A Look into Indonesian Contemporary Art

Continuing along the theme of Indonesia’s popularity at Art Stage Singapore, I decided to conduct deeper research on the art and other artists from that region. While browsing online, as I am unfortunately currently limited to travel virtually, I came across Gajah Gallery. Established in 1996, strongly focused and dedicated to promoting of Southeast Asian art, the gallery has a particular emphasis on Indonesian contemporary art. Gajah Gallery represents six of the leading Indonesian contemporary artists such as Nyoman Masriadi, Jumaldi Alfi, Yunizar, Rudi Mantofani and many more. The gallery, who had successful sales during the Art Stage Singapore, has also participated in Art 13 and previously Art Stage Singapore fairs. Its current exhibition titled “Abstraction and Refinement: Contemporary Chinese Ink”, occurring between 17th January to 9th February 2014, concerns the uniting of Western abstraction and Chinese calligraphy by transforming visual language to give it a universal significance.

Indonesian contemporary art has had interesting  developments and consists of many  artistic streams. In the 20th century, Indonesian art was predominantly influenced by politics. Many Indonesian artists were political activists (part of the New Art Movement) and have constantly represented politics into their art to oppose it through irony and satire. Back then, the role of the artist was clear. However, by the 21st century, new themes emerged  alongside political art such as religion, ethnic identity and economy, which are defining today’s Indonesia’s contemporary art. Furthermore, according Sydney-based researcher Adrian Vickers, we can characterised Indonesian art based on different streams. First off, Indonesian art can be local and traditional. This trend is originally from Bali and Ubud, inspired by local traditions such as Wayang painting. Indonesian art is also defined as abstract. Bandung and Yogyakarta are notable for their abstract art, and both of these two schools have made Indonesia’s art scene vibrant. Finally, Indonesian art is shifting into “decorative” art. In other words, it is now becoming commercial (possessing more vibrant colours and larger canvases) due to lack of governmental support. These variety of trends have emerged since there are apparently no collection frame within Indonesia’s art history. Consequently, different techniques and visions have appeared, leading to different streams.

To illustrate these trends, here are three Indonesian contemporary artists, all represented by Gajah Gallery, to watch out for:

Putu Sutawijaya

Putu Sutawijaya, born in 1971 in Bali, currently lives and works in Yogyakarta and Bali. Seemingly, quoting Gajah Gallery, he is “one of the most important young artists  to watch out for.” The artist has been awarded with best sketch and watercolour in Yogyakarta in 1991 and received the Philip Morris Indonesian Art Award for Top 10 Best Artist in 1999. In 2007, his painting “Looking for Wings” (2002) sold for US$60,000 at Sotheby’s.

Silent Temple of Plaosan, 2013, Mixed Media on canvas, 200x150cm. From:

Silent Temple of Plaosan, 2013, Mixed Media on canvas, 200x150cm. From:

While aiming to capture the essence of Balinese religion and tribal rituals, his art works are described as “explosive yet contemplative” owing to the influence of Chinese calligraphy, along with acrylic paint for a softer and smoother touch to the piece. These two mediums create a  harmony in colour and texture, thus balancing “order and chaos”. It appears to be a contemporary twist on traditional Chinese ink painting, giving this already popular medium a new edge, which in turn gives this artist an innovative appeal.

Silent Temple of Jabung, 2013, Mixed Media on canvas, 180x250cm. From:

Silent Temple of Jabung, 2013, Mixed Media on canvas, 180x250cm. From:

Pangdima Kesetiaan (Commander of Allegiance), 2013, Acrylic on canvas, 180x150cm. From:

Pangdima Kesetiaan (Commander of Allegiance), 2013, Acrylic on canvas, 180x150cm. From:

His previous body of works focused primarily on the human form through sculpture and installation. For Sutawijiya, the human body is a vital vessel of expressive form and of the spirit. Accordingly, the artist believes in the importance of understanding body language in order to comprehend who we are. Consequently, the artist creates beautiful gestural sculptures with detailed movements and mannerisms of the human body. He declares in an interview that his everyday life inspires each of his sculptures’ movements and are “emotions from his heart”.

To view a wider scope of the artist’s older works, please visit IndoArtNow, which also possesses an extensive list of other interesting Indonesian artists.

I Made Djirna

I Made Djirna is from Bali and is one of Indonesia’s most recognised artists. He has participated in various exhibitions such as in Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, Canada and the United States. Made Djirna has a fascination for Balinese myths, the powerful portrayal of good and evil spirits as well as the turmoil of the human soul.

“My concern is to express reflections that go far deeper than what we can know with our own pancra indra (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin).”

His current work is vibrant and colourful, compared to his earlier work which were composed of darker colours such as dark brown and black. These earlier works depicted more figurative and abstract works, revealing darker emotions of the human experience. What is more, the artist has had an interesting artistic development, since in the 1980/1990s Made Djirna was mostly influenced by memory of his childhood from his time in Ubud.

Face Markings, 2008,  Mixed media on canvas 200 x 140 cm. From:

Face Markings, 2008,
Mixed media on canvas 200 x 140 cm. From:

Faces 2, 2008 Mixed media on canvas 60x80cm. From:

Faces 2, 2008
Mixed media on canvas 60x80cm. From:

Subsequently, since the year 2000, his art work has become more “decorative” , which according to critics is a sign of growth of his mind and of his perspective. Yet, could this also be a sign of him following the stream of commercialisation? His current work does indeed present brighter colours and depicts various themes such as the portrayal of social criticism of Indonesia and reflections on village life and human relationships.

Still, in all fairness, his current art work does possess more life and vibrancy, as well as portraying strong narrative in the way certain characters are positioned or the way the colours are arranged onto the canvas. Additionally, many of his paintings suggest strong symbolism with the use of specific deities or characters and colours. For instance, in “Halloween”, the bodies are drawn in a way that surrounds the painting, almost in a circle/cyclic movement, possibly presenting a chronological storyline. These mixed media canvases are realised through, firstly, the application of a thick base of texture to score his vast narratives. Secondly, the artist adds colour in rich metallic paint; and finally, he contains his characters within black lines. This style is reminiscent of traditional Balinese paintings with the narrative covering the complete expanse of the canvas.

Halloween, 2013, Mixed Media on canvas, 280x180cm. From:

Halloween, 2013, Mixed Media on canvas, 280x180cm. From:

Sakti, 2012, Mixed Media on canvas, 280x180cm. From:

Sakti, 2012, Mixed Media on canvas, 280x180cm. From: 

Made Dijirna’s work has been described as intimate, honest and possesses profound authenticity owing to this personal process he carries out while learning the dualities of life.

Made Widya Diputra

Made Widya Diputra (aka Lampung), born in 1981, is a member of Sanggar Dewata Indonesia and is part of the new group of young Balinese artists. The artist won the award for Best Sculpture at Dies Natalis XXII Indonesia Art Institute in Yogyakarta and is following the footsteps of his well-known contemporaries such as Made Djirna (see above) and Nyoman Masriadi.

He responds to the changing nature of today’s contemporary art, while still keeping ties with traditional Balinese roots. Some of his work are depictions of Balinese tradition or comments on Indonesia’s socio-political issues.

He is renowned for his use of a variety of materials and possesses the capacity to embrace space establishing its environment as part of the artwork.

Solitude, 2013, Resin, Silicone, Leaher, Mirror, 200x110cm. From:

Solitude, 2013, Resin, Silicone, Leaher, Mirror, 200x110cm. From:

Abandonned, 2013, Resin, Silicone, Leather, 205x52cm. From:

Abandonned, 2013, Resin, Silicone, Leather, 205x52cm. From:

Widya Diputra is slowly moving away from the 3D spectrum and experimenting into the two-dimensional. The artist’s recent two-dimensional work appeals to me more, such as his oil painting portrait “Diam”, compared to his installations (possibly explained by my strong affinity for portraits). His technique with oil painting creates a rough texture, yet still drawn with intricate detail of the portrait’s skin, rendering it almost three-dimensional; consequently creating eye-catching work, drawing the viewer in. I hope to see much more of this style of work from him.

Diam, 2013, Oil on canvas, 160x210cm. From:

Diam, 2013, Oil on canvas, 160x210cm. From:


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