Reaching Out to Humanity Through Art That Touches


“Terbang Merdekalah” by Yani Mariani Sastranegara

The boys jostle for a grip on the pole as they try to climb to the top. Under them, a number of their peers stand at the base of the pole, lending their shoulders to help the climbers reach their goal in this depiction by Indonesian artist Afriani of the traditional Indonesian pastime of panjat pinang, or pole climbing.

Aptly named “Team Work,” the 40-year-old’s take on this annual Independence Day spectacle and its characteristics of togetherness and helping out is set next to “ Pulang Kampung ” (“Coming Home”) and the somewhat more ominous “ Mulai Terdesak ” or (“Getting Desperate”). Afriyani’s idyllic depictions of life, as well as the feelings of serenity and well-being that they engender, strike a chord in the exhibition “ Bakti Seni Untuk Kemanusiaan ” (“Art For Humanity”).

Held at the Taman Ismail Marzuki cultural center in Central Jakarta, the event highlights the works of 18 artists and is sponsored by the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI). Curator Vukar Lodak says it represents a departure in depicting art.

“Previously, art was shown for its own sake before its emphasis was changed into art for the people,” he says. “Now we seek to create art that goes beyond the aforesaid purposes, artwork that aims to maintain life and highlight humanity.”

Vukar adds that the proceeds from the exhibition will go toward funding PMI programs to care for needy, elderly people throughout Indonesia. He points out that Indonesia ranks 71st out of 91 countries when it comes to caring for this population group.

“Out of more than three million needy elderly, the state only manages to care for 26,000, which is a mere 0.2 percent of their number,” he says.

Yani Mariani Sastranegara epitomize Vukar’s message with her sculpture “On the Twilight Wind.” The poly resin and tin structure’s streamlined shape conveys the idea of being free to roam and find one’s destiny, as well as going into the unknown with confidence and an upbeat outlook.

Yani, a graduate of the Jakarta Institute of Arts, also has a metalwork sculpture featured at the exhibition, titled “ Terbang Merdekalah ” (“Fly Free”), and made on similar lines. Perched on a pedestal, the hybrid human and bird seems set to take to the skies on its unfurled wings, as if to let its spirit take flight to transcend humanity and its problems or issues. Set against fellow artist Marsani’s paintings “ Tari Kecak ” (“Kecak Dance”), “ Anak Nelayan ” (“Fishermen’s Child”) and “ Gembala ” (“Shepherd”), the individuality of the former make an interesting contrast to the latter’s emphasis on teamwork. However, the dynamism that they share makes for worthwhile common ground.


“Beban” by A. Firmansyah

Yani’s futuristic take is balanced by fellow sculptor A. Firmansyah’s more primal work “Beban” or “Burden.” Made from the wood of the jackfruit tree, the totemic sculpture shares the streamlined contours of “On the Twilight Wind” and “Terbang Merdekalah.” But the 36-year-old takes a different touch, as his aerodynamic element evokes that of a leaf or twig blowing in the wind.

“Objects and incidents are my silent notes,” says Firmansyah about his sculptures, which he only started making in 2011 after working in theater for more than a decade. “That’s why I opted to make my sculptures from bamboo and wood.”

Like his theater work, “Beban” can only be said to be poetry in motion, while its woodwork harks to its organic roots.

Aceh-born Wahyu Oesman takes on a similar idea of poetry through his works “Exodus” and “Kuala Lamthoung.” The moon figures prominently in the paintings and captures the viewer’s attention, whether it be as a larger-than-life element lighting the commuter’s way home in “Exodus” or illuminating dark waters in “Kuala Lamthoung.” But Wahyu isn’t blind to the effects of urban pressures as shown in his paintings “ Sudut Kota ” (“City Corners”) and the more whimsical “Underwater City.” “Sudut Kota’s” realistic portrayal of city life belies the pressures that traffic, overpopulation and other urban realities inflict on the psyche, as the vehicles seem to give no room or space for individuals. On one hand, “Underwater City” is perhaps Wahyu’s take on the grim prediction that parts of Jakarta will sink by 2030. On the other hand, the work could aptly describe how the plethora of vehicles will swamp Jakarta and the psyche of its people.

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on June 27, 2014

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