Jakarta. The chaos depicted in the painting seems to sear the viewer’s psyche, as much as the deeply etched black and white lines that make up the image. Looming above is a jester presiding over the chaos, along with a ringmaster directing a circus.
Titled “Histeria” (“Hysteria”), the work by Denny, an art teacher at the Raudhatul Mutaqqin Islamic Junior High School in West Java, aptly portrays Indonesia’s chaotic spectacle during an election year.
Denny’s imagery of a shattering TV might reflect the glut of news or information during the campaign. The announcer with a stream of gibberish is also an all too familiar figure for Indonesian voters, as he seems to symbolize the intangible, almost interchangeable campaign promises made by candidates from Indonesia’s 10 political parties.
“Histeria” is one of the 111 works by as many art teachers from 19 Indonesian provinces shown in the “Guru Seni Berlari” or Running Art Teachers exhibition, which is being held at Jakarta’s National Gallery. The event is the second to be held in as many years, after 74 lecturers from 31 universities and fine arts schools exhibited their work in the gallery last year.
But “Guru Seni Berlari” is the first exhibition of its kind to show the work of junior high or high school teachers.
“The theme of “Guru Seni Berlari” alludes to the challenges the teachers must race against. These include making the most of their abilities, inspiring their students, or becoming a role model for them, exhibition curator Suwarno Wisetrotomo says.
“Most of all, it aims to find out the progress or proficiency of Indonesian art teachers and gauge their potential. We hope that the exhibition will prompt the teachers to build up their networks and exchange information, so as to improve the quality of their work and that of art teaching as a whole in Indonesian schools.”
The teachers showed that they are more than just pedagogues stifling their student’s creativity. Their eclectic works showed a range of creative variety and styles, some of which, like “Histeria,” show their awareness of current issues.
Tubagus Patoni is one such teacher. His State Junior High School Number 17 in Serang, Banten, is perhaps recovering from the chaos surrounding the arrest of its Governor Ratu Atut Chosiyah — and it shows in his painting “Belenggu” (“Chains”). The students and teachers applying themselves to their studies try to shut out and detoxify themselves from the outside world with their gas masks. But their efforts seem to be an uphill climb, as pressures come in the form of undergrowth and baleful faces encroaching on their space.
On the other hand, Central Java-based high-school teacher Jaya Adi examines the legacy of historical figures in his painting “Goal.” Painted in somber colors of traditional Javanese paintings of temples or wayang figures, the work juxtaposes historical figures that are notorious or renowned, such as Adolf Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi and Sukarno. The paintings show that while the figures might change the world for better or for worse, their legacies are beyond denial.
Other works, like Nia Kurniasih’s “Alternatif Motif Patung Geulis” (“Alternative Motifs for Beautiful Statues”), are a nod to the teachers’ cultural heritage. The Karya Pembangunan Number 2 High School in Bandung art teacher’s take on parasols challenges preconceptions of the items. Nia adorns the parasols with wayang scenes from the Mahabharata or Ramayana. Seeing the images of the figures quietly stepping out from their batik background, Nia affirms her roots with a grace and dignity personified in the wayang.
“Langkah Kerja Pembuatan Kriya Tekstil” or The Steps to Make Textile Works, a tapestry by the Studio 11 collective, has a similar outlook to Nia. The team of junior high-school art teachers from Bandung, among them Sri Sulastri, Niken Apriani and Sri Nuraeni, have created an exposition of the process of batik-making. The work is methodical, starting with preliminary sketches of the plant motif and its tracing with wax, the first applications of the dyeing and coloring process of the cloth, to its finished product. A series of cards explains the process in a step by step manner, showing the viewer that there’s more to traditional manufacturing of batik than just the finished product displayed on shop windows.
Just like the creative student in the Indonesian saying “Guru kencing berdiri, murid kencing berlari,” (“Teacher urinates while standing, student urinates while running”), one hopes the ‘Guru Seni Berlari’ exhibition will motivate teachers to step up their own creativity.
Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on April 20, 2014