Thu, 25 Sep 2003

Balinese painters break free of 'esthetic slavery'

I Wayan Juniartha, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar, Bali

A group of young Balinese painters have decided to pool their talents and break free from the restraints of mainstream art in an exhibition titled Esthetic and Nature. The artists feel that for years the art scene here has been dictated by Jakarta's critics, collectors and art "speculators".

"This is an interesting exhibition because these young painters attempt to provide an esthetic discourse outside the mainstream," art observer Hartanto Yudoprasetyo said.

The exhibition to be held until Oct. 31 at Sanur's Griya Santrian gallery includes the 32 works of painters I Nyoman Diwarupa, I Wayan Naya Swantha, I Made Supena, I Made Ardika, I Wayan Setem, I Made Galung Wiratmaja, I Made Budi Adnyana and I Made Gunawan. The gallery is a new establishment aimed at providing young artists with an alternative space.

But, the artists, known as the Galang Kangin group, are not simply trying to be different. They have re-incorporated Balinese traditional esthetic and communal values into their work.

Hartanto, who manages the Bali Mangsi gallery, pointed out that in the last five years the influence of Jakarta's art scene upon Balinese painters has reached an alarming level.

The esthetic values, orientation and development of artists here has been shaped by the ideas of outside critics and the media. Most unfortunately, several powerful art collectors have used their financial power to channel the art scene to suit their personal tastes and interests.

"When they decided that figurative works were marketable, suddenly the market was flooded with demands for such works, thus forcing many young -- and even established painters -- to produce figurative works instead of pursuing their own esthetic dreams," Hartanto said.

"In short, this kind of 'esthetic slavery' has created an art scene that is dry, uniform and devoid of any creative force," he stressed.

The Galang Kangin group, Hartanto noted, had managed to dodge the temptation of fast money.

In the period when figurative artwork was the trend, these young painters kept on exploring color and abstraction.

When social and political turmoil were the visual arts' main narration, the Galang Kangin group articulated elements of natural beauty in their works.

"The question is whether or not we have the courage to express our inner-selves. To be mainstream, or to stay true to our characters.

"Yet, we present our interpretations without the assumption that this is the only direction for the art scene to take. We sincerely believe that there is no such thing as 'absolute-ness' in art," Made Supena, the chief of Galang Kangin group, remarked.

Art observer, I Wayan Sukra, explained Galang Kangin's thematic assimilation with nature by quoting philosopher George Santayana: We are confronted by a natural world that allows great liberty in selecting, emphasizing and grouping. We must therefore compose it in order to appropriately appreciate it.

"That remark is an invitation for more than the simple appreciation of the beauty of the (Bali) world. Galang Kangin accepts this invitation," Sukra told.

The opening of the exhibition last Friday included the presentation of a certificate, from the Indonesian Museum of Records, to I Made Gunawan for his work featuring 1,000 small painted boxes decorated with flowers. The work was aptly titled 1,000 Kotak (1,000 Boxes).