Social Criticism in Indonesian Contemporary Art

November 15, 2009

By Winarto

In last three months there were some visual art exhibitions in Indonesia with the themes of social criticism. Two of them were so interesting. They were visual art exhibition entitled “Rai Gedhek” which has been held in several cities at stretch such as Yogyakarta, Jakarta, Malang, and Surabaya, in June-August 2009, and the exhibition entitled “Petruk Nagih Janji”  in Yogyakarta and Solo, in August-October 2009.

The two exhibitions have similar themes and goals. These events were held to criticize the social political situation in Indonesia, especially in post General Election for Parliament and President in April and July 2009. As we know that the end of Election is to get qualified leaders through democratic ways. In fact, there were many kind of problems in process of the Election, especially related to the data of voters which were in a mess. This problem brought about public protests because there were a lot of citizens not to be registered for voting.

Undercover #2 by Nurkholis

Undercover #2 by Nurkholis

Another problem was related to the quality of  most candidates for Parliament members proposed by the Political Parties.  Public viewed that the quality of most candidates were not so good. Some Parties just looked for the popularities with proposed popular figures such as television film artists. Public also viewed the most political elites fighting for seats in Parliament or Governmental positions without thinking about public interests. The disappointment of publics could be seen from the number of voters who decided not to vote in the Election. They called themselves   as “Golput” (White Group) which were up to 40 percents of the all voters.

“Rai Gedhek”

These two visual art exhibitions tried to photograph the public disappointment on political condition in Indonesia generally and political elites partly. The first exhibition entitled “Rai Gedhek”  (“the plaited bamboo face”)  referred to shameless persons. Based on this theme the artists in this exhibition criticized to most political elites that do whatever for getting the power positions. There is no word ‘shy’ for politicians to break their commitment. It is easy for them to change their political orientation or coalition without care about their constituents voices.

"Tired", a statue, by Agapetus Kristiandana

"Tired", a statue, by Agapetus Kristiandana

There were about 30 artists presenting their works in this event. Some of them were Adi Gunawan, Agapetus Kristiandana, Bambang Heras, Djoko Pekik, Entang Wiharso, Ipong Purnamasidhi, I Wayan Kun Adnyana, Nasirun, Teguh Ostentrik, Nurkholis, and Yuswantoro Adi.

Some interesting works were “Undercover #2” by Nurkholis, “Republik Mabuk 2” (“The Drunken Republic“) by Ipong Purnamasidhi, and “Lelah” (“Tired“) by Agapetus Kristandana. Also the work of Nasirun entitled “Rai Gedhek” (“The Plaited Bamboo Face”).

Undercover #2 by Nurkholis showed two figures with mask of humans, but they were in fact just animals. Clearly this work wanted to tell about the hypocrisy. Ipong’s work of “The Drunken Republic” showed a figure like as a clown with a drinking bottle. This associated to political elites in this country which has been crazy about powers to get the richness for themselves. The “Tired” worked by Agapetus Kritandana was a statue made from aluminum. This statue was an animal head human lying down on the floor with a bottle of alcohol drinking.

“Petruk Nagih Janji”

The second exhibition entitled “Petruk Nagih Janji”  has similar theme with the first. Petruk is one figure in traditional performance art “Wayang” that represent the ordinary people. “Petruk Nagih Janji” means Petruk as representation of the people demand fulfillment of  promises from political elites as they conveyed in their campaign in General Election previously. This event involved 20 visual art artists such as Andre Tanama, Bony Setiawan, Felix S Wanto, GM Sudharta, Heri Dono, and Nasirun.

"Petruk Tapa Bisu" by GM Sidharta

"Petruk Tapa Bisu" by GM Sidharta

The painting worked by Heri Dono entitled “Kampanye Partai Binatang” (The Campaign of Animal Party) showed Petruk with an animal body was campaigning in front of tens of dogs. Cartoonist GM Sudharta with his work “Petruk Tapa Bisu” (“Petruk lives as an ascetic with dumb action”) drew Petruk with some animals at around. His mouth was muzzled. This painting showed the people weakness and hopeless facing the power elites.

When trying to be social criticism the art works often fall in vulgarities and tend to ignore aesthetical aspects. In my opinion the works presented in these two exhibitions did not follow the tendency of vulgarities. In fact there were some works I didn’t like enough. But it was not because of the vulgarities. Rather, it caused by the differences of perceptions about “the aesthetical” between I am as a viewer with the artists. Sure, it was normal thing. However, in general these two exhibitions has been smart medium for social criticism through art works.

See other articles on art exhibition:

Exhibition of Kompas Short Story IllustrationThe Revival of Traditional Balinese PaintingSyncretism of Java – Islam in Contemporary ArtAgus Suwage is stilll Crazy


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