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Retracing identity, individuality and roots through art

Tunggul Wirajuda
Tunggul Wirajuda

A media practitioner for over 10 years in both TV and print.

Jakarta | Sun, July 2, 2017 | 10:26 am
Retracing identity, individuality and roots through art

A visitor observes Rob Renoult's artworks. (JP/Tunggul Wirajuda )

The different shades stood out for passersby riveted by their contrasting play of colors, which struck with its resemblance to the pattern of Scottish kilts.

Titled Kain #11 [Cloth #11], the work by Dutch artist Rob Renoult evoked De Stijl artist Piet Mondrian with its symmetrical, yet dynamic lines and the striking use of primary colors. But while Mondrian expressed his spirituality and philosophy in the abstract lines of his Composition series and other works, Renoult’s art is more personal.

“[Kain #11 and other art] is my way of affirming my individuality and Indonesian heritage,” said the 62-year-old. “Their forms and colors are inspired by the checkered patterns of sarongs, batik, and wayang as well as other Indonesian arts.”

Renoult reiterated his vision with his work Kain #6. Featuring interweaved lines of yellow and red, the acrylic on canvas painting catches the eye with vivid shades of blue at their intersections. The overall look makes an impression with its futuristic yet simple lines.

Kain #11 are among the paintings featured in “Unfinished Business,” an exhibition of Renoult’s paintings currently on display at the Erasmus Huis cultural center in South Jakarta. The exhibition is the latest in a soul-searching process.

“The pieces he now shows at the Erasmus Huis are a culmination of many concepts he invoked,” the Erasmus Huis said in a press release of Renoult’s work. “The patterns, the influence of batik, but most of all, his desire to visualize what he thinks, feels and deeply cares for.”

Like his previous work, Renoult set out to connect his Indonesian and European backgrounds, both of which left their mark from an early age.

"My parents are of Moluccan descent and grew up [in what is now Eastern Indonesia]. My father was raised in Bangka [Belitung Islands], while my mother was raised in Irian Jaya [now Papua],” Renoult said. “They met in 1951 and moved to the Netherlands after Indonesia gained its independence.”

While Renoult gained artistic success at a young age, he still feels at a disadvantage compared to his European counterparts.

“In art school and early in my career, my art [was] considered ‘folkloric art’ because it alludes to my Indonesian culture, whereas if [European] students do the same, their work is considered art in the fullest sense of the word. The experience made me determined to do things as I wanted to,” he explained.

“The challenge I face is how to find new ground, themes and forms of art to tell my story. Among them is to use art to illustrate a mental state that can allude to differences between Indonesians and Europeans, and how both cultures left an imprint on me,” added Renoult, who has been in Indonesia 10 times over the years.

The Erasmus Huis further commented: “The most difficult part was to engage [Renoult’s] ideas with contemporary concepts of modern art. He had to think out of the box and convince himself and the public that [finding inspiration from his roots] is not out of the ordinary.” 

Renoult proved the timelessness and versatility of his roots with Kain #18 and Kain #6. Green, yellow and orange squares intersect in the former, punctuated by irregular intervals of black squares. Kain #6 is no less striking, as it highlights dark blue squares that vividly counterpoint yellow and red squares that make up the rest of the painting. The works have a futuristic effect because of their resemblance to a computer program.

Despite its futuristic overtones, Kain #18 and Kain #6 evoke Renoult’s love for Indonesia no less ardently than the other works in “Unfinished Business,” as well as his aim of connecting his Indonesian and European heritage.

“I feel at home in Indonesia, as many of its aspects, like the food and even putting on a batik shirt, makes me feel like I belong,” he said.

But Renoult added that more can be done to highlight Indonesia’s art scene.

“Indonesia and other Asian countries have yet to learn about art’s full potential; what it is and how valuable it can be. If it is elevated to something important, the public can sense its importance as well,” Renoult said. “In Indonesia, iconic works of art like Borobudur and Prambanan are a good start, as are works by Rembrandt van Rijn and Vincent van Gogh in the Netherlands. One has to realize their importance again to make them viable for Indonesian art in the future.”

Title: “Unfinished Business” painting exhibition by Rob Renoult

Date: Until July 15 

Place: Erasmus Huis, Jl. H.R. Rasuna Said, Kav. S-3, South Jakarta

Contact: ( 021 ) 524-1016


A media practitioner for over 10 years in both TV and print. Tunggul Wirajuda found a niche in the latter, particularly as a features writer. He often writes about visual or performing arts, but just is at home in writing about automotive, culinary and film, among other things.

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