Monthly Archives: November 2017

The Art of Pengosekan Village

Ketut Rudi. 2010                             Birds of Lod Tunduh, 2010  – Ketut Rudi

Balinese traditional art is the art of story telling. Its ancient narratives bring to life tales from the sacred Hindu and Buddhist texts, old Balinese and Javanese folklore, and accounts of daily life. Its purpose is to promote harmony within the community via examples of proper moral conduct.

During the past century indigenous art has been revolutionized via the meeting with Western art techniques and ideas into a ‘new’ genre that became known as Balinese modern traditional art. This art form thrived due to the development of new tourist markets, driven initially by the first wave of foreign visitors in the 1930’s, who after holidaying on Bali wished to purchase a memento to bring home. A distinctive feature of Balinese modern traditional art is the different village styles, or ‘schools’ that evolved over time, each with its own individual creative verve.

Cosmic Circle - Dewa Nyoman Batuan                                    Cosmic Circle – Dewa Nyoman Batuan

Stories from the other side of the canvas – both triumphant and tragic – of the artists and the events behind the art have enriched the ‘aura’ of Balinese modern traditional art while endearing a global audience. This is a tale about the art and some of the characters that have distinguished the art from the village of Pengosekan.

Overshadowed by the more famous styles of Ubud, Batuan and Sanur, Pengosekan, one kilometre south of Ubud, has its own art history, complete with unique figures, and signature styles. The most celebrated of all Pengosekan painters is Gusti Ketut Kobot (1917-1999), accredited as one of the leaders of the post-war changes in Balinese paintings, he was also an influential art teacher. Some of Kobot’s finest works are mythological featuring characters from the religious narratives, while he also responsible for creating the prototypes for the scenes of village life that would be ceaselessly imitated for mass production as tourist art.

Gusti Ketut Kobot, "Triwikrama" 1986, Image couresty of Larasati                                 Triwikrama, 1986  –  Gusti Ketut Kobot

Kobot’s renditions of characters that still today are brought to life in the Wayang Kulit shadow puppet theatre are executed with extraordinary attention to compositional balance. According to the Balinese paintings that achieve perfect visual equilibrium indicate the artist’s excellent skills, and his strong connection with the divine. Brahma on Wilmana, Kobot’s painting of the Hindu god of creation riding the monster headed mythical bird Wilmana, on permanent display at the Neka Art Museum in Sanggingan, Ubud is fine example of his talent.

Structured with outer layers of decorative patterns the central characters appear framed and effortlessly poised, Wilmana wears a magic protective poleng (black and white checkered cloth) around the waist to avert harmful forces, since it has positive white and negative black in balance. Kobot is renowned for such depictions, honing them to the height of refinement. He is acknowledged as one of the masters of the original Ubud artist’s cooperative, the Pita Maha that thrived between 1936-1945, helping establish Balinese modern traditional art.

Gusti Ketut Kobot."Scene from Ramayana Story" 50x70cm                         Scene from the Ramayana story  –  Gusti Ketut Kobot

The inhabitants of Pengosekan were predominantly farmers, tending the agricultural fields surrounding their village. In the process of breaking away from the orthodox subject matter that featured in their paintings, the artists began to look outside of the conventions for new creative inspiration, and started paying more attention to nature.

A signature style developed in Pengosekan during the 1960’s featuring images of local flora and fauna painted in fresh pastel colours. At first the artists focussed on depicting bird life set within beautiful scenarios of forests and trees, others then explored nature close-up, their compositions highlighting an array of insects, often grasshoppers or butterflies rendered in great detail.

Pengosekan Style                              Pengosekan fauna and flora style

One of the finest practitioners of the flora and fauna style is Ketut Rudi who was born in Lotonduh, just south of Pengosekan in 1943. His works were commissioned and collected by the second President of Indonesia, Suharto (1921-2008) and hang in the Presidential State Palaces around the country. Rudi often painted at the State Palace in Tampaksiring, Central Bali, while Suharto was on retreat from the nation’s capital city, Jakarta. To ease his mind Suharto would often sit for hours watching Rudi at work.

Another painter, Ketut Liyer (1924-2016) was a local village priest (pemangku) who painted agricultural scenes and the sacred cloth amulets known as rerajahan. Liyer, who was also a paranormal and ‘healer’, shot to international fame via the Hollywood movie Eat, Pray, Love released in 2010 and starring Julia Roberts. Liyer’s paintings occasionally come up for auction at the twice-yearly Larasati Bali art sales held in Ubud.

Dewa Put Mokoh, 2006, Acrylic on canvas 60x90cm.                                      Dewa Putu Mokoh, 2006

Dewa Nyoman Batuan (1939-2013) was an icon within the world of Balinese art. Painter, entrepreneur and artist community visionary, he was graced with an effervescent personality. Batuan had a dream for his village that manifested into the Pengosekan Community of Artists in 1970.  Through his entrepreneurial endeavor he helped establish international markets for the local paintings and was able to contribute enormously for the well-being of the community of poor farmers, many who became painters to supplement their family income. Batuan’s contribution to the development of Balinese modern traditional art was to fuse traditional narratives within the Buddhist structural icon of the mandala, designing compelling, unique, and highly original works.

His older brother, Dewa Putu Mokoh (1934-2010) broke free from the restraints of Balinese art to introduce personal and intimate visual stories of another side of life that was often quirky, lurid, and even taboo. Simplified forms dominated his compositions, a self trained artist, Mokoh’s works boarded on both the modern and contemporary, simplifying and extending the range of images in Balinese art, especially with his close-up focus on intimate scenes.

I GAK MURNIASIH - SEMBAHYANG 104 - AOC - 170 x 100 cm - 2004                                   Gusti Ayu Kadek Murniasih

Pengosekan became the adopted home for the most important woman artist in Indonesian art history, Gusti Ayu Kadek Murniasih (1966-2006). Murni came from Tabanan, Central Bali to study with Mokoh. She rose from the life as a child of a farmer, poor and uneducated to the ranks of artistic distinction. Her father sexually abused her at the age of nine. Murni’s minimalist figurative/surrealistic style featured powerful coloration while communicating via the language of the sub conscious. Her outsider art is confrontational, daring and even violent, yet always electrifying. Murni’s work broke significant grounds into the social taboos of gender politics and feminism.

 

Words & Images: Richard Horstman

 

 

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the Unsung Museum – highlighting issues challenging Indonesia’s on-going struggle for democracy

A miniture work "They Gave Evidence" by Dadang Christianto, collected by the Unsung Museum. Photo by Wirya Satya AdenatyaA miniature work “They Gave Evidence” by Dadang Christianto, collected by the Unsung Museum. Photo by Wirya Satya Adenatya

 

The Unsung Museum (Museum Tanpa Tanda Jasa) is a landmark, travelling exhibition that is currently crisscrossing the country and features miniature artworks that are big on cultural significance. The exhibition highlights the most important issues challenging Indonesia’s on going struggle for democracy since the nation’s colourful, fledgling journey began. These issues include tolerance of minority groups, along with ethnic, ideologically and religious diversity, and collective harmony.

Taking a series of chronologically banned, destroyed, removed or censored artworks the Unsung Museum displays them in scaled-down miniature versions of the real things. Accompanying these mini-masterpieces are news articles from the time, together with amusing parodied public reactions and news media video installations.

“Art is no stranger to controversy; throughout its history it has presented works that have irked the moral guardians of the day,” said Yogyakarta based curator Grace Samboh, one of many members of the Indonesian contemporary art community who have initiated the Unsung Museum in an event that characterizes the social conscience and synergy of some of the country’s most relevant and motivated artists and activists. “Sometimes to see why an artwork that is deemed controversial, we need to see it from a different perspective, and what better way is there than to see it in miniature.”

An audience member at ROH Projects, Jakarta during the Undsung Museum - Photo Credit: Wirya Satya Adenatya.An audience member at ROH Projects, Jakarta during the Undsung Museum – Photo Credit/ Wirya Satya Adenatya

Beginning September 2016 at Jakarta’s ROH Projects, for 3 weeks the exhibition set out to inform, not only citizens, yet members of the Indonesian art industry, of the relevance of these pressing issues. The exhibition was next showcased in Central Java, at Yogyakarta’s Kedai Kebun Forum from late October running into November, then opening in West Java, at Bandung’s Ruang Gerilya, 15 December until 7 January 2017.

“We are retelling stories of several artworks that were once considered a ‘public nuisance’ during the Reformation Era because of three recurring reasons related to pornography, communism and SARA (ethnic, religion, race and inter-group relations) by three elements of the society (citizens/individuals, mass organizations and government),” Samboh said. “Based on these assumptions, several artworks attracted a variety of problems ranging from threats, restrictions, and even destruction.”

The country with the largest Islamic population on the planet, with Christian, Buddhist and Hindu religious minorities, however, is currently undergoing its most turbulent and disruptive period. The recent 8 May controversy at the Indonesian Islamic University’s Center for Human Rights Studies in Yogyakarta with the banning of paintings and poetry by members of the youth organization Pemuda Pancasila who enforced the closure of artist Andreas Iswinarno’s exhibition, Tribute to Wiji Thukul: Saya Masih Utuh dan Kata-kata Belum Binasa (I’m still complete and words have not yet been destroyed) on suspicion the works contained communism ideas, highlights the urgency of the Unsung Museum.

IMG_5400 Kredit foto Wirya Satya AdenatyaAt ROH Projects, Jakarta during the Undsung Museum – Photo Credit/ Wirya Satya Adenatya

“Bearing in mind a number of concerns about the stability of (ideas within) democracy, as well as democratic behavior in today’s society, our main question is: What does democracy mean to each and every one of us today, as part of the society, as citizens, and as someone who works in the arts?” Samboh said reflecting on the inspiration behind the exhibition. “We have adopted the concept of a mobile museum for the exhibition due to its informative nature and educational aspects, as well as its openness to the public.”

The mini works collected by the Unsung Museum include versions of: ‘Pinkswing Park’, a walled photomontage by Agus Suwage and Davy Linggar, exhibited at the 2005 Jakarta CP Biennale, it was deemed to be blasphemous by Islamic fundamentalists FPI who forced the closure of public access to the work, while demanding prosecution of the artists, and They Gave Evidence exhibited in 2002 in Jakarta by Dadang Christanto, a major ceramic series of standing, naked figures, in their outstretched arms holding the remnants of burnings, drownings, beatings and other human mutilations, victims of oppression, social injustice and political violence.

Also collected are miniatures of a public artwork by Nyoman Nuarta that Islamic organizations protested against stating they were representational of Christian iconography and was consequently dismantled from its site in West Java in 2010. As well, an artwork by Galam Zulkifli that was removed in 2016 from the new Terminal 3 complex at the Soekarno-Hatta airport in Jakarta. Zulkifli’s enormous 200 x 600 cm painting includes iconic figures in the development of the Indonesian nation. Seri Ilusi # The INDONESIA IDEA was taken down in order to avoid a polemic on social media as one of the portraits in the painting featured DN Aidit, the former chairman of the Indonesian Communist Party.

An audience member during the opening of the Unsung Museum at ROH Projects, Jakarta - Photo Credit: Wirya Satya AdenatyaAn audience member during the opening of the Unsung Museum at ROH Projects, Jakarta – Photo Credit/ Wirya Satya Adenatya

“Within conversations surrounding these artworks, the conclusion is often misunderstanding,” Samboh explains. “The arts community considers the dismissal of these artworks were due to some people having misunderstood or failed to understand altogether. In fact, quite often the misunderstandings come not only from those who dismiss these artworks but also from the arts community itself.”

“The Unsung Museum is not an attempt to point out rights and wrongs. In light of democracy, we want to poke people’s awareness on equality of knowledge upon rights and obligations of the various elements in the arts community—within art disciplinary context.”

Along with Samboh the Unsung Museum is initiated by Aliansyah Chaniago, Fajar Abadi RDP, Jim Allen Abel, Julian Abraham ‘Togar’, Maryanto and Tamara Pertamina, while inviting other people, and aspires to continue inviting more people over time. “The Unsung Museum has already received strong public response,” Samboh said. “We are now compiling the feedback, and the topics are being discussed in the hope that we can publish a book on views of our recent democracy through the art publics’ perspective.”

“Our mission is to rekindle discussions about democracy in the Reformation Era with the arts community whilst not closing itself from the involvement of other members of the community.”

An audience member photographs part of the Unsung Museum- Photo by Wirya Satya Adenatya

The Unsung Museum is scheduled to continue in Medan, North Sumatra, and Makassar and Manado in Sulawesi early in 2018.

 

Words: Richard Horstman

Images: Wirya Satya Adenatya