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June 13, 2011 6:25 pm

Indonesian Eye: Fantasies & Realities, Ciptura Artpreneur Center, Jakarta

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 Food for thought: Angki Purbandono’s ‘The Golden Dragon’

The din of rush-hour traffic on Jakarta’s choked streets is inaudible in the air-conditioned room but the chaos and buzz of modern-day Indonesia has penetrated a collection of paintings, sculptures, photos and installations soon to be displayed abroad for the first time.

Indonesian Eye is a collection of 41 works by 18, mostly young or
up-and-coming artists in the emerging south-east Asian democracy of 240m people. It opened in the Indonesian capital last week and in August will move to London’s Saatchi Gallery, which sponsored the show with insurer Prudential. Like the same gallery’s ongoing Korean Eye series, the aim is to promote artists in emerging Asia.

The work in Jakarta has been gathered from the far reaches of the archipelago and offers a wide sample of voices and styles, from abstract spray-paintings made in Yogyakarta, the Islamic cultural centre of Java, to traditional village scenes in oil paintings from Hindu Bali.

“Indonesia was chosen because it has such a dynamic, vibrant art scene, one of the most vibrant in south-east Asia,” Nigel Hurst, Saatchi Gallery’s chief executive, said at a preview of the artworks. “It reflects a society that is really very diverse.”

Many of the artists use modern techniques such as digital alteration of comic images, advertising or mass media to make an often harsh critique of life amid the messy transition to democracy since the fall of the late dictator Suharto. His departure in 1998 opened the way for freedom of expression after 32 years of authoritarianism.

“It blends these new influences with [traditional] elements, which have more of a history and culture, without actually letting those go, like wayang shadow play, batik Islamic dress and the history of Dutch colonisation,” Hurst said.

One example of this hybrid technique is a piece by Mella Jaarsma, a Dutch national who has lived in Indonesia for nearly three decades. Her five “macho burkas”, as she calls them, are a series of gowns for men, modelled after the conservative Muslim dress but stitched together with advertisements for male fertility drinks.

“Lots of men use the drinks but sex is still a taboo subject, so they don’t talk about it,” she says. “Companies still find ways to sell it with very subtle hints of sexuality in their advertising.”

Her husband, Indonesian artist Nindityo Adipurnomo, is displaying a giant old-fashioned Javanese hairpiece, an accessory associated with the wealthy. Crafted out of rattan, it wobbles on motorised springs, drawing laughs from viewers by poking fun at the elite.

“It’s a new statement about contemporary art in Indonesia,” says Angki Purbandono, whose photographs were selected out of work submitted by more than 400 artists. “We have more to offer than just the past. We are unmanageable and uncontrolled but there is now some order in the chaos.”

Angki’s photos capture “plastic culture”. His favourite is a series of yellow and red toy dragons riding through a tangle of instant noodles called “Noodle Theory”. Another is of a row of brightly coloured and worn-out toothbrushes collected from friends, which has been blown up and framed in an aluminium box.

Deeper issues of domestic violence and poverty, politically sensitive subjects, are taken on by Agung Mangu Putra, whose beautiful and finely detailed oils on canvas are meant to “remove romanticised perceptions of rural life”.

“One side of traditional life is good, but there is a dark side too,” he says, describing a portrait of his neighbour, with a scar under her eye inflicted by a violent husband with farm tools. “It reflects a reality countering the image of a rising, prosperous Indonesia.”

Ends July 10. The show will be at the Saatchi Gallery from August 27 to October 9

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