Indonesia: Background Information
The capital of Indonesia is Jakarta which is on the island Java. The archipelago is comprised of over 17, 000 islands with a population of over 238 million. Indonesia is the largest Islamic nation in the world, although there are other religious populations in the country, such as on the island of Bali, which is predominantly Hindu. After centuries of colonization, the Dutch finally recognized Indonesia’s independence in 1949. Decades of political turmoil ensued, such as the failed communist coup in 1965, after which an army general Suharto established himself president. His political party remained dominant while regular elections maintained the appearance of a national democracy for 32 years. In 1997, Southeast Asia suffered a severe economic crisis and Indonesia’s economy was on the brink of bankruptcy. Suharto resigned in 1998 and put his protégée in power who freed the press from government supervision, which is noted as the first step towards real democracy. Although Indonesia is the largest Islamic nation in the world, other religions are present such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity, which creates great conflict within the country. Indonesia’s culture wars played a role in the 2002 bombing of a popular tourist spot in Bali that stunted tourism for in the years following.
Indonesia has participated in the Venice Biennale since 2003, though this is the first year that their pavilion is located in the Arsenale, and the first time the theme is taken from Indonesian cultural heritage.
Art in the Indonesia Pavilion The curators for this years pavilion are Carla Bianpoen and Rifky Effendy. The theme for this year’s pavilion is “sakti.” Sakti derives from the Hindu belief in shakti. Sakti in Indonesian denotes various meanings, associated with achieving something beyond human ability. In a quote from the curators sakti is, “The traditional divine embodiment of creative power: gentle yet invincible, an agent of change and regeneration, and of cosmic justice, sakti is also multi-faceted while at the same time it is a singular essence of truth. As energy it can be conceived as a creative principle, something like ‘the other’ power.” All five artists chosen to exhibit work in the pavilion created new instillation pieces. Albert Yonathan’s piece, Cosmic Labyrinth: The Silent Path, is made of 1, 200 ceramic stupas and is meant as a spiritual meditation in order to find enlightenment through transformative energy, which he believes is the power of sakti. Sri Astari’s work Pendopo: Dancing the Wild Seas, uses the pendopo, a fundamental element of Javanese architecture as a metaphor for the soul, saying to find ones identity, one has to look intrinsically to find the power that is believed to be present within. Eko Nugroho’s piece, Menghasut Badai-Badai, (Instigating Storms) is a bamboo raft that uses ironic figures to refer to the ability of the country to survive amidst overwhelming political, social, and religious challenges. Entang Wiharso’s piece, The Indonesian, No Time to Hide, features a large gate referencing the ancient Borobudur temple, but depicts contemporary life. The sculptures around the table have distorted faces of the country’s presidents, which refers to perception versus reality- how negative notions of the country are countered by the inner strength of its citizens, a feat of sakti. Titarbui’s work, The Shadow of Surrender, features school benches made from burnt wood with thick open books placed on them- a metaphor for education and the length of time and perseverance needed to acquire it. The charcoal drawing of burnt in ashen tress references the cycle of life, death and regeneration.
Success of Pavilion This year’s pavilion was a big step from Indonesia, occupying a space in the Arsenale. This year’s pavilion has a very cultural and politically charged theme, as the artists use sakti to talk about Indonesia’s cultural and political history and issues. The artists at this year’s Biennale were chosen by the Vice Minister in Tourism and Creative Economy of Indonesia and a board of advisors. This selection process played a role in the presence of only instillation art in the pavilion, that used in some cases traditional themes or practices, as the aim was to not only create politically charged art, but boost the interest and creative economy of Indonesia. The curators describe the goal of the pavilion as, “The encounter between global forces and the existing culture has resulted in the sort of contemporary art that bears its own authentic and unique characteristics. Therefore, out main objective is to showcase a substantially alternative art practice amidst other international pavilions at the Venice Biennale.” Assessing the pavilion with regards to the curators’ goal, the Indonesia pavilion was a success. By creating instillation art that transformed a space to resemble the country, the pavilion was able to cry out against the injustices and difficulties present in Indonesia’s past while still being able to express immense pride in the country and creating visually intriguing work. The pavilion created an environment completely different than the rest of the work in the Biennale.
Albert Yonathan was born in 1985 and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Ceramic Studio at the Faculty of Art and Design at the Bandung Institute of Technology in 2007. He also received his Masters in the Visual Arts program from the Bandung Institute of Technology in 2012. He is now pursuing further studies in Ceramic Art at Seika University in Kyoto, Japan. Sri Astari was born in 1953 and studied painting at the University of Minnesota and at the Royal College of Art in London. She now explores sculpture and instillation art and re-reading Javanese traditions, symbols, and values. Eko Nugroho was born in 1977 and studied painting at the Indonesian Art Institute in Yogyakarta, Java. His work combines traditional craft practices with themes of local tradition and global pop culture. Entang Wiharso was born in 1967 and received his Bachelor of Art, specifically painting, from the Indonesian Art Institute in Yogyakarta, Java. He works in painting and sculpture, using bronze, graphite, and aluminum in his art. He is inspired by Javanese myths and legends and popular iconography. Titarubi was born in 1968 in Bandung, Indonesia and received her Bachelor degree from the Ceramic Studio at the Bandung Institute of Technology. She now also works in many mediums such as sculpture, installations, performance art, happening art, painting, graphics and more. Her work usually focuses on issues such as body, identity, gender, memory and colonialism. She currently lives and works in Yogyakarta, Java. Her works have been exhibited all over the world. In addition to creating politically or socially motivated work, she is very active in many Indonesian organizations that deal with these social and political issues.