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Bambang "Toko" Witjaksono: Combining the artistic and curatorial worlds

Bambang Muryanto

The Jakarta Post

Yogyakarta  /  Fri, May 4, 2018  /  09:32 am

Bambang “Toko” Witjaksono, 43, has displayed his multitasking skills in managing ARTJOG, the biggest contemporary art market in the country. (JP/Bambang Muryanto)

As an artist and curator, Bambang has displayed his multitasking skills in managing ARTJOG, the biggest contemporary art market in the country.

Under the statue of RJ Katamsi in the yard of the Jogja National Museum (JNM), Bambang “Toko” Witjaksono, 43, met Setu Legi, one of the artists participating in the 11th ARTJOG, which will be held at the venue from May 4 to June 4.

With a friendly gesture, Bambang reminded the artist of the display and space dedicated for the artwork, which will be showcased for the event. They had a good laugh before the artist said goodbye to pick up his children from school.

“It’s just like that. I have to be able to communicate well with the artists,” Bambang said, adding that such intensive communication was an important part of the success of ARTJOG, dubbed the country’s biggest contemporary art market so far.

A graphic artist, Bambang has been ARTJOG’s curator since 2012, replacing Aminudin TH Siregar. Unlike Aminudin, who lives in Bandung, West Java, Bambang lives in Yogyakarta, so he can meet and talk to the participating artists anytime as they mostly live in Yogyakarta.

Bambang was also the cofounder of the Jogja Art Fair, considered the embryo of ARTJOG. As a curator, Bambang also helped decide this year’s “Enlightenment: Toward Various Futures” theme, which served as the spirit of the art event. The theme is also a continuation of last year’s “Changing Perspective” theme.

“After changing perspectives, one has to gain enlightenment so the person will know where to go,” he said.

The theme was chosen after considering today’s situation in Indonesia, which will have simultaneous regional elections this year and the presidential election next year, as well as similar political conditions in other countries.

It was chosen in the hopes that people will be able to self-reflect through the artwork exhibited, and that they will be able to think and not be easily provoked by hoaxes widely spread on social media or hate speech from political elites.

The preparation for this year’s ARTJOG started as soon as last year’s event ended, Bambang said. It was a long process starting from deciding on the theme, promoting the theme, announcing the open application, inviting artists, selecting artworks and choosing the commissioned artist. This excludes dialogue with the artist in placing their artworks the proper way according to international standards.

“The most difficult part is communicating with the artists, but I can handle it because I, myself, am also an artist. I understand the way they work,” the father of two said, adding that he also worked closely with the artists so that their works would best fit the exhibition room.

Santi Ariestyowanti “Indieguerillas”, who once participated in ARTJOG, said there had been intense communication between the participating artists and the curator. She recounted a story about when she and her husband, Dyatmiko “Miko” Lancur Bawono, were commissioned as artists for ARTJOG.

“The ARTJOG team had its own display concept, so we talked until we reached an agreement,” she said.

Bambang had his debut with fellow artists such as Samuel Indratma, Popok Tri Wahyudi and Ari Dyanto. Together, they set up a group named Apotik Komik in 1997.

“I’ve liked comic strips since I was a little boy. I once had a comic strip library, but I ran out of pieces because I didn’t dare ask bigger friends to return the comic strips they had borrowed,” said Bambang, the creator of comic strips MarsinahHemat BBM (Fuel Efficiency) and Pesan Terakhir Soeharto(Soeharto’s Last Message).

Apotik Komik was better known as a group of artistic mural makers in Yogyakarta after they created attractive murals on the walls of the Lempuyangan overpass and a number of other spots in 2004, two years before the group dispersed. Their works actually marked the booming popularity of murals in the city.

As an artist, Bambang is known for his comic style mostly of the pop art genre, a result of appropriating romantic and martial arts stories of the 1970s and 1980s. Bambang chooses comics to criticize the social condition of the country because he believes that a combination of visual and narrative works is a strong way to convey his messages.

“Bambang Toko has a more earthy sense of humor than [Andy] Warhol,” writes curator Tony Godfrey in the catalog of Bambang’s solo exhibition titled BATIKKOMIK in Singapore in 2014.

In his studio, Bambang has two of his paintings for the exhibition. One depicts a man shooting, with the writing “I shoot therefore I am”. The other is a man who has been shot, with the writing “I got shot, that’s what I am”.

“A person who likes to shoot actually is shooting at himself,” he said.

Bambang has been a lecturer at his alma mater campus, the Indonesian Fine Arts Institute (ISI) Yogyakarta, since 1995. He got his masters degree from the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) in 2005.

“Initially, I was a curator for students wanting to have an exhibition. Later, more and more people started asking me to be their curator,” he said, adding that he had learned about curating from senior curators and by reading the writings of noted author Jim Supangkat and Sindhunata.

With regard to ARTJOG, Bambang said there was still one thing he wanted to realize, namely livening up the area around the JNM, where ARTJOG is held annually, by displaying artwork in the surrounding villages.

“There are many stories from the villages when the JNM was still the campus of ISI Yogyakarta,” Bambang said.