» Arts & Culture

Reclaiming through art

Melani Setiawan

Publication Date : 20-04-2012


When Melani Setiawan, a central figure in the Indonesian art world, revealed her plan for the publication of her personal “archives”, featuring herself with artists over three decades, she challenged over 60 artists to respond with works based on their personal memories and archives.

The result is a staggering exhibition at Jakarta’s National Gallery (Galnas) titled "RE-CLAIM", which runs until April 20, 2012.

The main entry hall of Galnas gives a taste of what the 3 to 4-volume book of pictures by Melani will contain. Hundreds of images on TV screens and covering what looks like the earth by Indra Leonardi reflects how Melani’s world turns around the artist’s world.

Inside Galnas, other artists weave their personal with the universal in works that remind one of issues that tend to be forgotten in the course of time.

Sri Astari’s installation is simple but digs deep into human life as she transforms the memory of evil into the benevolence of today.

An Apple a Day Keeps Evil Away is the title of Sri Astari’s installation featuring a veiled lady dressed in a lace blouse with a batik skirt holding an inviting red apple.

She stands on ground that is covered with withered leaves where — spread randomly — are apples in different colours marked by inscriptions of all the virtues that make a good person (justice, love, compassion, etc.).

Merging her personal story with history, Astari’s female figure in batik strangely evokes Eve, who, in her younger years, had with youthful and adventurous curiosity bitten into the forbidden apple. Astari melds that with the present when she has matured and transformed into a woman of great wisdom.

Entang Wiharso’s work titled Borderless features a 300x500x1500 cm installation of his family standing on what could be perceived as a stage but in fact is formed from the island of Java as we often see it on the map.

The figures of the couple standing on the island are made in realistic style, appearing like peaceful images in the tropical landscape.

In contrast, the images of their children are different; one is lying on the floor, the other appears as a surreal creature with an elongated, somewhat cramped neck, denoting a complex mix of memory in which frictions of identity and discrimination, of cross-cultural love and intimacy intertwine with visions in which past, present and future flow into each other.

Lighter and easier to understand are the works by Galam Zulkifly, who, in his archival video of his artistic practice, shows the amazing process of how he achieves his painting of a woman from Papua by using his left and right hand at the same time.

In another work, Galam Zulkifli places a flat-screen TV with a cropped video of the woman’s mouth blocking the painted mouth. Here Galam uses the memory of this person who speaks in Indonesian about the autobiographical details of her life.

Some artists have not made new works but are showing their personal archives that have been kept in the cellars of their homes. Melati Suryodarmo, for instance, who is known for her long durational performances, shows paintings on paper that have all this time been sitting in her cellar.

Going down memory lane apparently gave the artists new and refreshing impulses. Arief Tousiga, for example, showed creative thinking when he decided to pulverise material he had used in the past.

He then filled glass flasks with that material and arranged them neatly in a rack. My Plastic Debris may be the turning point in Arief’s artistic practice.

Krisna Murti comes with a refreshing idea, crafting a composite portrait of Melani Setiawan from materials acquired from the Internet. What makes this work interesting is that Melani is not a Facebook person, but apparently she has been talked about extensively on social media. A video shows Melani’s face with people’s statements about her running over her.

AC Andre Tanamal surprises with a small teak box locked with a padlock. It contains what he calls the stories of the past that he will revisit at times when he needs them.

It comes with a thoughtful quote: “The past will be real only if you make it real. It has passed, the only that remains is memory, and if you do not frame the memory beautifully you probably will drown in a black hole of life that has gone by.”

These are just a few examples of the amazing works evoked by Melani’s exhibition. Surely her 3 to 4 -volume book of commented photographs to be launched in September 2012 will surprise with even greater revelations.

Re-Claim, an exhibition of 65 works by artists from Bali, Bandung, Jakarta, Surabaya, will be in the Galeri Nasional Indonesia Jl. Medan Merdeka Timur 14 in Jakarta until April 20.


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