The figure in the graphic print seemed to be free-falling into despair. The whites of the gold-tinted figure’s eyes and disheveled, turned-up hair reflect how overwhelmed he was with his life.
His upraised hands and mouth open in a silent scream on the linocut on paper work reflect a man at the end of his tether, while the arrows around him perhaps reflect the intangible pressures continuing to bear down on him.
Titled “Last Chance,” the work by Yogyakarta-based artist M. Fadhlil Abdi reflect the universality of the subjects’ feelings, and not least his own.
“[Last Chance] reminds me of the hardships that I felt when I first took up graphic printing, such as cutting or gouging the design into the surface of linoleum and other materials, inking it with the brayer, and then printing them into the paper,” Fadhlil says. “My first work in the field burdened my creative process, since I was new in the field and unsatisfied with my work.”
Not content to make his point once, Fadhlil let the impact of the work and its premise strike three times over, as he made a similarly titled triptych of the same figure to add new depths or perspective into his feelings.
Graphic print to plumb emotional lows
“Last Chance” is one of the works being shown by Fadhlil in his exhibition “Repress,” which is currently being held at the Bentara Budaya cultural center in Jakarta. Like “Last Chance,” the rest of the prints convey a sense of despair, gloom and other dark emotions that live up to the exhibition’s theme.
This vibe is best seen in his woodcuts like “Art, Girl and Murder” and “2nd Interesting.” “Art, Girl and Murder” lived up to its sense of menace due to the black pupil of the girl and her inscrutable look. However, the girl’s youth and the halo over her head seem to reflect her determination to hold on to her innocence.
The halo also touched on the “Art” element, as it seemed to evoke medieval and Renaissance images of the Virgin Mary. The wood chips highlighted in the woodcut gave it an organic touch, as it gave the impression of the skin’s pores as well as the bark from the tree.
The girl looking out in “2nd Interesting” sought to trap the viewer’s attention with her gaze. Her eyes seemed to defy the dark shadows nearly enveloping her, as if to keep her problems at bay.
On the other hand, the monotype “Falling in Black” perhaps shows how one can internalize their problems. The figure’s closed eyes perhaps reflect how she kept her problems to herself, while the second picture give a glimpse of the internal turmoil that she goes through before coming to terms with them, as seen in the third picture.
The sense of desperation is just as tangible in the woodcut “Animal Instinct,” and intensified through the fragmented structure of the piece. The subjects’ fragmentation could work two ways, namely how the subject can get themselves back together or succumb to their base instincts described in the title.
“Regardless of how we interpret the pictures, what is beyond doubt is the multitude of problems in Indonesian society, such as crime, corruption, poverty and ethnic tensions. Compared to those elements, my difficulties in mastering graphic print is nothing,” Fadhlil says.
“Repress” curator A.C. Andre Tanama points out that Fadhlil’s work shows his knack of keenly questioning the world around him. “The repression highlighted in Fadhlil’s work allude to the repressive elements of [late President Suharto’s] New Order Regime, starting with the purge of suspected communists that marked the regime’s inception. His exploration of the theme started during his studies at the Indonesian Fine Arts Institute in Yogyakarta, when he questioned the need to have a religious class as part of the curriculum.
“The culture of violence from that era still remains until today, as seen in various measures to protect a woman’s honor that are just as likely to repress their bodies. The pervasive sense of repression can also be seen in various facets of life, such as oppressive educational institutions or bureaucratic regulations, acts of violence by one group against another, the hype surrounding elections, and censorship.”
Finding the flip side of repression
Fadhlil insists that the theme of repression is more than just wallowing in self-pity or other negative emotions.
“The notion of repression is meant to remind us not to give in to our fear, anger or anxiety. It also reminds us not repress those feelings and instead wear them on our sleeves,” says the 26-year-old. “Many of those featured in the pieces have no fear of falling. Instead they learn their lessons and move on. In a way, the work addresses our relations with others and ourselves, and how we deal with both.
“For me, the word repress is remarkably close to the term refresh. After all, once we weather hard times things will get better,” Fadhlil adds. A number of his linocuts reflect this stance, among them “Waiting for the Rain” and “After the Rain.” The relief is palpable in the upturned face of the models, as they seem to wait for the rains to cleanse and refresh them. The raindrops falling on their closed eyes is well portrayed by the deeply etched long lines, while the gradation of the cuts into dots on the figures’ chests tellingly indicate the pores of the models’ bodies. Fadhlil’s use of linocuts for the work is exceptionally deft, as its surface lends itself well to the use of shadows and depth, as does the use of thick and thin lines to add perspective. However, the softer, brighter surface of the linocut enhances the sense of cleansing highlighted in the works.
Andre says Fadhlil’s work is effective because of his ability to reach out to his subjects. “When Fadhlil faces his models as he makes gouges or cuts for woodcutting or linocuts, it seems like he is facing himself. His technique is highlighted by intuition, which then guides his hands, mind and senses to shape the model of his craft,” says the Indonesian Fine Arts Institute Yogyakarta lecturer. “Like Van Gogh, [Fadhlil] notes that his doubts dissipate when he’s faced with a model of his work, and that he feels more like himself than at any other time.”
Fadhlil agrees with the observation.
“Graphic print is a still a wide field in Indonesia, and therefore is filled with potential.However, I’d like to keep my integrity in the field by printing the linocuts or woodcut onto paper, instead of just painting or brushing it over paper, like others who practice the craft,” he says. “I would also like to try my hand in other mediums, like mezzotint as well as the reduction form of woodcut prints. Other touches that I’d like to carry out include the use of hand coloring which combines graphic and painting skills, which I was reluctant to try out until now.”
But most of all, Fadhlil hopes that “Repress” will put him on the fast track to his long-term goal of holding more solo exhibitions throughout Indonesia and around the world. But regardless of where Fadhlil’s craft takes him, there’s little doubt that it’ll be something to look forward to.
Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on May 16, 2014