It seems fitting that we end our Jogja Joget series with a post on Art Jog 2016, our excuse for going to Jogja in the first place. It was the first time at Art Jog for the three of us. We expected that the art would be good, because Indonesian artists are truly among the best in the region (okay, I know, we all have our opinions and favourites and this point is definitely going to be the subject of debate so, by all means say your piece in the comments!) but I think I speak for all of us when I say we were completely blown away by the art on display at this annual contemporary art fair, which is in its 9th iteration this year.
Before I get to the art though, a few preliminary observations and impressions and some practical tips. If, after reading this and the other posts in the Jogja Joget series, you decide that you absolutely must go to ArtJog next year, adopt a relaxed attitude about advance planning and do not expect to do too much of it before you leave for Jogja. In typical Singaporean fashion, we scoured the ArtJog website for information and Liked its Facebook page, determined to sign up for as many artist talks, curator tours and seminars as we could. Yes, we did manage to register for a curator tour in the end, but our takeaway is, go with the flow and don’t expect things to work in the way that you are used to – it will all still turn out fine in the end, somehow. In fact, noticing that we three were the only non-Bahasa Indonesia-speaking visitors on the curator tour, one of the curators approached us and very kindly offered to translate – just for the three of us – a rare and lovely personal gesture that you would be hard-pressed to find in bigger, more sophisticated art fairs elsewhere.
A striking thing about the whole atmosphere at ArtJog and in Jogja in general, at all the galleries, artists’ collectives and art spaces that we visited, was how egalitarian the art scene is. None of that chi-chi, art is only for the intellectual and social elite attitude that exists in many of the leading art centers around the world, but rather, that art exists to be enjoyed – by everyone. It was all very relaxed, down-to-earth and unintimidating, as can be seen from the way in which some of the visitors to ArtJog interacted with the artworks. Selfies, wefies and posing for photographs with the artworks were the order of the day!
A few practical tips: The Jogja National Museum, where ArtJog was held, is airconditioned but, with the crowds that throng the place, it can get pretty stuffy and warm. Dress light and casual – ditch the jacket and tie, Roland Mouret dress, Jimmy Choo heels and carefully “done” face (it will melt, I promise) for this gig. Consider carrying a fan – we were given one for signing up for the curator tour – and it came in very useful. Do carry a bottle of water with you if you like to hydrate often – there were no chic watering-holes within the exhibition space to people-watch over a Perrier, cappuccino or a glass of champagne. Likewise, plan to eat either before or after you visit the show. We discovered, to our dismay, that food was not available once we entered the exhibition proper and that we would have to exit the exhibition space in order to find food and then buy another ticket to re-enter. This, we decided to do, as we had been running around packing in the galleries and shows around Jogja before we visited ArtJog, at which point we knew that we were in no condition to take in all the amazing art without stopping to urgently re-fuel. At Rp60,000 a ticket (roughly SGD6) it wasn’t too prohibitive to do this and we were delighted to avail ourselves of the delicious nasi sate lilit at one of the food trucks situated just outside the exhibition space before taking on the massive show that is ArtJog.
And now, to the art, which, as I said earlier, blew us away with the breadth of subject-matter, the diversity and inventiveness of material and media, the depth and the layered, nuanced way in which the artists conveyed their ideas and concepts and the sheer technique, artistry and aesthetic sensibility on display.
Certain themes and subject-matter are deeply steeped within the consciousness of Indonesian artists and recur time and again in the artwork that they produce, albeit re-configured in interesting new ways. Among these is the mountain, or gunung in Bahasa Indonesia, whose meaning, symbolism and importance in Indonesian art history is impossible to overstate. Mountains have traditionally been regarded as spiritually-charged sites, central to both the Hindu and Buddhist belief systems as vehicles through which the gods could descend to this world and from which human beings could communicate with the heavens. The mountain featured in many of the landscape paintings of the colonial era, in the genre known as the Mooi Indie or “beautiful Indies” style of painting, which was characterised by a naturalistic and romantic representation of the Indonesian rural landscape. See, for example, this painting by Indonesian Mooi Indie painter Abdullah Suriosubroto.
Any student of Indonesian art history will quickly become familiar with that towering figure that dominates the narrative, Javanese prince and artist extraordinaire, Raden Saleh. Even he, who certainly was not one to pander to the colonial taste for Mooi Indie, could not escape painting the mountain, as exemplified by these two rather impressive paintings of Mount Merapi, by day and by night, which currently hang at the National Gallery, Singapore.
So, where is all this leading? To the fact that even today, in 2016, the mountain, Mooi Indie paintings and Raden Saleh continue to be referenced by contemporary Indonesian artists, as exemplified by some of the works that were on show at ArtJog.
A case in point, Hanafi’s massive (290 x 340 cm) and powerful acrylic painting of an erupting Merapi, entitled Wedhus Gembel, below. It appears that the image and the idea of the mountain continues to maintain a strong hold on the psyche of Indonesian artists and remains a recurring theme in their artistic practice. This huge painting dominated the room in which it was displayed and was a focus of much attention by visitors to ArtJog. Mountains and volcanoes, so omnipresent in Indonesia, particularly in Java and Bali, obviously hold great cultural and religious significance, not just to its artists but to its people as well.
The Mooi Indie paintings of the colonial era were roundly criticised and rejected with the evolution and development of modern Indonesian art, starting from the late 1930s. However, modern and contemporary Indonesian artists continue to create works that reference these Mooi Indie paintings, often in ways that subvert their original intent and that seek to provoke thought and reflection about Indonesia’s colonial past and the ills and injustices suffered by its people (like Mella Jaarsma’s work, A Blinkered View: High Tea, Low Tea, discussed in a previous post). This work, by Abdi Setiawan, which we encountered at ArtJog however, adopts a more positive attitude towards the genre and is intended as a tribute to the Mooi Indie paintings of the past.
The great Javanese painter, Raden Saleh, also continues to inspire contemporary Indonesian artists and insert himself into modern-day narratives in Indonesian art. We enjoyed this installation by one of Indonesia’s most internationally-recognised contemporary artists, Heri Dono, entitled Animachines, which features and pays tribute to the man himself, as the driver of a carriage ferrying some of Heri Dono’s winged fantasy creatures.
Artjog featured around 90 artworks by 72 artists, including many big names in the Indonesian art scene. It would be impossible, in this post, to do justice to the many excellent works that were on display but we offer a picture gallery of some of them here.
This one, however, literally stopped us in our tracks. Eddy Susanto’s Theosofi Arjuna, Jenderal Wolfe dan Gandhi, a large work measuring 180 x 266 cm, in which he appropriates Benjamin West’s 1770 painting, The Death of General Wolfe, but renders it in tiny intricate script with a drawing pen, then layers Mondrian-esque grids and colour-blocks over it in acrylic and writes some lines about Mahatma Gandhi in glow-in-dark ink on the grid-lines.
See close-ups of the painstaking, handwritten script here:
And a close-up of words about Gandhi in glow-in-the-dark ink here:
Susanto has previously appropriated works by German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer recreating his images of Old Testament scenes, but outlining the images in black ink with the words of the entire Old Testament, translated into a 15th century Javanese script.
Here, his reference to Arjuna, one of the heroes of the Mahabharata, in the title of the work, suggests that the script in this work might be Sanskrit, and the lines, perhaps, from the Bhadgavadgita. What, then, is the connection between Arjuna, General Wolfe, the British general who fought in the Seven Years’ War between the French and the English in North America and Mahatma Gandhi the great Indian nationalist hero? And why reference Piet Mondrian, a Dutch artist? One can only venture to guess that perhaps the artist is seeking to make a statement about Indonesia, its colonial history, and its relationship with its Dutch colonial masters in this work. Note the indigenous warrior in the painting, the “noble savage”, as it were, whose weapon of choice is the bow and arrow, much like Arjuna, the hero of the Mahabharata, who was skilled in archery. We would love to hear your thoughts about this rich and multi-layered work, if you would like to share them with us in the comments.
Finally, one cannot write about ArtJog 2016 without mentioning Uki Handoko (Hahan)’s witty and thought-provoking commentary on the nature of the art market, Speculative Entertainment No. 1. Here, the work was divided into individual lots of 10cm x 10cm, signed by the artist. At designated times of the day, visitors could buy these lots (a minimum of one and a maximum of 16 ) and either take their lot(s) home, or consign them to the exhibition organisers for resale. The work generated much interest and excitement and almost everyone we met who had been, or were planning to go to, ArtJog mentioned the work and asked if we were planning to bid for a piece.
ArtJog 2016 and our Jogja Joget experience was a memorable one in many ways. Ancient temples, great art, warm and hospitable people, excellent food – these are the memories we will carry with us from our trip. Perhaps most importantly, it was our first trip together as (plu)ral – the first of what we hope will be many more such trips!