Benny & Mice return to

Have a laugh: The “Benny & Mice Expo” is currently showing at the Bentara Budaya Bali, with a number of installations bringing to life Indonesia’s much loved comic strip.

Bus stops are rarely seen inside Bali exhibition halls. Neither are buckets filled with water to do the laundry, or cardboard cutouts of cheeky-looking characters stealing underwear from clothes drying lines.

But all those props were present at the “Benny & Mice Expo” in the Bentara Budaya Bali art gallery, transporting visitors to Jakarta’s slums amid skyscrapers. Why? Because cartoonist duo Benny Rachmadi and Muhammad Misrad decided they wanted bring to life some of the scenes in their comic books.

The two artists therefore peppered their exhibition with many installations, each depicting scenes from their much-loved cartoon series about two ridiculous albeit funny characters, Benny and Mice — a representation of themselves.

“We use these installations to make the exhibition ‘more alive’. It’s more of a creativity process,” Benny told The Jakarta Post after the expo opening ceremony last week.

The clothes washing installation centers around the book 100 Tokoh yang Mewarnai Jakarta (100 Characters that Highlight Jakarta, 2008), featuring 100 common characters commonly found in Jakarta’s main streets.  

Meanwhile, the bus stop installation represents their book series Lagak Jakarta (Jakarta Style), first published in 1997. The book series wittily illustrates the daily lives of Jakartans. More than 11,000 copies of the first in the series, Trend dan Perilaku (Trend and Behavior), were sold. The following books, Transportasi (Transportation), as well as Profesi (Profession), also sold like hotcakes.

The exhibition includes a cell phone counter, to bring to life their cartoon strip titled Talk about Hape (2008), which focuses on people’s silly behaviors when using cell phones.

The book also jokingly describes gadget-related topics, including rate wars among service operators.    
Extracts from the comics are also posted along the walls of the exhibition space, highlighting every edition of their books, as well as some of their selected works published in the Sunday edition of the daily newspaper Kompas.  

Visitors walking past every display could be seen chuckling while reading the comic strips.  

Installations centered around Benny & Mice’s Lost in Bali (2008) and Lost in Bali 2 (2009) comics also have a place in the expo, recounting the duo’s adventures on their week-long vacation in Bali. The Bali-themed installation manages to capture the characteristics of Bali, with beach sand and offerings usually used for religious rituals.

Bali is the last stop of this Benny and Mice exhibition, which has toured around the archipelago since March, in Jakarta, Solo, Yogyakarta and Surabaya.

Smile: Cartoonist Benny Rachmadi poses with fans in front of the exhibition wall during the cartoon exhibition “Benny & Mice Expo”.

The cartoonists brought a real bajaj (three-wheeled cab) as well as a cigarette kiosk to their Jakarta expo, from March 5 to 14, which caught the attention of many visitors.

 “Many middle to upper-class visitors were attracted to the bajaj and cigarette kiosk, as they might have never experience riding a bajaj previously, or just looked at a kiosk from a distance,” Benny said.

Their expo also displays some of their works focusing on environmental issues, particularly global warming, with cartoons sharing green tips while criticizing people’s ignorance about these issues.

Benny and Misrad both studied graphic design at the Jakarta Art Institute, graduating in 1993, and have been drawing together since they were in college.  

Besides the Lagak Jakarta and Lost in Bali series, they also published Jakarta Luar Dalem (Jakarta Inside Out , 2007) and Jakarta Atas Bawah (Jakarta Up and Down, 2008), both compilations of their comic strip in Kompas, which they have been working on since 2003.

“We take turns in making the comic strip for Kompas,” Benny said, adding that their fans often asked how they could distinguish between cartoons sketched by Benny and Misrad, since it was quite difficult to recognize their styles.

Therefore, in one of the exhibition walls, Benny and Misrad challenged visitors to recognize which one of them was behind each drawing.

Benny admits bringing their ideas to life into cartoons is not always easy.

“Sometimes we are confused with our drawings, and we think they are too corny, but in fact people like them,” he said, laughing.  

“We often have too many ideas popping up in our minds, can’t decide which one to pen down first,” he added.   

The duo have been inundated with requests from fans to create a sequel to their Lost in Bali, in other places. It looks like this series will not be their last as they have planned to publish more comic strips in the future, with that same amusing take on people’s daily lives.

 “We’re nothing like an anthropologist or sociologist, we just do it in our own style,” Benny said.

Guess who: Visitors gaze at the enlarged versions of Benny and Misrad’s comic strips plastered on the walls of the exhibition hall, as they are challenged to recognize which cartoonist drew each strip (photo above and right).

— Photos by JP/Stanny Angga

Benny & Mice expo

Bentara Budaya Bali
Jl. Prof IB Mantra 88A
Bypass Ketewel
Denpasar, Bali
Until May 29

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