Jakarta’s Salihara Gallery was full of smiles and laughs one evening, with visitors amazed by the 1,078 small, framed paintings filling the exhibition hall.
The many artworks sat on the walls of the oval room and the temporary glass walls installed in the center. All were by Nasirun, a well-known artist born in Cilacap.
The artist’s solo exhibition titled “Uwuh Seni” (Scrap Art) opened on Nov. 3. It comprises the uwuh or scraps of invitations he collected over the years and which he has painstakingly painted over, taking what was trash and turning it into small, painted masterpieces.
Nasirun, in a dark blue shirt with his long hair tied back, stood among the crowd. Some visitors approached him to chat. Sometimes Nasirun laughed. Others congratulated him.
His daughter Ima Bunga was in attendance as well as friends from Yogyakarta who arrived in two rented buses.
Nasirun was born on Oct. 1, 1965. He studied in the crafts department at SMSR (Art High School) in Yogyakarta, continuing on to study painting in the Art Department at ISI Yogyakarta, graduating at 1994.
He is known as a “seniman pintu” or door artist — a name his friends teased him with during a musical performed at the exhibition opening. The title refers to a story from Nasirun’s past. At the time, Nasirun took the main door of his family’s home and sold it for Rp 70,000 (US$7.25). He used the money to support himself and his studies in Yogyakarta.
The “door” is now a symbol of that important turning point in his life.
As Sitok Srengenge wrote in the exhibition catalogue, Nasirun is a painter often discussed when talking about modern art in Indonesia. His works have been highly sought-after by collectors in Indonesia and Southeast Asia since the late 1990s, and have been shown in numerous exhibitions.
Nasirun titled his current exhibition “Uwuh Seni”, with uwuh literally meaning garbage or trash in Javanese. The uwuh are invitations he has collected to various art events since 1994. Curator Asikin Hasan wrote in the catalogue that those invitations came from friends and from galleries in many cities, including Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta, Singapore and Beijing. The habit is similar to Nasirun’s fondness for collecting plants, random objects and unused painting tools.
As he wrote in the “Uwuh Seni” catalogue, Nirwan Dewanto defines uwuh as residue, the remnants of things that are considered good, right and useful according to the mainstream. Nirwan described Nasirun as a collector, or better yet an expert scavenger. Nasirun has collected old things and things that have been discarded — items that have been overlooked by ordinary people.
And what Nasirun did to the uwuh is to recycle it, as waste is now a major concern to him and to society.
“I think [it] has become the world’s problem — not only Indonesia’s. We, passionate about technology, in the soul of the age, are moving at a terrific speed. If the [waste] is not collected, it will be very dangerous. The second is the hazard of technological waste. It is our moral responsibility,” Nasirun explained about why he was interested in using old invitations as his medium for painting.
Komunitas Salihara originally wrote on Nov. 3 via their Twitter handle @salihara that 1,050 works were to be exhibited. Then Oei Hong Djin, the renowned Indonesian art collector, added 28 for a total of 1,078 pieces of art on view.
Certainly more than a thousand artworks in a solo show is a very large number. But Nasirun said that love gives him the energy to keep working.
“Love! [Because] loving work with full awareness is like a blessing,” he said.
All the paintings are framed in blocks along the wall. There are 25 blocks — 14 on the permanent walls and 11 on temporary glass. Nasirun said the paintings had been arranged based on size and color. There is no other context. The chronology of the invitations on display is random.
The pieces in the center of the room are framed in glass so that both sides of the invitations can be seen. Almost all of the pieces are between 20 and 30 centimeters.
Nasirun’s work here can be classified into two types. The first is work that adds brushstrokes but conforms to the existing visual elements of the original, which is preserved. Visitors can still see the exhibition information and other original visual elements.
The second type has Nasirun taking up the entire span of the uwuh with his paint, with no evidence left of the original.
All these “Uwuh Seni” works are different from what he has done previously. And, perhaps the sheer quantity of the works on display cannot be seen all in one visit.
The exhibition runs at Jakarta’s Salihara Gallery until Nov. 25, 2012. It is most likely Nasirun’s “recycling” will not stop here but will transform.
“Soon, [my art] will change maybe, it will not be like these. Maybe these [invitations] are the last. We will make something new soon. It should not be invitations,” Nasirun said.