Feature

Indonesian art takes the
stage

Intricate: Visitors study Aditya Novali’s Unscale Reality at Art Stage Singapore’s Indonesian Pavilion. JP/Deanna Ramsay
Intricate: Visitors study Aditya Novali’s Unscale Reality at Art Stage Singapore’s Indonesian Pavilion. JP/Deanna Ramsay

Men in crisp suits, women with children in tow, teenagers in school uniforms — they all stopped to ponder Aditya Novali’s massive yet intricate Unscale Reality at Art Stage Singapore last week.

The 10-meter-long steel and wood artwork was on display at the art fair’s Indonesian Pavilion, a 1,000-square-meter space exhibiting 36 Indonesian artists sans galleries.

“I think this is a luxurious chance for us to have this. Art fairs are actually a business or a trading place for artworks, but I think it’s also a good space for us to exhibit works from the studio, real works that are taken from the studio into the public arena,” Sri Astari told The Jakarta Post, standing in front of her large copper and bronze sculpture titled Prayer Beads.

According to Art Stage director Lorenzo Rudolf, he wanted to highlight Indonesian art by presenting numerous artists. “It’s [important] to have an overview … It’s the first time you really have the possibility to understand the scene as a whole,” he told the Post.

Auction sales have been on the increase, and with shows in Europe and the upcoming Indonesian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, local art is emerging on the international stage.

Eyes are also on the country’s up-and-coming artists. Jakarta’s d gallerie was showing a series of arresting photographs by Makassar-born Jim Allen Abel as part of the fair’s stage for emerging artists. Gallery director Esti Nurjadin said of Indonesian artists: “It’s exciting because they’re actually recognized abroad, they’ve been in the Asia Pacific Triennial, they’ve been in — like Jim has been in the Paris photo biennale [Photoquai] at the Musee du quai Branly. A lot of Indonesian artists who are not mainstream have actually been in a biennale somewhere else or exhibitions somewhere abroad.”

Yet Indonesian art is oftentimes viewed within a regional context, as part of work from Southeast Asia.

Arndt Gallery had notable local artists Eko Nugroho, Agus Suwage and Entang Wiharso on display
at its Art Stage booth, and the Berlin gallery recently opened a space in Singapore’s new art center, Gillman Barracks.

“I’m very committed to Indonesian art … but the focus shall be Southeast Asia. So starting from Indonesia I will move further and build a program of Indonesian and Southeast Asian art for both the West, for Berlin, and also for the Pacific, for Melbourne … That is why I took this Singaporean space [at Gillman Barracks] as our office, our project space,” gallery director Matthias Arndt told the Post.

According to the fair’s website, one of the Art Stage goals is to position Singapore “as the center of the Asia Pacific art region”.

Rudolf said at the event’s opening press conference, “To hold the fair in Singapore there is also a responsibility to do something to support Southeast Asian artists, especially at a time when Southeast Asia is increasingly in the interests of the global art world … That’s the reason why this year we made a really strong effort to show you the best of the best of the region. We wanted to have more galleries and more artists, from the Philippines, from Thailand, from Malaysia, from Singapore, and surely also from the strongest country, the strongest art scene here in Southeast Asia — Indonesia.”

In figures: A woman considers Entang Wiharso’s Rejected Landscape, with the artist’s sculpture Expanded Dreams #4 in the forefront, at the Arndt Gallery booth at Art Stage Singapore. JP/Deanna Ramsay

In figures: A woman considers Entang Wiharso’s Rejected Landscape, with the artist’s sculpture Expanded Dreams #4 in the forefront, at the Arndt Gallery booth at Art Stage Singapore. JP/Deanna Ramsay

Jumaldi Alfi, whose paintings interrogate issues of origin by utilizing a style from a time when Indonesia was the Dutch East Indies, said, “I myself don’t feel like an Indonesian artist, because Indonesia is only my nation. My works are very open, because I consciously am very influenced by many artistic concepts from the West.”

“I am a global artist but I basically live in Indonesia,” he added.

Other works on show at the Indonesian Pavilion revealed a desire to renounce borders, even as they were situated within a space dedicated to just that, notably the performance pieces by Tintin Wulia and Tisna Sanjaya.

Tintin’s Do It Yourself: How to Make a New World Map had a simple yet atypical outline of the continents. Visitors were invited to stake their claim over land by gluing umbrellas that decorate many a mai tai onto the wall, effectively redrawing national boundaries, the size of one’s holdings determined by the luck of the draw.

I Like Kapital — Kapital Like Me was an art fair-long performance that had Tisna, dressed in a white smock, crafting a structure in the middle of Indonesia’s section of the fair, adding mud and asphalt to black walls. Etched on one panel were the words “Seni rupa Indonesia [Indonesian art].” But “Indonesia” was crossed out, replaced by the word “dunia [world]”.

The global art world is undoubtedly intertwined with economics, with markets, with capitalism, as Tisna’s piece asserts, and art fairs are about buying and selling.

Gajah Gallery owner Jasdeep Sandhu, who was showing a number of I Nyoman Masriadi and Yunizar works, told the Post on Wednesday before the fair opened that he was optimistic, especially as the economy seemed to be turning around. “Last year was gloom and doom with the global economy, with all the problems Europe was in the midst of. Economy-wise I think people are a bit more okay.”

And as success at an art fair can be quantified by sales, looking at Art Stage’s first few days, Indonesia’s art is hot.

Sandhu, whose gallery is based in Singapore, sold Masriadi’s bold Peaceman for US$350,000 and Yunizar’s vibrant Black Bird for $24,000. Jakarta’s Nadi Gallery sold a pair of delicate aqua paintings by Handiwirman Saputra for more than $150,000. And d gallerie sold the entire first edition of Jim Allen Abel’s photo series The Others for $24,000.

Jim’s images depict cloaked female figures, their faces covered in flowing hair. “This is a concept that emerged four or five years ago when I was dating a Muslim girl. I’m Christian … Sometimes she would pray in my room, and one time after she prayed I asked her why she had to cover herself. And she said it is aurat. And I asked what is aurat? Very simply it is something that is sensual. And hair is part of aurat … I thought what if all the hair was in front? Is it still sensual? No, it’s not sensual, it’s creepy,” said the artist of his powerful, one-might-say feminist photographs that speak not only to and of Indonesia but the world.

Art of the world: Tisna Sanjaya’s performance piece I Like Kapital – Kapital Like Me at the Indonesian Pavilion included these words scrawled on a structure the artist coated in mud. JP/Deanna Ramsay

Art of the world: Tisna Sanjaya’s performance piece I Like Kapital – Kapital Like Me at the Indonesian Pavilion included these words scrawled on a structure the artist coated in mud. JP/Deanna Ramsay


Surakarta native Sri Astari, one of five Indonesian artists who will be showing at the Venice Biennale, said of her piece at Art Stage that featured an oversized book with the Javanese title Eling: “Eling is awareness … In Javanese beliefs they have cipta, rasa, karsa and karya. Cipta is the mind and the ideas, and then comes the rasa, the feelings, the emotions, and karsa is the intention, a good intention, and after that you have the karya, the work that you create out of the awareness of all that.”

This very local yet universal Javanese concept is fitting when considering the significance of the Indonesian show that ran from Jan. 24 to 27 in Singapore. With eling, with cipta and rasa and karsa, local artists are crafting karya that may now captivate the world

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