In the media we often hear about the plight of West Papua and its people striving for independence from the Indonesian occupation, its wealth of mineral resources, or deforestation that is threatening indigenous cultures. Modern and contemporary artists from this region, however rarely gain exposure. One Heart, an exhibition by the Sureal Art Group, open at the Karja Art Space in Ubud on 12 November features four artists from different parts of the archipelago, including West Papua, exhibiting side by side.
“The name the “Sureal Art Group” is an amalgamation of letters from each of the artists names,” explains exhibition organizer and charismatic West Papuan artist Ellya Alexander Tebay. “It’s also derived from two words – sure and real – that underline our philosophy. If you wish to make something real – you must be sure.” One Heart features paintings by Balinese artist Gede Suryawan, female painter from East Java Suryani, Editya Lau from Timor along with Tebay.
“One Heart is an perfect theme for this exhibition,” Tebay continues. “It emphasizes the attributes that bind our group together, and the values that make us who we are. Humanity is one big family and we all share experiences, feelings and emotions. We are inseparable and together we embody one love and one heart. Art has a unique power that can unite people. I believe artists have a special gift to share.” The artist’s narratives and themes in the exhibition tell of their identities and values, their passions and concerns, along the power of the imagination – stories that are dear to the artist’s hearts. “It is our wish to inspire our audience and make them reflect on their own lives and values. I represent the West Papuan people, and I wish to communicate a message for global peace.”
“Social media has been the vital key to the Sureal Art Group,” Tebay adds. “It has enabled us to communicate over time, across vast distances.” Tebay first met Gede Suryawan 1997 in Bali at art school. Then Editya Lau at the Indonesian Art Institute (ISI) in Depasar in 2001, where Tebay studied art for 6 years, along with Suryawan and Lau. He met Suryani through Facebook, yet his first meeting in person was during the preparations for this exhibition. Renowned Balinese abstract artist Wayan Karja, owner of Karja Art Space, which opened in 2000 as a multi purpose facility available to the public, yet with an emphasis on supporting young artists, has been influential upon these three male artists as an art lecturer and administrator at ISI Denpasar.
Suryawan, (b. Ubud 1983) exhibits four paintings, all featuring animals as the subject, yet with cultural references. In “Starling in Green” he depicts the famous white Bali Starling, Bali’s regional mascot, yet due to its value on the black market has become critically endangered. At a glance his works appear like a mosaic of shapes arranged together, similar to a batik design, pulsating with colour and life. Closer inspection however, reveals his works are a combination of Balinese traditional painting techniques, along with his own modern ideas.
Self taught painter Suryani (b. 1974 Banyuwangi, East Java) became inspired to learn painting in 2007. She divides her compositions into an arrangement of squares and rectangles into which she applies oil and acrylic paints. Each correlating segment contains variations in colour tonality and hues, being either vibrant or restrained. Her themes are feminine, with titles such as “Fall in Love” and “Mother & Daughter”. “Perfect with Sampoerna”, however features a man and woman both enjoying a cigarette, and underlines how for many, smoking is an essential and pleasurable part of life. In the hand of the woman she has attached the front of a Sampoerna cigarette box.
The paintings of Editya Lau (b. 1979, Kupang, Timor) reveal an artist with strong technical ability and ideas who combines the styles of both realism and abstract expression within his compositions. This combination highlights the faces of the subjects, young girls, however in “Penantian” (Waiting) & “Salam” (Greetings) provides added contrast and visual tension. Lau’s gift is to translate his sensitivity into the eyes of the subjects. This essence then mysteriously reaches out from the canvas and captures our attention – the eyes are the window of the soul. Even though this is only Lau’s second exhibition his works communicate a powerful sense of humanity.
Born in Nabire, West Papua in 1979, Tebay is also an excellent technician and communicator of strong ideas. The sweet potato is the staple food of his people and one of the main subjects in his main subjects in his paintings. The plant and vegetable he renders in realistic imagery that then transforms into colourful surreal, even abstract organic forms that weave and flow through his compositions. Perhaps Tebay’s strongest work, “To Grab the Star”, is designed to inspire his audience, the artist says, encouraging them to dream and think big. He depicts the smiling face of his younger brother, his thoughts appear to flow up and out of his head in colourful abstract verve, while suggesting a strange science fiction like alien form.
In the constantly evolving art landscape of Ubud, the cultural and artistic heartland of Bali, now more than ever artist owned and run creative spaces are making a telling impact. They serve as creative spaces for workshops, discussions and exhibitions, artist in residency programs and internships, even hubs for art management. They are one of the major drivers behind the development of contemporary art. With the closure of one prominent fine art gallery in the area and others being less active, while having agendas that are highly selective, opportunities for most artists to present their work are increasingly difficult. In the past few years new art spaces have opened in Ubud, Cata Odata and Kupu Kupu being the most active, while the Sika Contemporary Art Gallery and Karja Art Space play important roles. Without the presence of such venues talented, yet unknown artists, such as Tebay and Lau are without the essential platforms to share their ‘voice’ with the greater community, while attracting the media attention they rightly deserve.
Continues through to 28 November at the Karja Art Space
Banjar Penestanan Kaja, Ubud, Bali. Tel: 0361 977810