The angles of Borobudur rising out of the mist seem to leave them suspended in “The Balance of Stupa,” a painting brought out the monument’s circular dimensions.
“[‘The Balance of Stupa’] is my effort to reintroduce Borobudur to the world at large. This is particularly important as there was a period when it was taken off the list of the New Seven Wonders of the World,” said the artwork’s creator, Sekartadji “Tadji” Supanto, who exhibited the painting as part of a group exhibition held by the Jakarta chapter of L’Association Pour les Enfants de la Rue (The Association for Street Children), or PER, a foundation run by the French community in Jakarta.
“I also want to show foreign art buffs that there’s much more to Indonesia than Bali. As an individual of Javanese descent, I wish to highlight its place as a Javanese cultural icon, as well as its role in molding my cultural perspective and identity,” Tadji said.
The 36-year-old is one of 50 artists who showcased their art during a group exhibition hosted by Koi Restaurant and Gallery in the South Jakarta area of Kemang, and revisited the theme with paintings like “Combination of Stupa” and “Buddha in Color.”
Painted in acrylic on canvas, the works managed to capture Borobudur’s timelessness through elements like the multicolored backgrounds of late American Pop Art great Andy Warhol’s 1962 work “The Marilyn Diptych,” and the ethereal yet striking lines of ancient Japanese and Chinese scroll paintings.
“Borobudur can be viewed in many ways. I chose to view it from a historical, cultural and religious perspective and its standing as one of the world’s most iconic artistic monuments,” Tadji said. “The infinite number of ways that one can explore Borobudur is perhaps a fitting metaphor for Indonesia’s diversity. The multiple ways that one can approach Borobudur would also do it wonders, as it does wonders to remind the public about its place in forming the Indonesian identity.”
Tadji’s artistic vision of Borobudur could have run the risk of debasing the monument’s spiritual meaning and merely addressed its popular appeal, as he took on the Pop Art approach of the “Marilyn Diptych.”
However, he still managed to convey his reverence for the place through the deft and seamless transition from realist, abstract and decorative elements which held together well with a surrealist touch.
The contemplative tones of “Buddha in Color” managed to capture Borobudur’s spiritual and religious meaning, while the sight of stupas seeming to rise up out of nowhere against its two dimensional backdrop seemed to convey its timelessness for people in Indonesia and around the world.
Starting out with PER and working with disadvantaged children
During the exhibition, which was held by PER to raise money for their charitable activities, Tadji and other artists participated in a workshop for children from the five centers supported by PER in the Greater Jakarta Area, such as Kampus Diakonia Modern, the Nusantara Foundation, Yayasan Emmanuel orphanage and Citra Indonesia Foundation and Mizan Amanah.
“I started working at PER’s artistic workshops for orphans and street kids in 2006, six years after the charity association’s founding in 2000. There aren’t too many programs of this kind in Indonesia, so I’m glad that I can make a difference for the kids and participate in a worthwhile cause,” said Tadji, a self-taught artist who discovered his talent for art when he worked at a gallery in his youth.
“Another advantage of working with PER is that we get to see where our efforts go to, because of its transparent structure and clear aims,” he explained. “Furthermore, foreign agencies or individuals are more sincere in their efforts, unlike their Indonesian counterparts who often hold these sort of programs to bolster their own image or for ulterior motives.”
It didn’t take long to see that the workshop’s efforts paid off. The children’s art managed to hold its own against their veteran counterparts, as attested by “Super Art,” a portrayal of Superman done by street kids from the KDM organization.
The vibrantly colored tribute to the Man of Steel, which is marked by a rough vigorous finish characteristic of graffiti and other street art, contrasts with the more subdued, structured and more refined portraits done by youthful artists from Yayasan Emmanuel.
PER Jakarta spokesperson Afia Ali-Blasco expects the works of the novice artists and their more experienced counterparts to raise an approximately similar amount to the Rp 50 million ($4,204) that was raised at last year’s exhibition. But word of the activities has yet to spread, as they are mostly held in mainstays of Jakarta’s French community that include Koi, Duta Fine Arts Gallery and Galeri 678, as well as a number of private homes.
Tadji stated that the kids’ work are but part of the gratifying experience of participating in PER’S exhibitions and workshops.
“Art can provide the children with a voice, due to its universal nature. It can also give them a purpose in life, give them hope and prove to society at large that they are not merely street kids with no future,” he said. “Their circumstances enable them to be more versatile and creative, as they can make art from scrap materials and recycled goods.”
For Tadji, the experience of participating in the workshop was equally enlightening.
“Aside from teaching the kids some of my skills, the workshop also allows me to work side by side with artists from Indonesian art centers like Bali, Bandung, and Jakarta,” he said. “The creative giving and taking that I get from them is just as useful for me as working with the street kids.”
Tadji’s work with PER also enabled him to broaden his own horizons, along with those of his fellow artists.
“The works at PER’s exhibitions managed to raise interest from donors who hail from European countries like Spain and the Netherlands, though the majority of its donors are still French,” he explained. “Since then, PER also helped raise the profile of my work and that of my fellow artists, as well as the art of some street kids since I participated in their exhibitions.”
Since then, Tadji has exhibited his works at French cities like Paris and Marseilles and is set to reprise his success at the City of Lights.
“I’m set to return to Paris next January, where my work will be exhibited at the offices of the Total oil company. I’ll also be set to hold a joint exhibition in Yogyakarta, which is much closer to my hometown Wonogiri in Central Java,” he said.
Sculptor Nita Nursita said that Tadji’s success overseas is due to more than his talent as an artist.
“Unlike most artists, Tadji is wholly dedicated not just to his work, but to the success of the exhibition as well,” she said. “He’s thorough in providing the background behind his work and is selfless in helping out with the exhibition.”
“He’s not as erratic as some artists are known to be, and he doesn’t require much prodding to get his work done,” Nita added. “If anything, he’s earned his place to exhibit his art, unlike too many artists who seem to be merely freeloading in an exhibition.”
Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on December 13, 2013