Tunggul Wirajuda (The Jakarta Post)
Fri, September 16, 2022
A retrospective of Indonesian paintings from the late 1980s to the 2000s chronicles the medium’s role in shaping the country’s modern art scene.
The woman peers out of the bottle and reclines on its rim in Indonesian painter Bambang BP’s Dunia Artificial (Artificial World). The pencil-on-canvas work shows the subjects’ self-absorbed idyll before the outside world forced its way through with the 2008 global economic recession and the surge of social media outlets like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
If Bambang’s Dunia Artificial shows a glimpse of the storm that would follow for unsuspecting individuals, fellow Indonesian Institute of the Arts (ISI) alumnus Gusmen Heriadi’s Masalah (Problem) captures its effect. A dark ball that overwhelms the subject in the acrylic on canvas painting describes the intangible impact of various crises in recent years.
Among these are social divisions, issues with the media, problems caused by social media and the irrevocable consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recalling an artistic renaissance
Dunia Artificial and Masalah are among the artwork in the exhibition Bunga Rampai (Anthology), a retrospective of paintings made by 16 Indonesian artists between 1987 to 2010.
Held at Dia.lo.gue gallery and café in Kemang, South Jakarta, the exhibition “[chronicles] the renaissance of [Indonesian] art amid adversity […] like the 1998 financial crisis that grew into an uncontrolled crisis, which affected Indonesia’s economic and political life”, stated the gallery in its press release.
Dia.lo.gue owner Engel Tanzil noted that Bunga Rampai came from her thoughts on the current state of Indonesian art.
“Bunga Rampai is arranged in such a way to form an anthology of modern Indonesian art. I also wanted to highlight the works to the public before they get swept away by an art market focusing more on contemporary art,” she said.
“Among the exhibition’s aims are highlighting the beauty and diversity of Indonesian art at the time.”
At first glance, Sigit Santoso’s Mimpi Ikaria (Ikaria’s Dream) fits these criteria. Named perhaps after the Greek island renowned for the longevity of its population, the oil-on-canvas painting touches on an age-old recurring problem in Indonesian history, namely the sale of the country’s assets to foreign countries or companies.
The 58-year-old draws attention to this by depicting a woman lying on her side, a map of Indonesia superimposed on her back. The word ‘sale’ in bright red letters and the leash around her neck drove home the transactional character of the interaction described by Sigit.
Sigit touched on this theme with the disquieting painting Mari Kita Bicara Tuan (Let’s Talk, Sir). The pair of bare feet on the table epitomized the shamelessness and lack of scruples that comes with putting personal or group interests before the country’s common good. The tentacle-like appearance of the toes represents the fallout from such deals, including the web of corruption in their wake.
Message in a painting: Sigit Santoso’s Mari Kita Bicara Tuan unravels illegal deals and a web of corruption. (JP/Tunggul Wirajuda) (JP/Tunggul Wirajuda)
Giving in to mainstream commercialism
Engel pointed out that Bunga Rampai set out “to get modern [Indonesian art] back to its roots” between the period 1987 and 2010. She found “the clear-cut aesthetics of many of the paintings in the exhibition reassuring and more intimate instead of impersonal, which perhaps came about due to excessive dependency on [smartphones] and other technology, which also affect most people today”, she said.
The press release for Bunga Rampai also reflects on this, noting that the exhibition aims “to recognize the artists and their work, regardless of the styles, trends and other factors that give the art its artistic value”.
However, she noted that many artists featured had been feeling “the challenges and pressures of commercialization and [market] demand for contemporary art”, among them Bunga Jeruk.
Art critic Carla Bianpoen noted that the ISI alumnus’ art touched on social criticism, gender issues, poverty and childhood experiences, subjects that she encapsulated in her painting The Man Who Sell (sic) His Own Bed. Painted in 1999 in a “naïve” style reminiscent of Gauguin’s 19th-century impressionist take on life in Tahiti, the weight of the bed bearing down on the man’s shoulders seemed an apt metaphor for the burden of poverty weighing him down.
Her paintings also contrast with the seemingly lush surroundings, highlighting the poverty experienced by millions of Indonesians despite the country’s natural riches.
Bunga Jeruk’s oil-on-canvas work Akira, Ae poignantly touched on her childhood memories. The teddy bear above the child’s head seems to go from being a literal to a figurative fixture, as it becomes a permanent part of his psyche, not least in his subconscious id.
Engel hoped that the Bunga Rampai exhibition would stimulate interest in fine art and workshops among young people, as she found that “they are essential in forming [an artist’s] craft and vision”, as well as sharpening artistic techniques blunted by technology.
Whether the exhibition will attain the goals Engel set remains to be seen. But as a chronicle of Indonesian art from the late 20th century until today, Bunga Rampai has more than its share of valuable insights that might pique the interest of any art lover.
A collection of 16 paintings from 16 Indonesian artists from 1987-2010
Running until Sept. 30
Jl. Kemang Selatan 99 A
Opening hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.