Yogyakarta is a place that holds special meaning for us. It was the first trip that we (P, L and U) took together, soon after we hatched the idea of starting a blog. The common wisdom is that travelling together is a make-or-break thing for any relationship and we passed with flying colours, even if we do say so ourselves! This year, we were two and not three, as L had to get back to the real world and his full-time job – but we’re sure he was with us in spirit and we certainly tried to eat for three, in his honour! So here’s the down and dirty on this year’s Jogja Joget (essentially just a day and a half in the city) – the art we saw, the people we met and, as always, the food we ate.
Heading directly from the airport to our tried-and-tested Jogja favourite, the Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta to drop off our bags, we went right back out again to the Jogja National Museum, previously the home of Akademi Seni Rupa Indonesia (ASRI), the nation’s first art college, and the venue for Art Jog 2017. This annual contemporary art fair, now in its 10th iteration, has rapidly become a must-go destination for the artistic and creative crowd in the region.
Walking into the grounds of the venue, we couldn’t shake the distinct feeling we were being watched – by many pairs of eyes on a dozen or more colourful psychedelic eyeballs, some bobbing about in pools of water, others looming over us like gigantic eyeball monsters. An Art Jog signature, this year’s commissioned work by Yogyakarta-based artist Wedhar Riyadi, Floating Eyes, was an eye-catching (pun intended!) installation, engaging visitors and reeling them in with the promise of more artistic spectacles inside.
Riyadi explained that his intention was to construct a space for visitors to ArtJog to meet, interact and play in this digital era, where social media has blurred the boundaries between private and public spaces and where there always seems to be someone watching us. While the garishly colourful, cartoonish creatures were cute and playful, the idea behind the work, which questioned the constantly curated surveillance of social media, was far darker.
Many of the young millennials visiting the show, however, seemed to not only be perfectly comfortable with the visibility of their lives on social media, they were, in fact, happy to be complicit and active participants in this display. Taking advantage of the very Instagrammable works in the show, posing with the artworks was very much the order of the day!
One of the works at the show, by Oky Rey Montha Bukit a.k.a. Kyre, In Frame we Trust, mocks this obsession with selfies and wefies, suggesting that we should go to the extent of taking a selfie even while sitting on the toilet! The artwork incorporates a polka-dotted toilet bowl, calling to mind and perhaps intentionally referencing that other very famous urinal by Marcel Duchamp.
What did we think of this year’s ArtJog? To be honest there were fewer pieces that blew us away, unlike in last year’s show, which we reviewed here, and quite a number of works were, rather disappointingly, not quite finished works-in-progress. That being said, here are a few of our favourites.
Edwin Dolly Roseno Kurniawan‘s Seri Kematian Para Pelantun (loosely translated, the Death of the Singers series) is stunningly beautiful to look at but also powerfully moving and poignant. The photographic series is a lament for the songbirds that are captured, caged and sold in the bird markets around Yogyakarta. Many of these birds die in captivity and are discarded like trash. The artist collected some of these dead birds and photographed them in artfully arranged tableaux, like memento mori paintings, a silent rebuke of human greed, arrogance and the desire to own everything around them.
Mulyana Mogus‘ crocheted and knitted installation, Silent Prayers is yet another work that speaks of humanity’s wanton destruction of the natural environment. The installation is a metaphor for the dead and dying coral in our oceans and seas and represents the artist’s hope and prayer that more efforts may be made to save them.
Striking a completely different note, here’s U with the always wickedly witty Agan Harahap’s work, Old Master, which parodies I Nyoman Masriadi‘s “blue chip” work of the same name. Here, Agan seeks to refine or make improvements on Masriadi’s image of the hypermasculine native everyman by co-opting pop culture references and utilising the image of a white man (Hulk Hogan!) in his version. What can we read into it? Perhaps a not-so-gentle poke at the co-opting of Masriadi’s work by the West and the resulting compromise to his identity as an Indonesian painter? Arguably also, a challenge of Masriadi’s status as a revered artist by making a “better” work than the original, albeit with modern photo-editing techniques like Photoshop.
While we felt that last year’s Art Jog had a stronger collection of works, overall, that speaks only to how excellent that show was. This year’s, while less mind-blowingly exciting, nonetheless offered sufficient gems like the works described above that our visit was, on the whole, an interesting and worthwhile one.
If you’re going to Yogyakarta to see art, you should definitely plan on making the drive out to Magelang, 43km north of Yogyakarta, to visit the OHD Museum that houses the impressive collection of modern and contemporary Indonesian art of collector Dr Oei Hong Tjien. This was our second visit to this very cool private museum and we continue to be amazed by the sheer number of works by the masters of Indonesian art that can be found in this collection. A visit not to be missed!
Last, but certainly not least, a quick word about what to eat and where to find it. We managed to enjoy favourites like Mee Soto, Gado Gado, Lumpia, Sate and Nasi Ambeng right in the excellent Phoenix Yogyakarta itself. While some might pooh-pooh the lack of the authentic “street” experience of eating where the locals eat, if you’re short on time as we were, this is a convenient way to get your fix of delicious Indonesian dishes.
However, on the recommendation of an old Yogyakarta hand, we did make a trip out to the famous Ayam Goreng Ny.Suharti on Jalan Gedong Kuning No. 187. The photo below just does not do justice to the crispy, succulent, juicy dish of fried chicken goodness that was laid before us. Go! You will not regret it.