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Highlighting Indonesian culture by revisiting the past, glimpsing the future

Tunggul Wirajuda
Tunggul Wirajuda

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

Jakarta | Fri, July 7, 2017 | 10:54 am
Highlighting Indonesian culture by revisiting the past, glimpsing the future

A female visitor marveling at one of T. Sutanto's works. (JP/Tunggul Wirajuda)

The figure sat atop the horse, both man and beast resplendent in their rich shades of batik. Titled “Penunggang Kuda” (Rider on His Horse), the silk screen on paper piece by Indonesian artist and cartoonist T. Sutanto featured undulating curves similar to Scythian tattoos featuring men, horses, tigers and other animals.

Made in 1980, the work showed itself to be a different animal altogether. Intricate lines, shades and round shaped batik designs filled out both man and beast, reflecting the 76-year-old’s nod to his Javanese heritage.

“Alam Benda & Kilat” (The World of Things and Thunder), sets an entirely different tone. Painted in a surrealistic style like Dali or Magritte, the two dimensional painting poignantly shows nature’s way of intruding and altering our world. Made in 1975, both works show Sutanto’s mastery of the silk screen on paper technique, and established his place as a pioneer of the medium.

“Penunggang Kuda” and “Alam Benda & Kilat” are among the highlights of “Berselingkuh Dengan Masa Lalu, Berkencan Dengan Masa Depan: Perjalanan Seni Grafis T. Sutanto 1975 - 1993” (An Affair With the Past, A Date With the Future: Going Through T. Sutanto’s Graphic Art 1975 - 1993). Held at the dia.lo.gue art gallery in Kemang, South Jakarta, the retrospective chronicles the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) Art alumnus’ work in the Design Center Association (Decenta) gallery in Bandung, which he formed in 1974 with A.D. Pirous, G. Sidharta and other artists.

“[Berselingkuh Dengan Masa Lalu, Berkencan Dengan Masa Depan] is a departure from dia.lo.gue’s usual lineup of young artists and their work,” said dia.lo.gue’s owner Hermawan Tanzil, who is familiar with Sutanto’s pioneering work at Decenta.

The artist agreed. “[‘Berselingkuh Dengan Masa Lalu, Berkencan Dengan Masa Depan’] reflects my belief that art should look to the future, yet remain mindful of the past,” Sutanto said. “The paintings also highlight Indonesian culture and reflect the country’s changing times. I hope these characteristics can help my art resonate with its viewers.” 

Curator Chabib Duta Hapsoro agreed. “Decenta popularized silkscreen painting in Indonesia, and the graphic art form caught on because of its functional and aesthetic qualities,” he noted. “Sutanto’s pieces particularly stood out because of his use of photo labs. This quality and his cartoonist background made them stand out.”

“Potret Kembar” and “Tjap Kaki Tiga” by T. Sutanto.(JP/Tunggul Wirajuda)

This is seen in whimsical works like “Tjap Kaki Tiga” (Three Feet Stamp) and “Potret Kembar” (Portrait of Twins). Evoking Warhol’s iconic “Campbell Soup Cans” and “Marilyn Diptych,” the silk screen paintings cast a deft eye on consumerism and social trends with a twist reflecting Decenta’s Indonesian character, style and philosophy.

“Tjap Kaki Tiga” particularly jibes at Indonesia’s powerful cigarette industry, as it features a matchbox similar to the “Sakerhets Tandstickor” matchboxes found in warungs throughout Jakarta and other Indonesian cities. While the work seems to endorse the kretek or clove cigarette ubiquitous to Indonesia, its title also refers to the public’s reliance on traditional cures.

Made in 1975, “Potret Kembar” seems to poke fun at Indonesia’s complacence, as then President Soeharto’s Orde Baru (New Order) regime offered stability at the expense of civil rights. Yet Sutanto evaded the fate of fellow artists Suhardi and Jim Supangkat, who felt the government’s wrath for their roles in the “Desember Hitam” or Black December artistic revolt in 1975.

“A number of artworks managed to sneak by and play happily, including Sutanto’s,” noted Chatib. But Sutanto is all too aware of the circumstances, as shown in his work “Kebenaran Semu” (Fleeting Truths). The truth’s seamless, egg like capsule seem beyond reproach, an apt metaphor for the pervasive nature of the truth according to Suharto. However, the crank shows that truth is controlled by those in power, and guided according to their interests. 

 

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But Sutanto did not escape unscathed. “The lighthearted cartoonist technique that I use in my work might be seen as groundbreaking now. But back then, they were relatively unappreciated,” he recalled. “When I exhibited my paintings in Yogyakarta, they did not attract the same attention as other works with more gravitas.”

While opinions on Sutanto’s cartoonish approach differ, his craftsmanship is beyond doubt. “When I made a silk screen painting, the photos, sketches and designs were all done by hand. It’s a far cry from today, in which the process is facilitated by smartphones and computer tablets,” he said. “But handmade art can hold its own against the technological competition. Their craftsmanship give them a personalized character that contrasts with the more industrialized feel of the latter.”

Sutanto is certain that silk screen painting will continue to evolve. While the genre’s future forms remain to be seen, “Berselingkuh Dengan Masa Lalu, Berkencan Dengan Masa Depan” might provide a glimpse of where it may go. (kes)

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Title: Berselingkuh Dengan Masa Lalu, Berkencan Dengan Masa Depan: Perjalanan Seni Grafis T. Sutanto 1975 - 1993

Date: Until July 14

Place: Dia.lo.gue Artspace, Kemang Selatan 99A, South Jakarta

Contact: ( 6221 )7199671

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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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