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Art Bali beyond the myths

I Wayan Juniarta

The Jakarta Post

Nusa Dua  /  Thu, October 11, 2018  /  09:57 am
Art Bali beyond the myths

Wisdom by Entang Wiharso. (The Jakarta Post/Wendra Ajistyatama)

The room was devoid of light and sound. It was as if the spectators were inside the primal womb. Then a beam of light gradually descended upon it.

The light revealed a hexaptych measuring 2.4 square meters. Some 601 faces of past and present important figures in the Indonesian music world — composers, singers, musicians, researchers — were painted on six acrylic and canvas panels.

As the expanding light exposed the intricate details and colors of the juxtaposed portraits, the room was slowly filled with a rendition of the national anthem “Indonesia Raya” (Great Indonesia).

Then the light was suddenly turned off, but the room did not fall into complete darkness. An ultraviolet lamp was directed onto the panels and two sets of faces, which were painted in fluorescent paint, emerged from the otherwise darkened panels.

Those were the faces of Wage Rudolf Soepratman, the composer of “Indonesia Raya”, and Ismail Marzuki, the composer of “Indonesia Pusaka” (Heritage Indonesia). Both are historical songs and a permanent fixture in the celebration of Indonesia’s Independence Day.

Created by Yogyakarta-based Galam Zulkifli, Indonesia Idea #Voice Face is one of the most interesting artworks featured in the inaugural Art Bali: Beyond the Myths, an ongoing visual art exhibition held in conjunction with the 2018 Annual Meetings of the IMF-World Bank Group in Nusa Dua, Bali. The exhibition, featuring the works of 39 Balinese, Indonesian and foreign artists, will run until Nov. 9.

Through the work, Zulkifli offers a fresh take on one of the biggest “myths” in the country: the creation of a nation called Indonesia.

Dinosaur Spirit by Heri DonoDinosaur Spirit by Heri Dono (The Jakarta Post/Wendra Ajistyatama)

What moved hundreds of different ethnic groups, who speak different languages and live in different places across the archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, to take the courageous decision to unite as one nation?

Indonesia’s late founding father and first president Sukarno answered that question by citing the words of important French scholar Ernest Renan.

“It is ‘the desire to live together’,” Sukarno said.

Through Indonesia Idea #Voice Face, Zulkifli suggests that Indonesia as a nation already existed long before Sukarno read that historical independence proclamation on the morning of Aug. 17, 1945.

He pointed out that “Indonesia Raya” was composed and sung decades before Independence Day. The song was first published in a newspaper in 1928. In the same year, “Indonesia Raya” was sung by youth representatives who were gathering in Jakarta for a congress that produced the historical Youth Pledge. In the pledge, the youths declared themselves as of one country, one nation and one language: Indonesia.

“So the voice [Indonesia Raya] was there before the face [the Republic of Indonesia] and I believe ‘Indonesia Raya’ and ‘Indonesia Pusaka’ will always be there as long as the nation still exists,” Zulkifli said, referring to his decision to fill the panels with the faces of those who created the voices.

Indonesia Idea #Voice Face reflects two common traits shared by a large number of artworks featuring in Art Bali: Beyond the Myths.

The first is the conscious effort to provide new and fresh interpretations of the prevailing, well-known myths. Made Djirna’s Abduction of Sita, Agung Mangu Putra’s The Fall of a Kingdom, and Entang Wiharso’s Wisdom are three fine examples of this trait.

The Cosmic Tree 2.0 by Adi PanuntunThe Cosmic Tree 2.0 by Adi Panuntun (Courtesy of Art Bali/-)

Wisdom is particularly interesting for its breathtaking visual esthetic and its ability to connect the imagery of our animistic past with our contemporary fear of and desires for freedom and equality.

The second trait is the courageous experimentation with new media and technology.

Heri Dono’s Dinosaur Spirit, Nyoman Erawan’s Dancing with the Shadows, Jompet Kuswidananto’s Booty, and Adi Panuntun’s The Cosmic Tree are some evidence of the appealing results of that experimentation.

Indonesia Idea #VoiceFace by Galam Zulkifli.Indonesia Idea #VoiceFace by Galam Zulkifli. (The Jakarta Post/Wendra Ajistyatama)

Initiated by Heri Pemad, the impresario behind ArtJog, and young Balinese artist Aswino Aji, Art Bali is a collaborative project supported by the Creative Economy Agency (Bekraf).

Bekraf assisted in securing the land and constructing the Art Bali building in the Bali Collection complex at the Nusa Dua tourist enclave.

The exhibition was officially opened Tuesday evening by Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, who offered a myth-related joke in her speech.

“Bekraf constructed the building in a mere 40 days. I don’t think that’s an exceptional achievement since Lara Jonggrang could build more buildings in a single night,” she said, referring to a Javanese legend in which a prince builds 1,000 temples.

From works inspired by ancient Hindu and Greco-Roman myths to the ones influenced by contemporary myths of Star Wars and class warfare, Art Bali and its curators, Rifky Effendy and Ignatia Nilu, has succeeded in presenting a visual tour de force that appeals to both the eyes and the mind.