For Yanuar Ernawati, A Puzzle of Perception in Paintings

Yanuar Ernawati Work

Yanuar Ernawati’s solo exhibition at Taman Ismail Marzuki in Jakarta offers a cerebral and visual treat. (Photo courtesy of Tunggul Wirajuda)

The disembodied hand makes its way to the colorful surface, as if trying to make its way up from the depths of the psyche to the conscious state of mind. Called “Menghimbau Suara Hatimu” (“Calling On Your Conscience”), the work by artist Yanuar Ernawati seems to portray the conscience’s role as a reminder to oneself to face uncomfortable or unavoidable truths. This is made all the more obvious by the deathly blue shade of the hand, which starkly contrasts with the bright orange and yellow hues of its surroundings, as well as the light blue of the lower half of the panel.

The painting is one of dozens by Yanuar in her solo exhibition “Kejujuran Dalam Kebebasan ” (“Honesty in Freedom”) that is currently held at the Taman Ismail Marzuki cultural center in Jakarta.

“The exhibition reflects our efforts to reconcile the truths and realities of various phenomena around us, and how they shape our outlook,” Yanuar says. “Our artistic expressions are one of the best ways to figure out those phenomena’s tangible or intangible characteristics.”

Perhaps this is best reflected in “Implikasi Pada Bayangan” (“Implication on Shadows”). The slumping figure in the work seems to dissolve, leaving a puddle that is its shadow on the ground.

The picture also reveals another aspect of the Indonesian Institute of Fine Arts alumnus’s artistic vision.

“Yanuar is different from most artists, as she doesn’t derive her inspiration on a whim or subjective impulses, as if to assert her distinctiveness from other people or keep a distance from them,” says art critic Agus Dermawan.

“Instead she tries to disseminate their thoughts, and how those thoughts were shaped by their experiences. Yanuar also differs from other artists because she chooses to take sides. In her case, she seeks to find light, even if she chooses a more abstract, circumspect method of conveying it.”

But Yanuar doesn’t merely meddle in the abstract or metaphysical, as she proves in her 2008 painting “ Teguran ” (“Reprimand”). True to its subject of people overwhelmed by natural disasters, the terror and panic in their body language reminds the viewer of Pablo Picasso’s great work “Guernica.” The figures painted by the 56-year-old manage to give a realistic, naive feel reminiscent of the famed collages of Mexico City, as doom and gloom is the last thing on her mind.

“I want to convey that disasters, regardless of their form or scale, don’t have to be seen as grim and foreboding. Disasters are a reprimand from God, and so can be seen as his gift to humanity.” Yanuar says. “Perhaps it also shows that God is watching us, hence the tagline ‘what wasn’t seen, will be seen.’”

Agus says “Teguran” is typical of Yanuar’s work in that it is expressive yet tranquil, despite the existentialism.

“In that sense, she reminds me of a hermit, as her works seems to spring from a deeper source,” he says.

That hermetic vision is also obvious in “Clearance Cannon.” Featuring a pair of eyes looking into a dark room through the blinds, the work aptly shows how the conscious self looks inward into the subconscious. “ Dunia di Kepala ,” or “World of the Mind,” touches on the same subject matter, but the abstract lines of its main figure seem to describe how their humanity can be broken down into its barest forms. On the other hand, the convoluted heads looking in on themselves in “ Metamorfosa Para Kepala ” (“Metamorphosis of the Heads”) are rife with a sense of change.

If anything, the works perhaps reflect Yanuar’s efforts to get into the heads of the people around her and interpret the signs of the times through them.

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on April 13, 2014

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