The Jakarta Post
The name Butet Kartaradjasa is synonymous with art in Indonesia. His work spans various media, ranging from theater, literature and film to ceramics. (Butet Kartaradjasa/File)
The name Butet Kartaradjasa is synonymous with art in Indonesia. His work spans various media, ranging from theater, literature and film to ceramics, as shown in his latest exhibition.
The son of renowned painter, dancer and choreographer Bagong Kussudiardjo, Butet’s foray into the art world seemed natural, as he had always been drawn to things with which he could experiment and make his own, drawing his artistic inspirations from the environment and society around him.
Butet’s work has always been steeped in social commentary, as per his intention to take advantage of his platform to speak out against social and political ills.
His usage of religious figures such as Jesus Christ and Buddha, as well as various Indonesian mythical figures in his latest exhibition is intertwined with his depictions of well-known Indonesian politicians in a way that he describes as displaying true diversity in art, as there is no topic that is untouchable.
But despite the increased rhetoric in Indonesia on kebhinekaan (diversity), the artist observes the opposite of diversity currently happening in the country, with fringe members of majority groups given a voice by the government to spread their intolerant rhetoric, thus ironically, fracturing the country.
“In some parties, tribal [traditions] and religion are becoming even more vulnerable to conflict. Many people today are trying to force their beliefs and themselves onto others, both silently and publically. The diversity that we have championed as a country is suddenly treated as a curse by these people,” Butet says.
This fracture is the reason why Butet opened the “Goro-Goro Bhinneka Keramik” exhibition at the National Gallery in Central Jakarta, a showcase of art “depicting a life filled of uncertainty and anxiety.”
It is part of the reason why Butet chose to experiment with painting on ceramic pieces for this recent exhibition, as it shows a fragile, fragmented undoing of national unity through individual but whole mosaic pieces.
“Very much like my usual artistic process, I do not know how a final product will turn out as I start it. For ‘Goro-Goro,’ I painted without following a pattern or thread, but my own intuition, like I do in my other paintings,” Butet explains.
The veteran artist has a habit of adopting new media and methods to further expand his skill and his artistic scope.
In the 1980s, Butet’s artworks mostly comprised painted vignettes, cartoons, sketches, doodles and similar kinds of light drawings. These complemented that era, when he was still very active in writing essays and articles for several media outlets.
But out of all the artistic media he has practiced, Butet holds an incredibly high regard for theater. As a theater student in the 1970s, he joined various troupes and honed his artistic talents around this medium.
“I like to think that all forms of art revolve around theater, as all works of art are showcased and derived from theater,” the artist says.
His interest in theater further diversified into film and television; he began his film career in the classic 2000 children’s film Petualangan Sherina (Sherina’s Adventure).
From there, he landed more serious, weighty roles in films such as 2005’s Banyu Biru and 2012’s Soegija. On television, he is known for his satirical brand of comedy in shows such as Sentilan Sentilun on MetroTV.
With such a diverse artistic background, Butet is unique in the way that his talent is shown through many art forms. But the man credits most of his work to having faith in his intuition, for inspiration does not need to wait.
Occupying himself in his rehearsal space or studio, he constantly tinkers with any materials on hand before an idea takes form. It is a process Butet has sworn by since the beginning of his career as a multidimensional artist, and is the most evident in his paintings.
“My memory will always serve me as long as I work. And every move I make will eventually find its own meaning. There’s no need for me to plan things out completely, good things will come to those who are really devoted to what they do.”