Artivist, observes and reports on developments in the Bali and Indonesian art scenes
Balinese Hindu ritual is a fascinating and potent fundamental of a distinct traditional culture that, through its philosophies seeks to embrace a universal sense of harmony among all people, the environment and the divine. It incorporates a belief system that places equal emphasis on both the physical and non-physical aspects of the world, and dualistic nature of life.
In the compelling finale to the opening ceremony of Trajectory: Posthumous Solo Exhibition of I Nyoman Sukari, on July 26 at Taman Budaya Yogyakarta (TBY), Yogyakarta, Central Java, a display of ceremonial ritual created a unique and electrifying atmosphere that continued throughout the evening.
Ni Nyoman Aryaningsih, the widow of the late and renowned painter, accompanied by a gamelan ensemble and a traditional flute, sang the Bramara Ngisep Sari mantra. In this sacred practice that included a special dance performance by Aryaningsih and family members, and the presentation of offerings and incense, Sukari’s spirit was called to return from the heavens to the earthly plane in order to witness the exhibition.
One hundred and thirty-eight of Sukari’s works, 50 oil paintings, 13 pen drawings on canvas, 29 watercolor and acrylics on paper, 35 pencil sketches on paper and 11 mixed media works on cardboard from the private collections of Dr. Oei Hong Djien, Lin Che Wei, and Aryaningsih were on display at TBY.
This monumental and practically designed presentation, which included a timeline of significant data and photos occupying over 50 meters of wall space, took Sarasvati Art Management three years to organize. It is held in conjunction with Jogja Art Weeks (JAW) - a two-month long program of exhibitions and events conducted throughout Central Java in support of Indonesia’s leading contemporary art festival ArtJog MMXIX Common Space, which runs from July 24 to Aug. 24 at Jogja National Museum.
Beginning from his school days at SMSR (1986-1990) until his final years of creativity in 2009, the collaboration between Sarasvati Art Management, OHD Museum, the Sanggar Dewata Indonesia (SDI) art collective and Aryaningsih, features works spanning Sukari’s entire award-winning career. It is set out chronologically from his school years to art college at the Indonesian Art Institute (ISI) Yogyakarta, the art collective Spirit ‘90 era, his career peak in 2002 – 2003, his solo exhibition in Gajah Gallery Singapore, and then the final stages of his career in 2008 – 2009.
Symbolically layered with meaning, and loaded with atmospheric energy, Sukari’s paintings are a meeting point between the sekala and niskala – the physical and non-physical worlds according to the Balinese philosophies.
Trajectory, curated by Suwarno Wisetrotomo and Gede Arya Sucitra, lecturers at ISI Yogyakarta where Sukari was an outstanding student, highlights the three defining creative periods of his career.
“In considering and understanding the creativity and philosophy in Sukari’s paintings, it is necessary to know who he was, where he came from, and what his social cultural environment was. What his cultural experience was, why he painted, and what he painted,” writes Arya Sucitra in the exhibition catalog.
The seventh of nine children, born on July 6, 1968 in the remote village of Ngis, Manggis, Karangasem, East Bali, Sukari grew up to become accomplished in traditional music, playing the gamelan and the suling flute, as well as dancing and singing. Traditional Balinese wisdom and values were the foundations of how he lived his life within his family, community and artistic contexts.
“Sukari created works that departed from the traditional arts of his forefathers with a ‘new’ technical approach – expressionism, freeing himself from the details, yet still being able to place the mystical atmosphere within his works,” continues Arya Sucitra. “Working in Yogya, where he lived and studied from 1991 – 1995, gave him the opportunity to reread and explore the space between tradition and modernity, between the old and the new, and between those who were close to the niskala.”
A character of many contradictions, Sukari had the distinction of having a sold-out show at the Spirit ‘90 exhibition at Purna Budaya Yogyakarta when he was a student at ISI Yogyakarta. In a rare artistic journey at the beginning of his career, his works fetched high prices, then at the end of his career, due to a lack of market popularity, his works were lower priced.
A visionary and versatile artist, along with being a crucial art provocateur, and art community leader, during the exhibitions of the collective Spirit ‘90 in 1994 and 1995 Sukari’s paintings were partly responsible for the Indonesian art market boom beginning at the campus level. The artist chose to, however, distance himself from the chaos of the boom that continued on until 2000. At times he refused to sell his works to art collectors.
Highly expressive with dynamic brushstrokes, Sukari’s oil paintings are powerful insights from the darker angels of his psyche. Black and greys, golden browns, touches of white and red to achieve dramatic contrasts, his compositions are often a collision of imagery and non-descript forms. Many of his works feature menacing eyes and faces gazing out from swirling masses of energy. Immediately confronting, these works are not for the faint-hearted.
Sukari’s narratives vary from the cultural, mythological and the surreal, to his reflections upon Indonesia’s social and political upheaval during the finale of president Suharto’s New Order Regime, observations and contemplation about life, mortality and his spirituality. Just a few of his awards include the 1993 ISI Yogyakarta best painting, the 1994 Affandi Adi Karya Art Award for best painting, and in 2000 the Lempad Prize from Sanggar Dewata Indonesia (SDI).
While Trajectory’s content is dominated by darker themes, Sukari’s lighter sensibilities come to the fore within his works on paper in watercolor, ink and acrylics. His sketches and watercolors on paper and canvas have never been publicly exhibited.
A few small ink compositions feature minimalistic imagery that appears floating upon the white expanses of paper – this is where we embrace the gentler essence of the painter.
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“The final years of Sukari’s career were his most contemplative and philosophical,” states Arya Sucitra. “His Niskala Drawing Series 2008 – 2009, featuring complex compositions in pen on canvas are an important aesthetic landmark emphasizing his spiritual journey, while revealing an undeniable pull for him to become a holy man, or priest.”
The works feature forms rendered in horizontal and vertical structures that create distinct relationships with the upper and lower supernatural worlds, along with his own magical iconography derived from the sacred rerajahan symbols, and his ideas about his spiritual responsibilities.
Perhaps his finest masterpiece is Menunggu Cuaca ( 2008 ), a stark composition depicting a fisherman waiting for fine weather so that he may return to the ocean. In this symbolic reflection upon patience, Sukari’s work reveals his intuitive musings about the closing episode of his life.
Sukari passed away on May 12, 2010 in Bali after battling with a two-year illness. He leaves behind an inspiring legacy underlining his commitment to his family, culture, creative life purpose and building community through the power of art.
Trajectory: Posthumous Solo Exhibition of I Nyoman Sukari, which continues until Aug. 12 at TBY, honors one of the true, late masters of Balinese art.
Trajectory: Posthumous Solo Exhibition of I Nyoman Sukari
Open to the public from 10 am – 9 pm
July 27 – August 12, 2019
Taman Budaya Yogyakarta
Jl. Sriwedani No. 1 Ngupasan, Gondomanan,
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