on the changing lifestyles of the country’s people, from villagers to factory workers, as well as highlighting the impact of China’s internet culture and rapid technological development.
Impact statement: Loved by collectors, the artist's instantly recognisable work casts a satirical eye over contemporary society
A contemporary artist born in Wuhan and based in Beijing, Zeng Fanzhi blends eastern and western artistic traditions in his work, while frequently departing from both. His art is often both satirical and emotionally raw, as in perhaps his best-known work, the Mask series (1994-2004), which depicts people’s alienation from their environment in a fast-changing world through figures with vacant, staring eyes. His Mask Series 1996 No. 6 fetched US$23.3 million in 2013.
Profession: Filmmaker and actor
Impact statement: A commanding presence in contemporary Chinese cinema as both director and actor
One of the blockbuster names of Chinese cinema, Jiang Wen starred in Zhang Yimou’s Red Sorghum (1986) before becoming a household name in China with 1992 TV series A Native of Beijing in New York; he was also in Star Wars film Rogue One (2016). As a director, he specialises in satirical black comedies, from Devils on the Doorstep (2000), a revisionist look at the Second Sino-Japanese War, to 1920s mistaken identity action caper Let the Bullets Fly (2010).
Chloé Zhao Ting
Impact statement: Her contemplative depiction of marginalised people in the American west has this director hotly tipped for Oscar success
Director, editor, screenwriter and film producer Chloé Zhao was recently afforded one of cinema’s greatest honours when her film Nomadland (2020), which tells the story of impoverished nomadic seasonal workers in the American west, was awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival. Her previous films Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015) and The Rider (2017) both also won critical acclaim, while her forthcoming film Eternals is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Impact statement: This young author has picked up numerous awards with his gritty depictions of life in northeastern China
Born in 1983 in Shenyang, Shuang Xuetao quit his bank job to become a writer, scoring immediate success with his debut novel Winged Ghost (2011), which was the first book by a mainland Chinese writer to win the Taipei Literature Award. His other most acclaimed works include Deaf and Dumb Era (2016) and Moses on the Plain (2016), while he won the 2020 Blancpain-Imaginist Literary Prize for his collection of short stories The Hunter (2020).
Impact statement: A poet who illuminates the construction of femininity and her own relationship to it
One of China’s leading contemporary poets, Chengdu native Zhai Yongming’s disjointed, dreamlike work is reflective, highly confessional and often extremely gloomy in tone. She examines ideas of femininity in her poems, frequently comparing herself to feminine archetypes; indeed, she made her breakthrough with the collection Woman (1984). Her other collections include Above All the Roses (1989) and Plain Songs in the Dark Night (1997), as well as the Collected Poems of Zhai Yongming (1994).
Profession: TV host, actor, writer and curator
Impact statement: The man who made chat shows popular in China
The multitalented Li Dan has a lot under his belt for someone barely in his 30s. A screenwriter, actor, poet, curator and originator of several TV concepts, he had a key role in popularising the previously neglected chat show format in China with his programme Tucao Congress. He is also a host of the popular stand-up comedy show Rock and Roast, and a co-founder of Shanghai Xiao Guo Culture Media, the company behind it.
Impact statement: One of the classical music world's most charismatic stars
China’s most famous classical musician, Lang Lang is also one of the most recognisable concert pianists in the world and the nearest the contemporary classical music world has to a rock star. Shenyang born, he emerged as a teenage prodigy, quickly becoming known for his unusually evocative, emotive playing and his theatrical, charismatic stage presence. A UN goodwill ambassador, he is also a passionate evangelist for classical music through his Lang Lang International Music Foundation.
Impact statement: A performer without compare and a star of the classical music firmanent
One of the world’s most rapturously praised concert pianists, Wang Yuja is known for her emotional approach to performance, her theatricality and megawatt charisma, as well as her supreme technical ability. From a musical Beijing family, she studied in China, Canada and the US, where she now lives, first coming to prominence when she stepped in as a soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2007. Since 2009 she has had a recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon.
Impact statement: This musical innovator straddles the worlds of Chinese classical music and rock
A musician as multitalented as he is difficult to pin down, Wu Tong is both a Chinese classical musician and a rock star. A singer and master of Chinese woodwind instrument the sheng, he is in demand among orchestras around the world, and is also a member of Beijing metal band Again. He also won the Best Classical Crossover Album Grammy for his role in frequent collaborator Yo-Yo Ma’s 2010 album Songs of Joy & Peace.
Profession: Opera singer
Impact statement: A lyric tenor who has taken the opera world by storm
China’s leading opera singer, Shanghai-born Shi Yijie first came to international prominence at the Rossini Opera Festival 2008, and has since become a regular at the festival, also establishing a particular reputation for performing the works of Donizetti, Bellini and Mozart. The lyric tenor, who studied in Vienna and is also a distinguished professor at the China Conservatory of Music, regularly graces the likes of New York’s Metropolitan Opera and Rome’s Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.
Impact statement: The man responsible for a young generation in China's newfound interest in choral music
The director, conductor and chief songwriter of the Shanghai-based Rainbow Chamber Singers, Jin Chengzhi is reinventing choral music for a young Chinese audience. The choir sing about a host of highly relatable topics, from the country’s culture of overwork to being interrogated by parents when returning home for Lunar New Year. With a unique ability to attract a young audience to choral concerts, they have also racked up many millions of views on streaming platforms.
Impact statement: A rapper on the up after TV talent show success
Rapper, singer and songwriter Wang Linkai, commonly known by his stage name Xiao Gui, or Lil Ghost, has made his name as both a solo artist and a boyband member. The Fujian native released his first single in 2017 after appearing in TV talent show The Rap of China the previous year. But he really sprung to fame after 2018 talent show Idol Producer, the nine winners of which formed short-lived but hugely successful band Nine Percent.
Profession: Theatre director
Impact statement: A towering figure in contemporary Chinese theatre and a master of innovation
The best known name in Chinese theatre, with a growing international reputation, Meng Jinghui nonetheless directs plays that are decidedly experimental in their staging and tone. He is known for humorous, politically loaded updates of 20th century classics from the West, and for his work with contemporary Chinese playwrights. Originally from Changchun, he serves as director at the National Theatre of China and the Beijing Beehive Theater, and art director of the Beijing Fringe Festival.
Profession: Dancer, choreographer, director and painter
Impact statement: The man who has shaped contemporary dance in China
A dancer, choreographer, director and painter, Shen Wei is known for performances that reflect that eclecticism, bringing in elements such as video, painting and sculpture. Born into a theatrical family in Hunan, he co-founded the Guangdong Modern Dance Company, China’s first, in 1991, before moving to the US in 1995 and establishing himself as an acclaimed interdisciplinary performer. He has achieved mainstream fame in China in recent years as a judge on TV show Dance Smash.
Impact statement: A star of China's contemporary dance scene for more than a decade
One of China’s most renowned contemporary dancers, Zhu Jiejing, has been a principal dancer at the Shanghai Dance Theatre since 2008. She was the recipient of the Lotus Award, given to the top dancer in China, while she was still a teenager. She established her reputation with her performances in dance dramas such as Farewell My Concubine, Wild Zebra and perhaps the best known, the environmentally-minded Soaring Wings: Journey of the Crested Ibis (2015).
Profession: Opera singer
Impact statement: This soprano has made some of the most iconic roles in the opera canon her own
Growing up in Shaanxi province, operatic soprano He Hui wasn’t exposed to western classical music until she was at Xi’an Conservatory of Music. The instant connection she says she felt with the music has led her to huge acclaim as a regular performer in both Europe and China. She is particularly associated with her roles in Verdi’s Aida and Puccini’s Tosca, although her international breakthrough came in another signature role, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.
Impact statement: This Anglo-Balinese artist creates murals of arresting geometric beauty
Born in New York to Balinese parents, and resident in both Indonesia and the UK, Sinta Tantra draws influences from this varied background to create site-specific, abstract architectural murals that combine geometric shapes, sharp lines and planes of vibrant colour. Her work has graced Hong Kong’s Lee Tung Avenue and Facebook’s London headquarters, while perhaps her most famous piece, A Beautiful Sunset Mistaken for a Dawn (2012), stretched 300m over a rail bridge across London’s River Thames.
Impact statement: The pre-eminent name in Indonesian contemporary art deftly characterises the lives of the marginalised
One of Indonesia’s most important contemporary artists, FX Harsono takes a conceptual approach to his work across a range of media, including painting, drawing, video and installation. Specialising in a kind of deconstructed portraiture, he emerged in the 1970s as a prime mover of the New Art Movement, which sought to modernise and democratise Indonesian art. He has long been a voice for marginalised groups, with his work frequently reflecting on his own Chinese-Indonesian identity.
Impact statement: The director who revived the Indonesian film industry
Not many people have single-handedly revived a country’s movie industry, but Mira Lesmana has. Indonesian cinema was apparently moribund following the country’s 1998 coup, but in the course of three years, she scored a trio of box office hits, Kuldesak (1999), Sherina’s Adventure (2000) and What’s Up with Cinta? (2002), that helped get it back on its feet. Also a songwriter and film producer, she makes films that take a light, humorous approach to serious social issues.
Impact statement: The man who's synonymous with comedy in Indonesia
A legendary comedian and actor, Indro Warkop is as close as Indonesia has to a universally beloved cultural figure. The comedian, full name Indrodjojo Kusumonegoro, emerged in the 1980s as part of four-person slapstick comedy group Warkop DKI, who made their name through the Eighties and Nineties TV series Warung Kopi (refers to the Obrolan Santai di Warung Kopi talkshow on Prambors Radio in the 1970s). The only remaining member of the group, he is known for mentoring younger talent, encouraging a new generation to carry this classic Indonesian art form forward.
Impact statement: A versatile character actor who consistently attracts rave reviews
Among Indonesia’s most acclaimed character actors, Reza Rahadian has starred in more than 50 films across a variety of genres, from comedy to romance to horror to historical drama. Starting his career as a model, he soon established himself as a soap opera actor, before getting his big break in Hanung Bramantyo’s Woman with a Turban (2009). He is probably best known for his roles as former President BJ Habibie in the biopic Habibie & Ainun (2102).
Impact statement: A hugely popular contemporary author, her work comes with zeitgeisty environmental and spiritual overtones
One of the most important voices shaping the modern literature of Indonesia, Dewi Lestari is a writer of popular novels, novellas and short stories, best known among them the sci-fi series Supernova. Her works often highlight environmental and spiritual themes, and several have been adapted into successful films, including Mother (2011), Paper Boats (2006) and the multi-award-winning Coffee Philosophy (2005). Before her literary career, she was a songwriter and member of the popular 1990s girl group RSD.
Impact statement: A classical composer whose works are performed the world over
Indonesia’s foremost classical composer, Ananda Sukarlan is noted for incorporating elements from its country’s rich, distinctive musical traditions into his works. Among his best-known pieces are Rapsodia Nusantara, The Voyage to Marege and A Better World; he has been especially influential on the contemporary classical music of Spain, where he has long-lived. Ananda collaborated with Fundacion Musica Abierta in Spain to make classical music more accessible for disabled children, his Yayasan Musik Sastra Indonesia foundation covers much more than just for disabled children.
Impact statement: The godfather of the Indonesian jazz scene, also in demand as a conductor
Multitalented jazz musician Erwin Gutawa fills a wide range of roles, including composer, musician, arranger, conductor and producer. With a career spanning three and a half decades, he has worked with leading Indonesian singers including TiTi DJ, Chrisye and Rossa, and has also performed extensively with orchestras, including as a conductor for the London Symphony Orchestra. His public profile became even higher following his regular appearances as a judge on TV show Indonesian Idol.
Profession: Dancer and choreographer
Impact statement: An influential populariser and updater of Indonesia's traditional dances
A legendary maestro of Javanese and Balinese dance styles, Didik Hadiprayitno, stage name Didik Nini Thowok, is equally well known as a choreographer and as a dancer, mostly of female roles. His best-known creation is the Tari Dwimuka or Two Mask dance, which he has performed for numerous dignitaries. Also a master of traditional dance styles from other nations, including India, Japan and Spain, he popularises the art through Natya Lakshita, his dance school in Jogjakarta.
Profession: Actor, filmmaker, writer and founder, Titimangsa Foundation
Impact statement: This cultural entrepreneur supports local arts and crafts through a varied portfolio of ventures
A populariser and moderniser of Indonesian culture, Happy Salma works across a startling range of art forms. A popular TV and film actor, director and producer, she is also a short story writer, and the founder of the Titimangsa Foundation, which produces and promotes Indonesian theatrical and literary works. In recent years she has also added businessperson to her portfolio, as co-founder of jewellery brand Tulola, which sells high-end jewellery inspired by the country’s traditional handicrafts.
Impact statement: This innovative artist and designer is taking Malaysian textiles to the world
Multidisciplinary artist Marini Ramlan has made a name for herself across a wide range of media, including painting, illustration, ceramics, textiles and pattern design; she was the first Malaysian to exhibit at the top textile trade show Surtex. Previously also a producer and content innovation head for media company Primeworks Studio, she has also worked extensively as a model and teaches free classes to children in the slums of the Chow Kit area of Kuala Lumpur.
Impact statement: A distinctive take on postmodern has propelled this pop artist to the top
One of Malaysia’s most celebrated contemporary visual artists, Ivan Lam trained as a silkscreen printmaker before moving into painting and a dazzling range of other media. His visually arresting, postmodern work comes with heavy influences from pop culture and the aesthetics of commercial design. He has exhibited at events including the Venice Biennale and Art Basel Hong Kong, while his works are part of the collections at the National Art Gallery of Malaysia and Galeri Petronas.
Impact statement: Transforming wood into objects of rare beauty, and transforming attitudes along the way
A practitioner of the traditional Malay craft of wood sculpting—possibly the only woman in the country who is—Anniketyni Madian creates sculptures of sumptuous, intricate beauty. She takes much of her inspiration from the traditional designs of the Pua Kumbu textiles of her native Sarawak, Borneo, reinterpreting them for the modern era. She has undertaken commissions for a very broad range of clients, from Four Seasons and One&Only to Google to the United Nations.
Chong Keat Aun
Impact statement: This filmmaker's debut has taken Asian cinema by storm
A radio announcer for 12 years, three years ago Chong Keat Aun abruptly switched career to film director—and quickly reaped the benefits. His debut film The Story of Southern Islet (2020), a semi-autobiographical story taken from his own childhood, set in rural Malaysia and featuring mystical, supernatural elements, has been a runaway success, picking up numerous accolades, among them the best new director award and the international critics prize at the 2020 Golden Horse Awards.
Tan Twan Eng
Impact statement: This historical novelist has global awards judges taking notice
Intellectual property law’s loss was literature’s gain when Malaysian historical novelist Tan Twan Eng decided to change career. His first novel The Gift of Rain (2007) was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. His second, Garden of Evening Mists (2012), went one better, making the shortlist, and also bagging him the Man Asian Literary Prize and the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. The book’s 2019 film adaptation was nominated for nine Golden Horse Awards.
Tengku Ahmad Irfan
Profession: Pianist, composer and conductor
Impact statement: Musical prodigy who's equally in demand for all three of his skills
A musical prodigy who has dazzled audiences since his teenage years, Tengku Ahmad Irfan has become an acclaimed classical pianist, composer and conductor by his early 20s. A graduate of New York’s Juilliard School, he has performed with numerous leading orchestras and conductors, including Neeme Järvi, David Robertson and Robert Spano. His orchestral composition Keraian (2017) was premiered by the New York Philharmonic, while he was recently appointed the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra’s first-ever youth ambassador.
Profession: Founder, Joe Sidek Production
Impact statement: The man who cemented Penang's status as a cultural capital with the George Town Festival
One of Malaysia’s most powerful advocates for the arts, Joe Sidek fills many roles, but is best known as the father of George Town Festival. Under his directorship it has grown from a single-day event to an eclectic arts extravaganza of global renown that transforms the Penang city’s streets for a month. He also created the Rainforest Fringe Festival in Kuching and brought a local edition of Tropfest, the world’s largest short film festival, to Penang.
Profession: Co-founder and artistic director, Instant Cafe Theatre
Impact statement: A consistent maker or and advocate for theatre that pushes back boundaries
Prolific writer, director and actor Jo Kukathas was the co-founder in 1989 of Malaysia’s Instant Cafe Theatre Company, and is currently its artistic director. The company’s name refers to the fact that at the time it was established, political repression meant that coffee shops were the only reliable sources of information, and it has long had a reputation as a hotbed of thought-provoking, boundary-pushing work, whether that be a satirical comedy, theatre or music.
Profession: Actor, director and producer
Impact statement: Creative force behind everything from stage musicals to big-budget blockbusters
An icon of Malaysian theatre, Tiara Jacquelina is an actor, director and producer who has also enjoyed big-screen success. In 2004 she starred in and produced epic fantasy Puteri Gunung Ledang, the first-ever big-budget Malaysian film, having also starred in the stage version; while in 2018 she adapted and directed a musical version of 2016 hit sports movie Ola Bola. She also founded The Enfiniti Academy, which introduces rural schoolchildren to English and drama.
Profession: Dancer and founder, Sutra Dance Foundation
Impact statement: A decorated master of and evangelist for traditional Indian dance
A celebrated classical dancer and choreographer, Malaysia’s Ramli Ibrahim is a master of the Odissi dance form, from the Indian state of Odisha, and Bharatanatyam dance of Tamil Nadu, as well as ballet. He was the founder in 1983 of the Sutra Dance Theatre, which showcases Odissi dance and encourages young people to take an interest in traditional dance styles. In 2018 he was awarded the Padma Shri, one of the Indian government’s highest civilian awards.
Impact statement: Catapulted to fame by reality TV, these rockers have taken China by storm
Alternative rock band Mandarin have quickly established themselves as one of the most popular in China, despite only forming in 2019. Lead singer and synth player Chace, guitarist Xiao Jun and drummer An Yu were catapulted to instant national attention and acclaim in 2020 when they took part in season two of the musical variety TV show The Big Band. During the same year, they released singles Cradle Song, Asa and Echo, along with their debut album Mandarin.
Impact statement: A photographer whose stark portraiture gets right to the heart of his subjects
One of the Philippines’ foremost photographers, Mark Nicdao has been prolific in both editorial and advertising media for almost two decades. Known for the intimacy and inclusiveness of his style, he is famous for photographing a host of Philippine and overseas celebrities, including the likes of Kylie Jenner, Floyd Mayweather, Lucy Torres and Adam Levine. He is also an artist, who has hosted exhibitions in Manila, focusing on work that combines sculpture with found objects.
Impact statement: His pop art unpicking of Philippine history has made him Southeast Asia's most expensive contemporary artist
Among the leading figures in Southeast Asian art, Ronald Ventura creates fabulously maximalist, compellingly intricate, Bosch-like scenes that combine photorealistic figuration with cartoonish, pop art elements. His work represents an emotional rendering of Philippine history and culture, using his multilayered imagery to examine the various indigenous and colonial influences that have shaped them. In 2011, his piece Grayground sold for $1.1 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, a record for a work of Southeast Asian contemporary art.
Impact statement: Using photography for a singular documentation of the Philippines' indigenous cultures
For four decades, photographer and visual artist Neal Oshima has been using photography as a lens to examine culture. The documentary, advertising and editorial photographer is best known for his images of the Philippines’ indigenous tribes and their traditions, as well as his examination of their adaptation to the contemporary world. His work forms a kind of ethnographic research and documentation, using images of both people and artefacts as a window onto the cultures that produce them.
Impact statement: Organic forms highlight challenging themes in this sought after conceptual artist's work
The highly eclectic work of contemporary conceptual artist Geraldine Javier examines aspects of Philippine culture through depictions of death and conflict, religious themes and natural forms, especially trees, both figurative and deconstructed. Primarily a painter, she also experiments with a vast range of other media. First coming to prominence in 2003 when she received the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Thirteen Artists Award, she has had solo shows in the Philippines, Germany, South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore.
Impact statement: Unflinchingly exposing a tough of Philippine society through his naturalistic filmmaking
A longtime critical favourite, independent filmmaker Brillante Mendoza takes a realistic, no-nonsense look at the grittier side of Philippine society through his work. A director and also sometimes a producer, screenwriter, cinematographer and production designer, his work is recognisable for its handheld camerawork and restrained, naturalistic acting. His films have won numerous awards, most notably in 2009, when his film The Execution of P netted him the best director award at the Cannes Film Festival.
Impact statement: With films that last forever, this acclaimed director gives characters space to breathe
Experimental filmmaker Lav Diaz makes movies across a range of genres that share a contemplative mood, a deliberately slow pace and a focus on social and political issues. He has been making films in his native Philippines for more than two decades but hit the big time internationally in 2013 with Norte, the End of History. He is known for films that are very, very long: 2004’s Evolution of a Filipino Family weighed in at 643 minutes.
See also: 18 Asian Movie Directors You Should Know
Moira Dela Torre
Impact statement: Now firmly established as one of the Philippines' best-loved musical performers
One of the most sought after singer-songwriters in the Philippines, Moira Dela Torre struck it big in 2017 with her cover of Philippine band Moonstar88’s Torete. The same year, her song Titibo-Tibo won Himig Handog, the country’s top songwriting competition, and by 2018 she had become the most streamed artist in the Philippines on Spotify. In 2013-14 she competed in The Voice of The Philippines, and since 2019 has been a judge on Idol Philippines.
Impact statement: Former Eraserheads frontman still towers over the Philippine music scene
In the recent history of contemporary Philippine music and popular culture, Ely Buendia has been a titanic figure. As universally loved by fans as he is by critics, he emerged in the early 1990s as the guitarist, songwriter and lead vocalist of The Eraserheads, who broke out of the college rock scene to become one of the country’s most popular bands. Since 2016 he has fulfilled similar roles for retro-influenced soul and funk band Apartel.
Profession: Singer and actor
Impact statement: One of the world's best-known voices, from stage musicals to Disney princesses
Not many people have provided the voice of a Disney princess; Lea Salonga has provided the voices of two. The Philippine singer and actor is perhaps best known for her bringing her uniquely powerful voice to Miss Saigon’s original stage run, for which she won Toni and Olivier awards; but she was also Princess Jasmine in Aladdin (1992) and Fa Mulan in Mulan (1998) and Mulan II (2004), and has twice starred in Les Misérables on Broadway.
Impact statement: One of the world's most decorated choirs, updating an ancient musical style
One of the world’s most awarded choirs, the University of the Philippines Madrigal Singers, also known as the Madz, are cultural ambassadors who have performed for numerous heads of state. Founded in 1963, the choir performs in a wide variety of styles, from classical to folk to pop, but focuses on the Renaissance madrigal form, giving rise to their trademark semicircular set-up. They were the first choir to win the European Grand Prix for Choral Singing twice.
Profession: Director, STPI
Impact statement: One of the key people facilitating artistic experimentation in Singapore and across Southeast Asia
A prime mover in Singapore’s art scene, Emi Eu is one of the people who has overseen and facilitated its massive growth since the 1990s. The director since 2009 of STPI, a contemporary art gallery and a print and paper workshop, she has also worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, as well as galleries in Paris and Venice. She is a member of selection committee for Art Basel Hong Kong.
Profession: Museum director, National Gallery Singapore and Singapore Art Museum
Impact statement: No one has done more to take Singapore's art scene to another level
As a curator and administrator, Eugene Tan has been pivotal in shaping Singapore’s art scene for more than a decade. The museum director of the National Gallery Singapore and the Singapore Art Museum since 2013, he has led a period of improvement and growth at both. In previous roles, he oversaw the development of visual arts hub Gillman Barracks, and curated exhibitions including the Singapore Biennale and the Singapore Pavilion at the 2005 Venice Biennale.
Profession: President, Art Galleries Association Singapore and director, Chan Hori Contemporary
Impact statement: Curator who helps artists commercialise and gallerists work together
A curator and gallerist who started as an artist, Khai Hori is president of the Art Galleries Association Singapore and director of gallery Chan Hori Contemporary. A key figure in promoting artist development and bringing the gallery community together, both in Singapore and across Southeast Asia, he has also been deputy director of artistic programming at Palais de Tokyo in Paris, senior curator at the Singapore Art Museum, and senior curator for Singapore’s National Heritage Board.
Impact statement: One of Singapore's most critically acclaimed young artists, using charcoal drawing to examine culture
The recipient of Singapore’s Young Artist Award in 2020, Chen Yanyun uses charcoal drawing, animation and installation to examines the meanings of bodies, cultures and traditions. Her work is grounded in the physicality of human and botanical forms, looking at the impact of natural and historical forces on them; she attracted particular acclaim for her 2019 animation Women in Rage. Chen is also a lecturer at Yale-NUS College and the co-founder of boutique publisher Delere Press.
Profession: Publisher and CEO, Epigram Books
Impact statement: Singapore's number one literary enabler
A longstanding champion of Singaporean literature and a key figure in the recent development of the city’s literary scene, Edmund Wee is the founder of independent publisher Epigram Books, which publishes authors including Adeline Foo, Jeremy Tiang and Amanda Lee Koe. In 2015 he launched the Epigram Books Fiction Prize for unpublished Singaporean fiction, funding it from his own pocket. He’s also a designer; in 2008 he won the President’s Design Award, Singapore’s top honour in the field.
Impact statement: Shaking up Singaporean poetry with an uncompromising attitude and a no holds barred approach
Poet Marylyn Tan is breaking down all sorts of barriers in Singapore’s literary scene. The first woman to win the Singapore Literature Prize for English poetry in its 28 year history, she is known for her iconoclastic, witty, outspoken take on subjects including gender politics, and consistently shows a willingness to take on taboo subjects, many of them sexual and religious. A former stand-up comic, she is also the founder of arts collective Dis/Content.
Impact statement: Author of that book
Formerly a professional photographer, Kevin Kwan’s switch to writing paid immediate dividends with his first novel, 2013’s Crazy Rich Asians, for which he drew on his own privileged upbringing in Singapore. He attained the cultural stratosphere in 2018, though, with the runaway success of the book’s film adaptation. He followed the book up with sequels China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems, and showed his versatility in 2020 with the EM Forster-influenced Sex and Vanity.
Profession: Record producer and songwriter
Impact statement: The man behind some of the biggest hit records anywhere
Record producer and songwriter Tat Tong has contributed to songs that have charted at number one in 66 countries and gone platinum 60 times; he’s also been responsible for 11 number one hits in Asia. The Singapore-born, Los Angeles-based member of production and songwriting duo The Swaggernautz wrote and co-produced Luis Fonsi’s Apaga La Luz, which was nominated for a Grammy in 2020, as well as creating the Mandarin remix of Fonsi’s 2017 smash Despacito.
Adrian Pang, Gaurav Kripalani and Ivan Heng
Profession: Artistic director, Pangdemonium; director, SRT; artistic director, Wild Rice
Impact statement: Three men, three threatre companies, one dramatically improved Singaporean theatre scene
The three biggest doyens of Singaporean theatre, Adrian Pang, Gaurav Kripalani and Ivan Heng head Pangdemonium, SRT and Wild Rice, its three biggest companies. Pang quit his job as an actor and TV host in 2010 to launch Pangdemonium; Kripalani is also festival director of the Singapore International Festival of the Arts; and Heng’s company is known for its boundary-pushing work. Last year the three of them collaborated for the first time, on short film The Pitch.
Kwok Min Yi
Profession: Principal dancer, Singapore Dance Theatre
Impact statement: This in-demand ballet dancer has made the most challenging roles her own
In 2020, ballet dancer Kwok Min Yi became the first Singaporean woman to be appointed principal dancer for the Singapore Dance Theatre, after joining the company in 2012. She was also the first Singaporean to play the lead role of Odette in Swan Lake, renowned as one of the most technically challenging in the repertoire. She has also worked with leading international companies including The Royal Ballet, The Washington Ballet and the English National Ballet.
Impact statement: A titan of Asian contemporary culture with an outsize public presence in Taiwan
Taiwan’s best known artist, sculptor Ju Ming’s work doesn’t just grace the collections of museums around world, as well as numerous public locations on the island; he’s also eminent enough to have his own museum, located just outside Taipei. Working across a range of media, most prominently bronze, he is known for monumental sculptures that blur the boundary between figuration and abstraction, rendering the human form in giant, solid pieces that are simultaneously blocky and kinetic.
Impact statement: Expressing the zeitgeist through boundary pushing digital art
An artist who uses her body as her canvas, John Yuyi, real name Chiang Yu-yi, is best known for her works in which she covers herself with temporary tattoos and documents the results. Hyper-engaged with the internet, as both a subject and a promotional channel, she is also an enthusiastic collaborator with the fashion industry, often combining symbols of consumerism with an intimate, sensual approach to the depiction of flesh, both her own and others’.
Profession: Artist, designer, engineer and VR visualiser
Impact statement: A multimedia Renaissance Man who's visualising the future of VR
Operating at the junction of artistic imagination and technological innovation, Huang Hsin-Chien is, along other things, an artist, designer, engineer and VR visualiser. With Storynest, his ecosystem of creative people, he creates hybrid multimedia presentations that include elements of storytelling, music and photography. A former art director at Sega and Sony, he won the inaugural Best Virtual Reality Experience category at the 2017 Venice Film Awards, alongside his collaborator, leading US experimental artist Laurie Anderson.
Impact statement: Taiwan's best known filmmaker is also its most highly regarded
Combining critical acclaim with blockbuster appeal, Taiwanese filmmaker Wei Te-sheng is noted for his honest, thought-provoking depictions of a wide variety of aspects of Taiwanese culture. Probably his best known work is Cape No 7 (2008), which remains Taiwan’s highest grossing film domestically and the second highest grossing Taiwanese film globally. It also won five Golden Horse Awards, with his 2011 historical drama Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale adding a further three, including best film.
Profession: Artist, novelist, poet and non-fiction writer
Impact statement: Constantly agitating for the importance of art and culture
A multifaceted cultural figure, popular across the Chinese-speaking world, Chiang Hsun is an artist, novelist, poet and non-fiction writer. He is perhaps best known as a passionate advocate for the importance of art and culture and their role in Taiwanese society, travelling around the island to argue in favour of its central in education. A champion of traditional Chinese aesthetics as well as western approaches, he has also written extensively on art history and theory.
Profession: Singer, songwriter and music producer
Impact statement: A Chinese musical giant who goes her own way as both performer and producer
Singer, songwriter and music producer Sandee Chan has been one of the most influential figures in Chinese-language music for three decades. A charismatic live performer, she is renowned for her independent attitude and innovative musical style, both in her own work and as a prolific producer of a host of Chinese musical royalty. She has won several Golden Melody Awards, in categories as diverse as as best album, best album producer and best female singer.
Impact statement: A breakout classical music star also known for his haunting film soundtracks
Already a star in the classical music world, cellist Yo-Yo Ma was catapulted to mainstream fame by his role performing music for his movie soundtracks—in particular, those of Seven Years in Tibet (1997) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). He has performed with just about every major orchestra in the world, as well as in an eclectic range of other musical styles. In a career spanning more than 90 albums, he has won 18 Grammy Awards.
Cheng Tsung Lung
Profession: Artistic director, Cloud Gate Dance Theater
Impact statement: Taking Taiwan's top cultural institution to the next level after the retirement of its founder
After spending part of his childhood hawking slippers on the pavement, choreographer Cheng Tsung Lung says the street life he witnessed became the inspiration for his work. Known for dance that expresses elements of Asian culture and folk belief, he took over in 2018 as artistic director of Cloud Gate Dance Theater, the biggest performing arts group in Taiwan, following the retirement of founder Lin Hwai-min, after previously leading junior troupe Cloud Gate 2 since 2014.
Sun Tsui-feng and Chen Sheng Fu
Profession: Performer and owner, Ming Hwa Yuan Arts and Culture Group
Impact statement: Keeping the traditions of Taiwanese opera relevant for new generations
The star performer and owner of biggest Taiwanese opera troupe, Ming Hwa Yuan Arts and Culture Group, Sun Tsui-feng and Chen Sheng Fu are known for an avant-garde style that honours the traditions of the form while updating it with innovative staging and elements of dance, acrobatics and fine art. Founded by Chen’s father, Ming Hwa Yuan has been popularising Taiwanese opera since 1929. Sun is equally known for her extensive TV and film work.
Profession: Co-founder, Performance Workshop
Impact statement: Prolific playwright whose work is as popular as it is dazzlingly innovative
US-born Taiwanese playwright, director and filmmaker Stan Lai Sheng-chuan is perhaps the contemporary Chinese-speaking world’s most eminent theatrical figure. The co-founder of theatre group Performance Workshop, he is the author of more than 40 plays, the most celebrated being 1986’s Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land. The first successful modern Taiwanese play and perhaps the most popular contemporary play in China, the play is a largely improvised, daring mash-up of two works, a tragedy and a comedy.
Location: South Korea, Thailand, New Zealand
Impact statement: Redefining girl group success and cementing K-pop
The biggest girl group not just in South Korea but anywhere in the world, Blackpink are living testimony to the Korean music industry’s penetration of every corner of the globe. They have spent their short career—just five years to date—notching up record after record, particularly when it comes to their following online: the most group followed on YouTube, they have racked up more than a billion views for three of their videos.
Profession: CEO, Big Hit Entertainment
Location: South Korea
Impact statement: Musical impresario and entertainment industry giant behind the career of BTS, among others
One of the key figures in Korea’s rise to global cultural supremacy, Bang Si-hyuk is the founder and owner of Big Hit Entertainment, the company behind numerous South Korean musical stars—but, most of all, BTS. Known as Hitman Bang, he worked for many years before launching Big Hit as a songwriter and producer for rival group JYP. In 2020, his company’s IPO made him the first billionaire in the South Korean entertainment industry.
Impact statement: Anarchic, thought-provoking and aesthetically glorious, this Japanese artist has become globally loved in the Instagram era
One of the world’s best known and most immediately recognisable artists, Yayoi Kusama has enjoyed a second coming in recent years. The 91-year-old Japanese sculptor, painter and installation artist, queen of the polka dot and the giant pumpkin, makes daring art that examines issues of sexuality, identity, mental health and gender relations. Classically trained in Japan, her work also reflects her time in the US, when she absorbed influences from pop art to abstract expressionism.
Impact statement: The man who has defined and shaped the aesthetic of much contemporary art, in Japan and beyond
Among Japan’s most influential contemporary artists, Takashi Murakami mixes traditional high art styles with a pop culture aesthetic. He is noted for his repeated use sinister-cute figures, mushrooms, flowers and skulls, rendered in bright, glossy, cartoonish colours; he came up with the term “superflat” to describe both his own work and broader Japanese artistic traditions. The founder of artist management company Kaikai Kiki, he has also been a keen long-term collaborator with various fashion brands.
Impact statement: His contemplative, restrained yet emotive, slow-burn novels have made him a global literary sensation
One of the world’s most eminent modern writers, Haruki Murakami draws on a global palette of influences to create novels that are bestsellers around the world. His novels combine a mastery of quotidian detail with exotic flights of magic realist fancy, exploring themes of stoicism, nostalgia, loneliness and connection. After breaking through in 1982 with A Wild Sheep Chase, he hit the big time with Norwegian Wood (1987) and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1995).
Location: South Korea
Impact statement: The filmmaker who took Korean cinema to the world with critically adored blockbuster Parasite
The most decorated auteur among South Korea’s current generation of filmmakers, Bong Joon-ho combines mass appeal with arthouse credibility and critical success. He was catapulted to global fame in 2019 with his film Parasite, the highest-grossing Korean film ever, the first non-English-language winner of the best picture Oscar, and the first Korean winner of the Palme D’Or at Cannes. His darkly humorous, largely unclassifiable films cast a satirical light on contemporary society.
Profession: Filmmaker and co-founder, Studio Ghibli
Impact statement: Beloved animation genius whose work has defined modern anime and set new standards for humanistic storytelling
Legendary Japanese animated filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki is the director of some of the most loved anime classics of all, from Princess Mononoke (1997) to Spirited Away (2001) to Howl’s Moving Castle (2004); and is also the creative force behind Studio Ghibli, which he co-founded in 1995. Known for telling deeply humanistic, complex stories that resist simple distinctions of good and evil, he also examines humanity’s impact on the planet, and the tension between peace and violence.
Profession: Founder, Sanrio
Impact statement: Hello Kitty: this is the man responsible
Not many people have had much of a deeper impact on the world’s visual culture than Shintaro Tsuji. The founder of consumer products company Sanrio, he is the man responsible for inflicting Hello Kitty on the world’s eyeballs. He founded the company that he turned into a commercial juggernaut in 1960, and only retired in summer 2020, at the age of 92, handing over to his grandson Tomokuni—who’s 14 years younger than Hello Kitty is.
Shah Rukh Khan
Impact statement: India's most charismatic film star, he has been the king of Bollywood for decades
A monumental presence in the modern Indian film world, Shah Rukh Khan, aka King Khan, is one of the most successful film stars anywhere. Known for blockbusters including Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), My Name Is Khan (2010) and Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012), and for taking on roles that dramatise culture clashes and the perspectives of excluded groups, he is also the owner of a business empire with entertainment and sports holdings, and a prolific philanthropist.
Impact statement: With dazzlingly eclectic electronic compositions, this is one of the people who shaped modern music
One of the world’s leading pioneers of electronic music in the late 1970s with his band Yellow Magic Orchestra, Ryuichi Sakamoto was a seminal influence on everything from techno to hip hop. A classically trained composer and ethnomusicologist who works with a global palette of sounds, he is also a solo musician, producer and composer of film scores including The Last Emperor (1987) and The Revenant (2015), winning both a Grammy and an Oscar for the former.
Location: South Korea
Impact statement: An artist recontextualising everyday items to create immersive, tactile experiences
Immersing the viewer in sensory experiences, South Korean artist Haegue Yang makes pieces that are physically and conceptually engaging in equal measure. Raising themes of connection and alienation, she is known for work that repurposes everyday objects, from food items to industrial fans to her trademark Venetian blinds, into fantastical, maximalist, highly tactile abstract installations, sculptures and performances. These days based in Berlin and Seoul, she represented South Korea at the 2009 Venice Biennale.
Location: South Korea/US
Impact statement: Synthesising cultures and musical genres to create catchy, quirky, unclassifiable sounds
Raised in both the US and South Korea, songwriter, singer, rapper and DJ Lee Yaeji’s music reflects her multicultural upbringing. She combines influences from house, pop and trap, pairing them with gently sung lyrics in both English and Korean that often take a satirical look at both cultures, as well as frankly discussing her mental health struggles. She is also known for her quirky, intimate live performances, at which guests are frequently served curry, her favourite dish.
Impact statement: His sensitive portrait of Bruce Lee has been the making of this documentary filmmaker
Independent filmmaker Bao Nguyen profile grew dramatically in 2020 with the release of his most acclaimed work to date, documentary Be Water, which used archive footage to weave an intimate portrait of Bruce Lee. The director, producer and cinematographer previously distilled the history of US TV classic Saturday Night Live into his debut documentary Live From New York (2015). He’s also an in-demand commercial director who has worked for brands including Google, Amnesty International and Coca-Cola.
Sonam and Rhea Kapoor
Profession: Actor and filmmaker
Impact statement: Scions of an Indian film dynasty taking on different roles with equal aplomb
The future of a Bollywood dynasty is in safe hands with Sonam and Rhea Kapoor. The sisters, part of the Kapoor family of Indian cinema stars and moguls, take very different roles: Sonam has been a sought-after leading lady since her breakthrough in 2013’s Raanjhanaa, as well as being a philanthropist and outspoken supporter of social causes; while Rhea chose instead to work behind the camera as a producer, including on several of her sister’s movies.
Impact statement: India's most celebrated poet, and a vital voice for reason and toleration
Steeped in the history of classical Urdu poetry, Javed Akhtar’s stirring, emotive work has made him the most famous and beloved poet in India. A former screenplay writer and lyricist, he comes from a dynasty of writers and political figures that stretches back seven generations. He is a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of India’s parliament, and is also active as a social activist for causes including human rights and secularism.
Rahat Fateh Ali Khan
Impact statement: One of the world's most electrifying musical performers, this singer is continuing a centuries-old tradition
From a family immersed in music for 600 years, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan has had a global impact as a master of Pakistan’s qawwali devotional music, among other styles. He follows in the footsteps of his uncle, the legendary Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who popularised the form around the world, and whose troupe he joined aged 15 after eight years of training, eventually becoming his appointed successor. His voice also graces numerous Pakistani and Indian films.
Impact statement: The actor of the moment in Bollywood, with numerous gongs for her varied film work
Part of the Bhatt cinematic dynasty, Alia Bhatt is one of the most popular and critically acclaimed young actors in India. Known for taking on edgy, interesting roles, she made her breakthrough in 2014 road movie Highway, and she has won best actress three times at the Filmfare Awards, the Indian Oscars, in the past four years. She is also an environmental and animal rights activist, and the founder of her own fashion label.
Impact statement: Bollywood's biggest breakout superstar has proved her staying power
The biggest Bollywood name globally, Priyanka Chopra has been at the very top of Indian cinema for nearly two decades. A versatile actor happy to take on challenging, sometimes unsympathetic roles, she is the winner of five Filmfare Awards, the Indian Oscars. A former beauty queen who was Miss World in 2000, she also has a successful international career as a singer, and is a vocal advocate for issues including women’s rights and the environment.
Impact statement: An actor who lights up the screen, he has attracted critical adulation throughout his short career
The most critically acclaimed among the younger generation of Indian film stars, Ranveer Singh brings his trademark intensity, charm and charisma to every role. He is noted for his range: he made his name playing powerful figures in historical dramas Bajirao Mastani (2015) and Padmaavat (2018), but has also played action heroes, criminals, hotshot executives and, in 2019’s Gully Boy, an aspiring musician—an experience that has even led him to set up own record label.
Location: US/South Korea
Impact statement: Her eye for detail and ear for dialogue have made her the pre-eminent chronicler of expat lives
A perceptive, witty delineator of personal relationships, Hong Kong-born Korean-American author Janice Y K Lee made her name with her debut novel The Piano Teacher (2009), a runaway commercial smash set in 1940s and 50s Hong Kong that has been translated into 26 languages. Her follow-up, The Expatriates (2016), a story of the claustrophobic lives of Hong Kong expats, has been picked up by Nicole Kidman’s production company Blossom Films for a forthcoming TV adaptation.
Impact statement: One of Asia's most versatile, enduring film stars
Following her early years as a dancer and beauty queen in her native Malaysia, Michelle Yeoh first came to prominence as an actor in a series of 1990s Hong Kong action films. Usually portraying tough, capable characters, and famous for performing her own stunts, she subsequently found global success thanks to a string of iconic roles, from Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) to Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) to The Lady (2011).
Impact statement: A cartoonist who distils the essence of Malaysian life into his work
A Malaysian icon, cartoonist Lat, real name Datuk Mohammad Nor, creates work that resonates with every echelon of the country’s society. Famed for his portrayals of ordinary people and his ability to capture the rhythms of everyday Malaysian life, he deals with social and political issues in a light, humorous way, employing a gentle, subtle tone and avoiding offence. He has published more than 20 volumes of cartoons, the first when he was just 13.
Impact statement: A living treasure of Southeast Asian art who combines figurative sumptuousness with social commentary
The Philippines’ most eminent living artist, figurative painter Benedicto Cabrera, better known as BenCab, is most famous for his portraiture, and in particular for his fabulous, sensuous, whirling depictions of clothing. His work is also noted for its social commentary, which started in the 1970s as he protested against the Marcos regime. Splitting his career between the Philippines and London, he has now settled in Baguio, where he also has his own museum.
Impact statement: The Philippines' greatest composer, he has written the songs the country hums along to
With a career stretching back to the 1950s, Ryan Cayabyab has penned many of the Philippines’ most iconic songs. The country’s most accomplished composer, musician arranger and musical director, he has written and performed in a dizzying variety of styles, from ballets, operas and symphonic pieces to pop music, musical theatre, dance, film and television. Formerly the host of his own long-running TV show, he has recently served as a judge on several reality TV series.
Impact statement: Hipster filmmaking favourite whose understated work makes powerful political points
Often referred to as the Father of Philippine Independent Cinema for the breadth of his influence within the country, Kidlat Tahimik is also a favourite of film buffs the world over. The iconoclastic director, writer and actor, both Eric Oteyza de Guia—his assumed name means “Quiet Lightning” in Tagalog—is renowned for subtly humorous, easygoing work that nonetheless serves up a pointed critique of neocolonialism, most famously in his debut Perfumed Nightmare (1977).
F Sionil José
Impact statement: A comsummate distiller of Philippine culture and history in literary form
The pre-eminent fiction writer in the Philippines, Francisco Sionil José is known for novels and short stories that examine the intersection of class conflict and personal relationships. Writing in English, he has published more than 35 books in a career beginning in 1949; The Pretenders (1962), part of his epic Rosales Saga series, remains his best known work. He has also been a journalist and the founder of a bookshop, publishing house and art gallery.
Profession: Dancer and choreographer
Impact statement: The queen of Philippine ballet, she personally kick-started the country's contemporary dance scene
The key figure in Philippine contemporary dance, Alice Reyes helped create the conditions that have helped the country’s dance scene to flourish. In 1970 the dancer, choreographer, teacher and director founded the Alice Reyes Dance Company, which gave the country’s first contemporary dance performance; it subsequently became Ballet Philippines, the resident company of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, which she also led. She is recognised for creating work that exhibits a distinctively Philippine identity.
Impact statement: A teller of powerful, slow-burn stories and one of the most acclaimed filmmakers in the world
One of the world’s best known and most acclaimed filmmakers, Taiwanese-American Ang Lee makes emotive work that’s all the more powerful for the fact that many of the emotions remain unspoken. After early films dealing mostly with culture clash themes, he entered blockbuster territory and achieved new levels of critical adulation with the likes of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Brokeback Mountain (2005) and Life of Pi (2012), winning best director Oscars for the latter two.
Impact statement: Gunpowder is the unlikely muse of one of China's most celebrated contemporary artists
With a practice that encompasses drawing, installation, video and performance, Cai Guo-Qiang produces work that is both conceptually satisfying and ravishingly beautiful. He grew up during the Cultural Revolution listening to frequent gunpowder explosions, and subsequently adopted it as one of his key media, using it in paintings but also in the spectacular explosions that have become his trademark. Among the numerous awards he has won, he received the Golden Lion at the 1999 Venice Biennale.
Impact statement: A pillar of modern Chinese cinema celebrated for his visually ravishing filmmaking
Known for their consummate visual splendour, Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou’s films often portray the resilience of characters in the face of forces beyond their control. He made his name with historical sagas such as Red Sorghum (1987), his directorial debut, and Raise the Red Lantern (1991), drawing an even bigger audience with his wuxia films Hero (2002) and House of Flying Daggers (2004). He also directed the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Profession: Chen Kaige
Impact statement: Spectacular yet intimate, his work has helped define a generation of Chinese cinema
Famed for combining magnificent visual spectacles with a compassionate tone and a focus on individual struggles, filmmaker Chen Kaige caused an instant revolution in Chinese cinema with his visually rich debut, historical tale Yellow Earth (1984). Then made a huge splash globally with Farewell My Concubine (1993), which won him the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and subsequent casting his lens over ancient imperial history in The Emperor and the Assassin (1998).
Impact statement: Effortlessly combining mastery of wildly differing musical idioms, China's pre-eminent modern composer
A prolific composer of both Chinese and western opera, as well as symphonies and concertos, Tan Dun rose to mainstream fame with the scores for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and Hero (2002). Inspired by the various cultures of China, in particular the music and lifestyles of the country’s ethnic minorities, he often uses instruments made from unusual, organic materials. He also composed the music for the medal ceremonies at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Impact statement: The author who has done most to shape contemporary Chinese science-fiction
The leading science fiction writer in China, Liu Cixin is a nine-time winner of the Galaxy Award, the country’s top sci-fi gong. Often described as China’s first cyberpunk author, he is recognised for crafting a distinctively Chinese form of sci-fi. His best known work is his Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, the first book of which, The Three-Body Problem (2008), was translated in 2014, and won the Hugo Award, the premier global sci-fi prize, in 2015.
Impact statement: A sui generis literary talent whose genre-busting work has been recognised with a Nobel Prize
China’s greatest living writer and a global literary jewel, novelist and short story writer Mo Yan won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2012. Born Guan Moye in Shandong province, the prolific author tells stories of ordinary people and the challenges society places in their way. His historical works, which are often laced with biting, satirical social commentary, blend the fiercely naturalistic with explosions of magic realism, and the mythical with the mundane.
Impact statement: The star of numerous recent celluloid classics, and the face of a generation of Chinese cinema
One of China’s finest acting talents, Gong Li is famed for her sensitive, powerful portrayals of modern, independent women. She has won numerous accolades for her starring roles in both Chinese and overseas productions, after first becoming famous for her work with Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige, especially in Red Sorghum (1987), Raise the Red Lantern (1991) and Farewell My Concubine (1993). Her biggest Hollywood role was in 2005’s Memoirs of a Geisha.
Impact statement: A luminous leading lady of tremendous versatility and consistency
A film star who combines sensitivity with tremendous range, Zhang Ziyi has portrayed everyone from romantic leads to unlikely action heroes to villainous spies. She was worked with Ang Lee on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000); Zhang Yimou on Hero (2002) and Memoirs of a Geisha (2005); and Wong Kar-wai on The Grandmaster (2013), winning 12 different best actress awards for the latter. She recent made her first foray into TV with epic drama Monarch Industry.
Location: Hong Kong
Impact statement: Mr Action has redefined the genre, in Hong Kong and Hollywood alike
With his balletic, noirish, hyper-kinetic action movies, John Woo has brought a new level of stylised beauty and spectacle to the genre. Influenced by wuxia and American westerns alike, and combining the theatrics with emotional character studies, he made his name in Hong Kong action thrillers, kicking off the entire heroic bloodshed genre with 1986’s A Better Tomorrow, before breaking out in Hollywood with the likes of Face/Off (1997) and Mission: Impossible 2 (2000).
Profession: Director, Hanart TZ Gallery and co-founder, Asia Art Archive
Location: Hong Kong
Impact statement: One of the key people who made Chinese comtemporary popular, in China and around the world
A tireless champion of Chinese art, curator and gallerist Johnson Chang started putting on exhibitions in the late 1970s, and in 1983 opened Hanart TZ Gallery, which became the first in the city to deal in contemporary Chinese art, and which he still owns today. A key populariser of contemporary Chinese art outside the country, he organised iconic shows including 1993-97’s China’s New Art, Post 1989. He is also co-founder of the Asia Art Archive.
Location: Hong Kong
Impact statement: Hong Kong's most revered filmmaker, and a global arthouse favourite
The auteur’s auteur, Wong Kar-wai has consistently been one of the world’s most acclaimed arthouse film directors for three decades, while also attracting plenty of popular success. His poignant, romantic, deeply atmospheric, colour-saturated, visually ravishing films have long been festival and award favourites: Happy Together (1997) won him best director at the Cannes Film Festival, while his other critically acclaimed works include Chungking Express (1994), In the Mood for Love (2000) and The Grandmaster (2014).
Location: Hong Kong
Impact statement: Pushing back the boundaries of the Hong Kong art world for more than half a century
Conceptual, installation and performance artist Kwok Mang Ho, better known as Frog King, emerged during the late 1960s as one of Hong Kong’s earliest contemporary artists. He soon became known for wild, experimental work that broke down conventions; his Plastic Bag Project (1979) was the first ever piece of performance art in mainland China. He represented Hong Kong at the 2011 Venice Biennale, and he has also worked as a teacher, curator and arts administrator.
Chow Yun Fat
Location: Hong Kong
Impact statement: The coolest actor on the planet
One of the world’s most charismatic film stars, Chow Yun Fat became a household name in his native Hong Kong with his performances in numerous action classics, beginning with A Better Tomorrow (1986). He then found international fame with the likes of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007). From a modest background, he is famous for his modest lifestyle, and says he plans to donate his fortune to charity.
Profession: Founder, K11; CEO and executive vice-chairman, New World Development; and executive director, Chow Tai Fook
Location: Hong Kong
Impact statement: A tireless supporter of the arts who puts his money where his mouth is
One of Hong Kong’s foremost champions of art, Adrian Cheng Chi-kong is also endlessly finding ways to connect it with his family’s New World property empire. He launched K11 Art Mall and K11 Musea, ambitious, dazzling hybrids of shopping mall and cultural centre, and the K11 Art Foundation, which supports the development of Chinese contemporary art with exhibitions and residencies. He holds official positions for organisations including the National Museum of China and Royal Academy of Arts.
Profession: Artist and musician
Impact statement: A seminal influence on modern Indonesian performance art, music and dance
A musician, artist and promoter of the arts, Guruh Soekarnoputra most certainly didn’t join the family business: his father was Soekarno, Indonesia’s first president. One of the people who built the foundations of Indonesian modern performance art, fusing it with traditional elements, he is also a prolific choreographer. He made an impact as a musician with his Guruh Gipsy project in the 1970s, which brought numerous stars together and combined traditional Indonesian and western music.
Profession: Poet, novelist, actor and musician
Impact statement: A polymath who's tried his hands at most cultural roles, excelling at them all
A multifaceted cultural tastemaker, Remy Sylado has been a poet, author, actor, musician and much else besides. He started off as a filmmaker in the 1970s before quickly establishing himself as a poet, introducing a humorous, rebellious spirit into Indonesian verse. He established his own Jakarta theatrical troupe in the Eighties while also becoming a well-known folk musician. Then, in the late 1990s, he pivoted to writing successful novels at the rate of two a year.
Impact statement: One of the most tireless proponents of contemporary dance, and a giant of Taiwanese culture
A towering figure in Taiwanese cultural circles and in contemporary dance around the world, Lin Hwai-min established Cloud Gate Dance Theater, one of its most critically acclaimed contemporary dance troupes, serving as its artistic director from 1973 to 2019. His innovative work bases modern dance in local cultural traditions and folklore, and incorporates elements of ballet and martial arts. Cloud Gate have also been important popularisers of contemporary dance, touring the world extensively for decades.
Profession: Principal dancer, San Francisco Ballet
Impact Statement: A ballet trailblazer, at the top of the game for more than two decades
Among the world’s top ballerinas, Tan Yuanyuan is a principal dancer at the San Francisco Ballet. She took over the role at age 20, making her the youngest ever to do so, as well as the first Chinese dancer to lead a major western ballet company, and has filled the role for 23 years. She moved back to China during the pandemic, and made a surprise appearance on TV show Dance Smash in November 2020.