Art is a personal experience and its impact on every individual is never the same.
When I attend an exhibition, I can be driven by my own innate needs– to engage with fresh visual stimuli and to feed the space between my ears.
Nonetheless, visiting exhibitions in Bali can sometimes seem like a repetitious experience. When I attend an opening, my intuitive impulse is that much appears familiar, and like I have seen it before. I observe, and ‘recognize’ much of the work. Outside of the social interactions of the evening, I often leave feeling uninspired.
It is therefore refreshing to visit an exhibition which has a quality that lingers, and that beckons you to return. Sign, a solo exhibition by hyperrealist Balinese painter Anak Agung Gede Darma Yuda which opened on 15 November at the Agung Rai Museum of Art, (ARMA), is one of those rare shows. The show presents fifteen oil on canvas works which vary widely in size. Delving into themes of identity, social politics, and duality, these are not a hastily produced bunch of pictures, but rather the outcome of Darma Yuda’s dedicated work spanning ten years.
The Instagram exhibition-marketing image of his painting 1 $ 2 Rangda was alluring, and I felt compelled to attend the opening of the show.
Arriving late in the evening, I ventured into the open ARMA water garden pavilion, feeling tired after a long day. I lounged on a large wooden sofa next to a friend and we engaged in some light banter, while I gazed out upon Darma Yuda’s offerings, positioned on the wall about eight meters away. In nearly an hour and a half, I didn’t move. I simply sat and observed while others stopped by and said hello.
The expansive ARMA pavilion allowed me the complete freedom to indulge without sensing any confining limits of the physical space. My experience of observing and feeling the work was unhindered – my receptive abilities fully enhanced. The varying imagery of the large three-paneled work Indrya, for example, enabled me to traverse between two aesthetic and cerebral worlds, that of the abstract and the hyperreal.
Darma Yuda’s ‘real’ world delivers confronting content, bordering on the violent. The middle panel depicts a red finger poked into an ear with a blue Indonesian 50,000 rupiah note piercing the lobe. A hand with full spread fingers conceals an older woman’s red-brownish face on the extreme right panel, while the gap between the thumb and forefinger exposes an eye — humanity and life force are projected out of the painting. The extreme left panel features a hand cupping a face, palm positioned on the forehead with fingers pointing down. The lips are coloured a crimson blood red.
Darma Yuda’s selection of colour is a potent aesthetic tool. In Indrya, contrasting skin tones of beige, red, brown and blue create immediate visual tension while emphasizing an eerie duality. The structural features, such as bones, veins, and fingernails define the human vehicle. The hyper-detailed skin textures and the wrinkled outer layers that conceal the body reveal the unsympathetic passage of time.
“I’m interested in this realism technique because it is very effective for me to convey my thoughts about things and objects that are..close to my character and daily life,” said Darma Yuda who was born in 1977 Silakarang, Gianyar, and received his art education at the Indonesian Institute of the Arts (STSI) in Denpasar.
During my observation of Indrya, I found myself oscillating between different mental states. I was sometimes temporarily ‘lost’ in the imagery, my mind quiet in subconscious musing. I would then switch my frame of mind, in order to engage on a more conscious level, as I scrutinized the work. My mind would then veer off again, experiencing my thoughts at their deepest levels. When required, I found myself flicking into a more social mode, enjoying light discussion with others. As these conversations carried on, I would from time to time detach myself once again, becoming introverted and returning to the world of art.
In experiencing this flurry of emotion, I was reminded of the essential functional value of art — it grants us respite from our busy, sometimes demanding lives, and supports and nourishes us in beautiful and unexpected ways.
“I deliberately create technical optical games within my compositions to encourage observation from afar or near,” the artist explained.
He continued, “Social issues in life arise all the time. Sometimes, however, we only hear from one point of view, giving rise to reactions that are excessive, deviating from the core of the problem. Sometimes we never find the right solution to a problem. As individuals, we have to filter out what is worth listening to, seeing or talking about. This also functions as self-criticism teaching us to be wise in responding to issues. This is what I address in Indrya.”
Darma Yuda’s close-up exploration of the human hand takes place for a sound reason.
The hand holds the power to administer and execute many acts and expressions of our behaviour. Darma Yuda’s hands are depicted as pulling, punching, concealing, threading and embracing. Throughout the artist’s body of work, human hands reveal acts of both kindness and cruelty. Hyperrealism was a popular trend within Indonesian contemporary painting about a decade ago. In Bali, one could think of the technical mastery of I Gusti Nengah Sura Ardana from Denpasar, and his pictures of elderly folk who are marginalized within Balinese society. Darma Yuda is similarly technically proficient. However, his themes delve much deeper than Sura Ardana’s.
1 $ 2 Rangda, is rendered in dark and gloomy tones.
In the work, Darma Yuda features a grey hand clutching a rolled American dollar note. Protruding from both the top and bottom sections of the bill is the head of the wicked witch Rangda from Balinese mythology. Adorning the wrist is a prayer bead bracelet, while the hand is positioned akin to how a Balinese Hindu priest would clutch a ceremonial bell. The small finger detached is pointing up and outward; the tip is coloured red.
“In taking a stand, when we are faced with many choices, sometimes we behave in the grey,” said the artist who has been exhibiting extensively in Bali and Java since 1995.
“We need to have a strong and firm attitude to achieve our goals; that’s why I rendered the little finger red.”
Adu Jotos is possibly Darma’s Yuda’s most potent work:
Translating as ‘fistfight’, it describes the collision of two fists thrust from opposing directions, colliding with a red rubber ball. While the smaller fist to the left is coloured white, the larger, to the right is black. The background colour is also red, yet of a darker shade, one which emphasizes the enormous impact of the two conflicting forces. The negative shapes of the three focal objects set against the background, come through as distinct visual elements of the picture.
It is a perfectly balanced composition – less is more. It highlights dualism within the human plight, and this Darma Yuda explains, “is a conflict of passion that never ends.”
If you are visiting Ubud, Bali during December, Darma Yuda’s Sign is a fascinating, confronting and eye-catching show which affords a special insight into Balinese society– one which is far removed from the island’s tourist beaches and high-end resorts.
I myself returned twice after the opening evening to attempt to satisfy my own curiosity, and to see what else I could discover within the paintings and inside myself.
Sign by Anak Agung Gede Darma Yuda runs till 31 December 2019 at ARMA Museum, Jalan Raya Pengosekan Ubud, Bali Indonesia. The museum is open from 9am – 5pm daily.