Sun, 03 Sep 2000

Contemporary RI arts go international

By Boudewijn Brands

DELFT, the Netherlands (JP): Appreciation of an artist's work is like the effect a stone has when thrown into a calm lake: ripples spread in expanding circles. At a first exhibition there is mostly family and friends. A few years later the artist becomes known in his hometown and, if lucky, national coverage follows.

This road is facilitated very much by personal contacts, as well as professional.

Nobody is surprised that Affandi's works are known the world over. But it is different with artists of the younger generation.

However, their work can be seen in Europe, 15,000 kilometers from their base.

Since June, Indonesian contemporary art can be seen in three places in the Netherlands. The exhibition with the largest budget is Reformasi Indonesia, an exhibition with art from 1995 to 2000 expressing protest. This exhibition in Museum Nusantara in Delft runs until Sept.3, 2000 and was curated by Helena Spanjaard.

Preparations for this exhibition started in August l999. The exhibition was opened by Toeti Nurhadi.

An exhibition focusing on the work of relatively young artists is being held in Gallery Bremmer, established in l986 in the city of Tilburg. This exhibition was organized in one month using part of a private collection already available in the Netherlands.

Both exhibitions are well documented. The first focuses on the political situation in Indonesia and the second on how young artists in Indonesia work and under what conditions.

A third exhibition is being held in a public library in upmarket Amsterdam-South. This was organized by the Foundation Asian Pacific Art Namana and has an educational purpose. The works shown are from the collection of this foundation. After Amsterdam, the exhibition will tour other cities.

Events in Indonesia in recent years have obviously attracted world attention. However, as Spanjaard explains in the documentation of the Delft exhibition, it is not the first time Indonesian artists have used politics as their subject. She refers to the association of Indonesian painters founded by Sudjojono in l938 and their members who aimed to support the revolution with their art. Under the New Order government, a similar movement seemed to have developed with the foundation, in l974, of the Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru Indonesia (New Indonesian Art Movement). Today not only politics features in Indonesian contemporary art, but also repression and abuse of power.

However, that this is not the everyday inspiration of Indonesian artists can be seen in Gallery Bremmer. The only works politically inspired are two etchings by Agung Kurniawan and Tisna Sanjaya. These are part of a series of five from the portfolio edited on the occasion of the BiasSahaja graphic exhibition, held in November last year in Jakarta. These two artists also have works in the Delft exhibition.

Other art in Bremmer reflects the surroundings (small landscapes by Hendra Usman done when he was 18 years old at INS Kayutanam), animals and their movements (Eko Rahmy) and Javanese mystique, humans and animals in strong works by Sutrisno. Others purely focus on aesthetics and the pleasure to create (Surajiya) situations in life (Antok Ruswandoko). And the very personal experiences during the night when the artist has no home in Jakarta.

The documentation prepared for this exhibition gave the visitor much more information. Some of it is about the limited art market, low earnings, the difficulty to get accepted into an academy or to get an income after earning an art degree.

The text also points to other places in the Netherlands where good art by young Indonesian artists can be seen and even rented, as in the CBK art center in the city of Dordrecht, and to the books available for those who want to learn more about this subject.

From the list of artists represented in the Delft exhibition, it can be seen artists of all ages are represented. The youngest, Muchtar Sofwan Zarkasi, is 27, and noted Djoko Pekik is 62. The biographies of these artists reveal a bit of the internationalization of Indonesian contemporary art through the list of exhibitions that these artists have participated in. Japan, with its great interests in the area, regularly exhibits art from Indonesia, as does Australia, Singapore and Thailand. The West is represented by the USA and the European Union (EU). When we detail the EU by country we find Italy, the United Kingdom, Denmark, France and Finland have each held one. Germany has held two and the Netherlands five.

If we look at the education of the 13 artists, only four had an education outside of Indonesia: two in the Netherlands, one in Germany and one in the United Kingdom as well as the USA.

But what about appreciation of contemporary art in Indonesia itself? Known are a few great collectors in the country that give young, good artists a chance. And many buyers in Jakarta are foreigners.

But it seems that they understand the future. If we make a comparison between two countries of different economic levels we can predict that Indonesian contemporary art will have a bright future. There is a good chance that current production will be bought back at high prices. Foreigners (as well as specialized local collectors) are relatively more open to strange, abstract, cruel, ugly, experimental and political art.

So a lot is taken away. Now, take a look at statistics: in Tilburg, which has a population of 200,000, there are about 600 artists. With more than 200 million inhabitants, Indonesia would have the same artist density: about 600,000. When politics and after that the economy normalize and wealth increases, the prospects for artists in Indonesia will be very bright indeed.