Art Jakarta, an annual fixture in the Indonesian art calendar, makes its return this weekend for the 2023 edition from 17 – 19 November. Notably, this year’s event opens at a new venue, the JIEXPO Kemayoran in Central Jakarta, which boasts an expansive space of approximately 10,000 sqm. Fair Director Tom Tandio shares that this shift to a larger venue has opened possibilities for more extensive installation works and collaborations with additional partners, notably Julius Baer, UOB Indonesia, and Bibit, each contributing prize-winning and commissioned artworks.
Navigating through the exhibition, one encounters an array of voices that provide a snapshot of the contemporary art scene in the region. The fair features a total of 68 galleries hailing from Indonesia and countries across the region, including Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, and Australia.
For those in Jakarta and considering a visit to the fair this weekend, here’s our pick of six booths that you shouldn’t miss:
Gajah Gallery | Booth B5
Female representation at this booth is strong. Start with Octora’s Recoup 1920: wuorv egnoj – it is the artist’s first foray into tapestry and wool, a medium which she chose because of its historically Western roots. Traditionally, the types of images allowed to be translated into tapestry were limited to certain subjects deemed “important”, such as religious scenes and historical events. Here, Octora works with ethnographic portraits of Balinese women taken circa 1910 to 1930 and restages herself as the subject – hence, reclaiming Balinese womanhood as important and opening a conversation between official history and collective memory in Indonesia.
The tapestry itself is beautifully rendered, with a softness from the muted colours and merino wool. Offered just the back view of the woman, one gets a sense that this is a world to which they are not privy nor perhaps welcome to – there is a curiosity and reverence that the work elicits which begs contemplation.
Pair it with the gallery’s other works by I Gusti Ayu Kadek Murniasih – this comes after Gajah’s solo presentation for her at the Frieze Masters last month, where one work was acquired by the Tate, making her the first Balinese artist represented in their collection – as well as by Maria Jeona Zoleta. The young Filipino artist grew up in the red light district of Manila, and her work tackles the stigma around sex workers and their vulnerability to exploitation, while her cheery visual aesthetic channels their strength and positivity which she admired. Her endearingly-titled work My Body is a 5-Star Hotel for Puppies is a colourful fantasy world of nude figures, puppies, skyscrapers and encroaching ferns.
Yiri Arts | Booth C5
Amidst the maximalist excess of the fair, Yiri Arts stands out like a soothing balm to the senses. Unlike many of the other booths that are jammed-packed with as many works as can fit in their white box, clashing colours and loud designs notwithstanding, there is clearly a considered aesthetic to this booth. Its colour palette is harmonious, and the works spaciously laid out with a flair of zen.
The works themselves are similarly refreshing. M. Irfan’s The Red Line Uniting Landscape features a pastoral landscape in soothing monochrome and fine-lined details, and is a pleasure to gaze upon. Also represented is Evi Pangestu, whose art “investigates rebellion and control within the parameter of convention”. Boxed silhouettes press out from within the neon canvas of Forced Interaction, while a single neon yellow square disrupts the beige grid in Square among stretched grid – there’s an intrusive quality to both works that compels the eye to linger.
When asked how the artworks were selected for display, Gallery Assistant Kevin Hsiao replies – “We tried to showcase artists from both Taiwan and Indonesia, and we made sure the colours of their works paired well together.” Nervous systems heave a collective sigh of thanks for sensory-considerate gallerists!
Nova Contemporary | Booth A7
The line between the interiority of Nova Contemporary’s booth and the rest of the fair is clearly demarcated with florid pink tiles, that mirror the pink-toned videos playing across multiple screens. That’s not the only way in which the gallery stands out – unlike most of the other booths in this fair, this booth is filled with works from just a single artist: Kawita Vatanajyankur.
Kawita, who was present at the fair, succinctly introduces her works as such: “In these videos I chose to objectify and turn myself into household working tools, to draw attention to the human cost behind the unseen, domestic labour performed by women.” Women, especially in Southeast Asia, are expected to perform very gendered roles within the home, which often go unseen and unappreciated, including domestic chores and being an emotional pillar of support – all while looking beautiful doing it.
The artist’s discomfort in the videos is explicit, as she subjects her body to violent gestures – including ingesting dust that she sucks through a hose and pounding her face into a giant mortar, in lieu of a pestle. Her repetitive motions are as mesmerising as they are horrifying, and the tension is only amplified by the videos’ chirpy pink interior decor – a polished prettiness that Kawita likens to “poisoned candy”.
She highlights how domestic violence cases had increased during the COVID-19 lockdown, during which these works were made. Says the artist: “When I suck the dust into my body, everything is bright and clean again. But in fact, the violence, or polluted dust, is already inside my lungs, and the lungs of women.”
ISA Art Gallery | Booth B10
The centrepiece at ISA Art Gallery’s booth is a self-playing instrumental set of gongs and metallophones known as gamelan – a traditional musical ensemble native to Indonesia and deeply rooted in the country’s rich cultural heritage. The mallets strike the metal in slow automatic rhythms, and the soothing resonant tones root one to the earth, even momentarily amidst the chaos of the fair. Aptly titled Gamelatron, the work is artist Aaron Taylor Kuffner’s attempt to “to harmonize the tension between East and West, modernity, and antiquity”.
Check out also the works of Septian Harriyoga, renowned for his kinetic metal sculptures, and Ines Katamso, who utilises natural materials such as mineral rocks and banana fiber paper, and explores the delicate connection between culture and nature, examining the impact of cellular microbiological activity and bio-historical concepts upon belief and mythology.
Mizuma Gallery | Booth C3
At Mizuma Gallery’s booth, Kuncir Sathya Viku’s cheekily-titled Cosmic Social Worker is not to be missed. Born and raised in Bali, the artist used to assist his father, a balian or Balinese shaman, with small drawings which were used in his shamanistic rituals. Kuncir’s paintings features these traditional symbols and the lines and forms of Balinese visual language, albeit reworked with a contemporary pop surrealist aesthetic, inspired by his experiences working with murals on the streets. The result is visually arresting, with intricate and bewildering details.
Also captivating are Ari Bayuaji’s woven works. The artist harvests discarded plastic ropes, mostly from fishing boats, along the coast of Sanur in the south of Bali, where he lives. Working with his community, he unweaves these ropes into thin threads, which he then re-weaves into nature-inspired tapestries. Floating World Under the Ocean #1 and #2 resemble underwater orchestras of aquatic creatures – embroided patches and clumps of thread float along the woven surface like jellyfish and schools of fish – and resonate with a poetic beauty.
B-tree Gallery | Booth E17
The walls of B-tree Gallery’s booth are covered with multi-coloured resinous ice lollies and gummy bears that look good enough to eat! The works are the brainchild of Korean artist Iurum and, upon closer inspection, contain little objects in their centre.
In the middle of each resin gummy bear, lined up in a row of seven and labelled with the days of a week, is a single pharmaceutical pill. The artist elaborates on its meaning as “diluting the memories of various pains and sorrows that everyone has experienced and recovering again to live a day and live a week.”
For her Life in Ice Cream series, Iurum coined the term “sweetch” (derived from the combination of “sweet” and “switch”) to signify the conversion of the mundane and anxious aspects of human existence into a sweet and positive idea, encapsulated within the metaphorical embrace of ice cream. The mini humans within the lollies are seen going about simple daily activities, such as riding a bike or sitting upon a park bench – there is a tenderness to it that belies its saccharine polished package.
On the other wall, Yongrae Kwon’s “paintings” comprise of concave stainless steel units that reflect light upwards onto the canvas. The result is a hauntingly ethereal scene that befuddles the eye, albeit in quite a pleasing way. The artist likens the “dancing light” to fire that stands in contrast to the coolness of the steel, sharing: “When I apply the steel units on my canvass, I feel the euphoria the painter feels when one paints.”
Art Jakarta is happening at JIEXPO Kemayoran from 17-19 November.
Header image courtesy of Art Jakarta.