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Artist Series: Artful masks enter pandemic fray

I Wayan Juniarta

The Jakarta Post

Denpasar  /  Thu, August 20, 2020  /  05:14 pm
Artist Series: Artful masks enter pandemic fray

Bird of the nation: The mythical bird Garuda is the central visual element of the special edition mask issued in celebration of Indonesia’s Independence Day. (Courtesy of KAF/-)

Abdes Prestaka remembered vividly the day the idea descended upon his restless mind. It was early in June and he had spent the last three days struggling against a paralyzing sense of frustration.

"I kept saying to myself 'we work in the creative industry, we call ourselves creative people, so how are we not able to find creative ways to cope with this crisis?' while pacing back and forth in the living room of my house," he recalled.

At that time, the pandemic was in full swing, inflicting a heavy toll on KITASATUBALI, a premium marketing communication company he founded in 2002.

As most of its clientele were based in Australia and Japan, KITASATUBALI had suffered the impact of the pandemic months before the other Bali-based agencies. The fate of its 10 employees hung heavily on his mind.

"That’s when the idea to create masks featuring artworks of Indonesia's best visual artists lit my mind. My frustration ended instantly and in its place was a drive, an urge to make the idea a reality. I started making a few calls to my artist friends," he said.

Island home: A special edition mask featuring 'Homeland', I Made Arya Palguna’s contemporary interpretation of Bali and the many changes that have reshaped the island.Island home: A special edition mask featuring 'Homeland', I Made Arya Palguna’s contemporary interpretation of Bali and the many changes that have reshaped the island. (Courtesy of KAF/-)

An art collector himself, Abdes has made a lot of friends in the visual art community and soon the idea turned into a concrete initiative called Kita Art Friends (KAF). Today, it has grown into a collective of 21 visual artists, including some of the country's brightest stars, such as Made Wiradana, Made Arya Palguna, Sujana Kenyem, Uji Hahan, Kun Adnyana, Klowor Waldiyono, Soni Irawan, Ismanto Wahyudi, Mira El Amir, Nana Tedja and Aurora Santika.

The initiative is in line with Abdes' passion to make art more accessible to the general public.

"Galleries and museums are still limited in their reach while the price of artworks is still beyond the means of many of us. Arts should be celebrated in every aspects of our life and having hundreds or probably thousands of people wearing masks adorned with artworks is a big step in that direction."

The response from the art community has been generally positive, although, Abdes admitted, several artists were reluctant to participate. Some out of concern that the mask would put a dent on the value of their artworks, others because they did not believe in the mask's efficacy in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

In mid-June, the production of KAF's Artist Series masks began, providing a fresh stream of work for KITASATUBALI's otherwise out-of-work employees.

Abdes and his wife, Nirmala Trisna, are responsible for selecting the artworks and mounting a social media campaign designed to promote not only the masks but also the profiles of the artists.

Using the heat transfer printing method and the best available fabric, KAF has managed to churn out premium masks with high-quality reproduction of the artworks.

"I have a responsibility to the artists to present their works in the most accurate manner possible. The colors, lines, brushstrokes and shapes printed on the masks must be an exact reproduction of the original artworks," he said, adding than once he threw away a large stock of fabric because it failed the quality check.

Original work: 'Bersatulah Negriku' (Unite My Country), a 2020 painting by I Made Wiradana, is the original source for the Independence Day special edition mask.Original work: 'Bersatulah Negriku' (Unite My Country), a 2020 painting by I Made Wiradana, is the original source for the Independence Day special edition mask. (Courtesy of KAF/-)

Painter Made Wiradana, whose painting Bersatulah Negriku (Unite My Country) was selected for KAF's Indonesia's Independence Day special edition, revealed that Abdes' respect for his artwork was the main reason he agreed to participate in the initiative.

"He is a meticulous person. During the production process he regularly sent the mask samples to me to find out whether the color reproduction was accurate or not," the artist said.

Wiradana said he was quite happy with the quality of the end result. He also praised the initiative as a novel effort to bring visual arts to the larger masses.

"It’s good from a health perspective and it’s good from an art perspective."

Wiradana's paintings could command a price well above Rp 20 million (US$1,357). A mask featuring his Bersatulah Negriku artwork could be purchased for a fraction of that price: Rp 50,000.

KAF's Artist Series is available on Tokopedia for Rp 110,000 for a set of three masks. For each set sold, KAF donates Rp 8,000 to the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI). By the end of July, KAF had donated Rp 6 million in cash to the PMI.

Paper to fabric: Abdes Prestaka shows the result of the heat transfer printing method during which specific designs are printed from ink-imbued paper onto fabric.Paper to fabric: Abdes Prestaka shows the result of the heat transfer printing method during which specific designs are printed from ink-imbued paper onto fabric. (JP/I Wayan Juniarta)

"The demand for the masks is quite surprising and we have received bulk orders from Japan, Singapore and Austria. Djarum Foundation has just placed an order for 1,500 masks. Business-wise, it is a good project," Abdes said.

More importantly, a growing number of art collectors have approached KAF, requesting the initiative feature their collection in a future Artist Series. Yet, the most joyful moment for Abdes was when two participating artists texted him about the initiative's "side effect".

"They were contacted by art collectors who said they saw their works for the first time on the masks." (ste)

 

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