One of Jakarta’s artistic landmarks, the Jakarta Arts Center at Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM), is the place to be for theater, movies, or stargazing at the capital’s best-known planetarium.
But often overlooked by the crowds at TIM, with the exception of the bohemian artists who make the place their haunt of choice, are visual arts exhibitions that provide a glimpse into the country’s lesser known yet vibrant art scene.
We took a look at the exhibitions of two artists currently on display at TIM’s galleries to see how Indonesia’s circumstances and traditions shaped their outlook.
Land of Legacy: An Examination of Indonesia’s Potential
The dizzying pace of change in Indonesia over the past decade might seem mind-boggling to some people, but not Baron Basuning.
The 52-year-old painter catches an element of the country’s heady times through the dynamic lines and bold colors of the abstract works in “Land of Legacy.”
A late-blooming artist who gave up a career as a reporter for the online news portal Detik to paint full time in 1998, South Sumatra-born Baron’s exhibit highlights Indonesia’s potential and its natural riches.
“[‘Land of Legacy’] is a view of the sun from an airplane. It’s a metaphor for the bright future we might have ahead of us,” Baron said.
“However, the dazzlingly sunny patch could be the wasteland Indonesia will become if we fail to conserve it. We remain ignorant about Indonesia’s rich natural resources. That is one of the main reasons why more than 65 percent of those resources are owned by foreigners.”
One of the exhibition’s principal works, “Land of Gold” critically explores Indonesia’s potential riches as a blessing and a curse.
“‘Land of Gold’ is about the exploitation of gold and other resources by the Freeport-McMoRan company in Papua. They might make a fortune through those resources, yet the Papuan people are still impoverished,” said Baron.
“The theme of exploitation is just as apparent through the dark presence that is pulling the reclining figure.”
Baron’s work also touches on the world at large, as personified by New York City, and Indonesia’s place in it. “One of my paintings, ‘The Tale of 2 Islands,’ explores the intertwining yet different destinies of Run Island, which is part of the Banda Islands chain in eastern Indonesia, and Manhattan” said Baron, who showcased his work as part of a joint exhibition earlier this year at New York’s Agora Gallery.
“Run was exchanged for Manhattan as part of a 1665 treaty between the Dutch and English. Though the island was richer in spices and other natural resources than Manhattan, it still remained a sleepy tropical backwater, whereas Manhattan became a rich, populous city and a world center for the arts.
“Run’s fate is a reminder of what will happen if Indonesia fails to live up to its potential.”
El Silencio: Listening to the Sounds of Silence Amid Turbulent Times
Hidajat Lpd’s solo exhibition “El Silencio” examines how the silence of contemplation is becoming an increasingly scarce luxury in contemporary Indonesia, in contrast to the more idyllic times when he started his career in 1955.
In the exhibition catalogue, the 70-year-old painter laments the self-serving opportunism of Indonesia’s leaders and erosion of the country’s culture in the face of globalization.
Hidayat explores this phenomenon through the surreal and stark “Biduan Wanita Botak,” “The Bald Women Musicians” and “Accapella.”
A homage to the works of Theater of the Absurd playwright Eugene Ionesco such as “The Bald Soprano,” or“Bald Prima Donna,” Biduan Wanita Botak” pokes fun at Indonesia’s leaders for their perceived corruption, incompetence and lack of accountability.
The naked, bald figures in “Accappella,” on the other hand, seemingly bares that incompetence for all to see, while the leaders remain oblivious to it, much like the Emperor without his clothes.
Aside from stinging satire, Hidajat’s work can also be reverential, such as his “Ode Buat Rendra” or “Ode to Rendra.”
A tribute to late Indonesian playwright Rendra, the poignant stillness of the painting represents the void left by Rendra after his death in 2009.
At the same time, his tangible form reminds one about his place in Indonesian culture. Hidayat brings his more eloquent moments to the surface with wayang-themed works like “Pandawa Lima” and “Kalimusada.”
The paintings serve to reflect his reminiscences about the role wayang had in shaping his art and world view.
In “Pandawa Lima,” Hidajat argues that Indonesian wayang had already produced its own surrealist school of art hundreds of years before 20th century masters of the genre like Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso elaborated the concept.
“Kalimusada” highlights the role that wayang played in spreading Islam throughout Indonesia.
However, Hidajat’s take on wayang is more than a lament for days gone by.
For starters, the stationary postures of the wayang in “El Silencio” are a critique of the meaninglessness and banality of Indonesian literature.
His painting “Sinden,” meaning a Javanese diva, is just as sharply critical, pointing out the pointlessness of soap operas, comedic variety shows and even television news, and their inability to enlighten the public.
Hidajat juxtaposed his criticism of Indonesian society for forgetting its cultural roots with works like “Teater Rakyat di Beijing,” or the “People’s Theater in Beijing.”
Until then, prepare to see Indonesian art and society in a new, jaded light.
Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on May 13, 2013