A trail of blackness seems to make its way down the walls, pushed as much by the creator’s will as by gravity. The black acrylic paint on the canvas mural, and its sheer overwhelming effect, seems to blot out the lights, illuminating the spaces in the gallery, as well as the mood it sets on the minds and emotions of its viewers.
The piece’s near total immersion in the dark made the work live up to its title, “Migrasi Kolong Meja #3-1.”
“The work conveys the nefarious dealings that go under the table. The term ‘under the table’ indicates underhandedness, corruption, collusion and other negative activities that are carried out of sight,” the work’s creator, contemporary artist Hanafi said. “Much of the behavior is often hard to trace. This is because its participants go about it in a ‘coded’ way that people who aren’t part of the deal would be oblivious to.”
The installation work is part of “Migrasi Kolong Meja #3” (“Migration Under the Table #3”), Hanafi’s latest exhibition. Held at the Salihara cultural institute in South Jakarta, the event perhaps alludes to the 53-year-old’s take on the corruption, embezzlement and other wrongdoing that debilitate Indonesian politics and make up the daily fare of the country’s newspapers.
“Much of the corruption in Indonesia occurs because there’s no transparency; because there’s no awareness or light to shed on what’s going on, we tend to be permissive to corruption or other immoral practices,” he said.
But the Yogyakarta Fine Arts school alumnus isn’t overwhelmed by doom and gloom, as he pointed out to a swing in the room flooded by an overhead light. The item did wonders in drawing visitors, as many of them took turns on the swing.
“The light illuminating the swing symbolizes the liberating effect of the truth. When we have nothing to hide and everything is revealed, we can let ourselves go figuratively, or like those in the swing, literally.”
The pieces accompanying the installation, “Migrasi Kolong Meja #3-2,” covers the same ground on a smaller scale and without light to pierce the gloom.
“I opted to show ‘Migrasi Kolong Meja #3-2’ in stark black and white. I feel the black and white shades is what the world will come down to after its colors fade away,” Hanafi said, with the exhibition curator, Nirwan Dewanto, agreeing.
“[‘Migrasi Kolong Meja #3-2’ shows that] abstract paintings are actually the most concrete paintings. They don’t speak about anything other than themselves,” Nirwan wrote in the exhibition catalogue. “Abstract paintings are their own world. They are concrete in the way that they don’t pretend to convey truths other than their own. On the other hand, representational or figurative paintings such as those of natural landscapes are an optical illusion, as they represent a reality the artist or viewer wants to reach.”
This is no less the case with Hanafi’s work “Untitled.” Made of mixed paint on canvas, the artist retained a gray circle that is surrounded by the wave of black.
“The gray shades represents the ambiguities we have to live with in the world around us. And just as gray is the mixture of black and white in the spectrum of colors, so it goes for real life,” he explained. “Like ‘Migrasi Kolong Meja #3-1 and #3-2,’ the shades of ‘Untitled’ are also a projection of my subconscious. However, the colors’ shapes and lines are influenced by my experiences and observations.”
The spontaneous, dynamic lines in Hanafi’s work show the influence of action artists like Jackson Pollock. However, fellow artist Sekartadji Supanto insisted that’s not the case.
“The vision behind Hanafi’s work is very much his own and the canvas is his way of conveying his world view,” he said.
Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on March 25, 2014