Nine Indonesian abstract artists are showcasing their work in an exhibition called “Sembilan Ruang Abstrak,” or “Nine Abstract Spaces,” at the National Gallery of Indonesia in Gambir, Central Jakarta, until Oct. 30.
The exhibition aims to celebrate and maintain the relevance of the abstract art scene in Indonesia, which has matured despite a tumultuous history in the country.
“It invites the public to know more about the movement in Indonesia, and shows them of its significant development,” curator Pug Warudju said on Tuesday (10/10).
The abstract movement in the country is believed to have emerged from Bandung, West Java. Ries Mulder, as both a painter and lecturer, began inserting abstract art into his teaching at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) in the 1950s, hence giving birth to a new generation of artists, such as But Muchtar, Mochtar Apin, Ahmad Sadali and Rita Widagdo. Western influences appeared in early Indonesian abstract work.
The movement competed for popularity in the 1960s with the realistic and decorative art scenes popularized by the Indonesian Fine Arts Academy (ASRI) in Yogyakarta.
However, in the 1970s, abstract art was at the forefront in teaching at the Indonesian Fine Arts School (STSRI), the successor academy to ASRI. Pug also claimed that there was less Western influence for artists hailing from Yogyakarta, who were able to combine abstract and traditional art together. The movement also flourished at the Jakarta Arts Institute (IKJ) in the 1980s.
The abstract movement saw a decline later in that decade, but was revived in the mid 1990s only to fizzle out again in the early 2000s.
The nine artists whose works are currently exhibited at the National Gallery come from different generations, though they have persisted in creating abstract art for most of their careers. As members of the Indonesian Visual Arts Foundation (Yayasan Seni Visual Indonesia), they have conducted exhibitions and discussions to keep the abstract movement alive ever since their “Abstract Manifesto” declaration on June 17, 2005.
They have now returned to the fold with “Nine Abstract Spaces,” which is expected to help art enthusiasts to explore the minds of the artists.
Like many abstract artists, most of the exhibiting artists apply an inward, meditative approach to their work. Their creations are a result of emotional and intellectual reflection.
Nunung W. S., who is showcasing three paintings made in 2016 and 2017, said she bases her work on what happens within her psychic realm.
“I try to see what the realm inside me is. It is not enough to see my work with naked eyes. You have to use your inner sight,” she said.
One of her works, the five-panel “Soul Scape,” is inspired by the Arabic saying “Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim” (In the name of Allah, the most beneficent and the most merciful).
Another painter, F. X. Jeffrey Sumampouw, derives his subjects from imagination, memories and internal and external stimuli. Impulses and spontaneity can be seen from his choice of colors and brush strokes. Art critic Agus Dermawan compared Jeffrey to abstract-expressionist American painter Jackson Pollock, whom he called “free and does as he pleases. Expressive and sort of crazy.”
In his “Read the Petrified Situation,” Jeffrey portrays how sometimes people feel petrified inside, but such feelings can look fluid and beautiful when poured onto the canvas.
Meanwhile, Krishna Eta chose to experiment with video art. His work, “Flying in My Dreams,” shows a spiral figure that keeps changing its shape.
“As a child, I had this recurring dream where I was flying. This work invites visitors to explore that dream,” he said.
Andi Suandi takes a slightly different approach. His “Tatabuhan” series was influenced by his experience of seeing a traditional ceremony called tarawangsa, which in Sundanese means seeing into the Almighty, in Sumedang, West Java. The ritual consists of dance, music and offerings to show gratitude to God.
Irawan Karseno also has some works on display, and argues that abstract art does not always have to take inspiration from within. Instead, it can be a reflection of real life issues.
“Abstract art doesn’t always have to be lyrical or poetic. It can be just a style to convey, let’s say, social problems,” he said.
His piece, “Pengetahuan” (“Knowledge”), is made from five panels covered in gauze and barbed wires. One panel differs from the others because it is black and has the year “1965” on it, indicating the dark period of Indonesian history marked by the killings of hundreds of thousands of communists across the archipelago.
“It is as if there is a wound behind them [the gauze and wires], something that isn’t allowed to be opened,” he said.
‘Pengetahuan,’ or ‘Knowledge,’ by Irawan Karseno (JG Photo/Dhania Sarahtika)
Visitors can also enjoy artwork by other artists, such as Baron Basuning, whose paintings are influenced by places he has been; Gogor Purwoko’s geometric patterns; A. R. Soedarto’s longing for Jakarta to regain its peace; and Sulebar M. Soekarman’s “Tree of Life,” inspired by own his spiritual journey.
“Picasso once said that people don’t understand what birds sing but they listen to it anyway, so art doesn’t have to be understood to be enjoyed. Just take pleasure in seeing it and the more you see, the more your sensitivity to it develops,” said Sulebar, one of the most prolific abstract artists in the country.