If you read the last Urban Chat you’d know that I’d been ordered by my Pilates instructor to take a vacation, and that I finally went for a 4-day leisure trip to Bandung. Even as I lounged around Bandung I was already thinking of Yogyakarta, an endearing city I hadn’t visited in a while. From some friends I learned that the bustling Yogya art scene was apparently busier than usual. So off I went again.
And what an indulging art therapy last weekend was.
Festival Kesenian Yogyakarta closed its curtains on Friday night, giving way to contemporary art fair ArtJog to open theirs the following evening. I was lucky to obtain a pass to ArtJog’s pre-opening private viewing on Friday afternoon. Thanks to the inherent Jakartan habit of factoring bad traffic into city commute, I actually arrived very early and hence, was able to watch some artists gearing up for the opening while foreign collectors quietly perusing the catalog.
A group of workers helped Pintor Sirait etching stainless steel sheets to construct a pair of gigantic feet, his homage to the pioneers who landed and walked on our vast islands. Society-dame-turned-artist Sri Astari arrived huffing and puffing, tossed her black Chanel handbag before getting on her Lycra-clad knees to finish her installation, a kebaya-clad Betty Boop cheekily floating above an old seaport.
ArtJog’s picked “Maritime Culture” as its theme this year, illustrated well from the commission work, special presentation to displayed arts of accomplished and emerging artists.
Papermoon Puppet Theatre’s Iwan Effendi’s commissioned work of marvelous, wooden merry-go-round of mythical figures who roamed Nusantara seas centuries ago marked the opening that was officiated by, of all people, Coordinating Minister of Econ, Finance & Industry Hatta Rajasa. We all stood cheering as the carousel was lighted up and wheeling, and I kicked myself for realizing that I wouldn’t be able to watch Iwan’s wife Ria Papermoon wheeling it to stage her puppet theatre this coming weekend.
I took immediate liking to the depictions of sea creatures by Augustine T Wahyuningsih and Amaury Breteau, in calico dolls and resin on MDF respectively, and would’ve purchased them if only I had large enough walls to properly display them (oh, the woes of apartment living!). David Omega’s Archimedes-inspired multimedia installation managed to be both studied and cheeky, impressions I actually got from the artist himself from chatting him up for two days.
Melati Suryodarmo’s haunting portrayal of a fisherman sorely missing his wife while at sea, enhanced by Ma Cammana’s languid chant, punched something in me that was hard to shake off, just as Krisna Murti’s edgy tale of Indonesian fishermen’s caught by Australian sea patrols without Indonesian navy on their side. There were other great works at ArtJog that would merit proper art reviews, which I’m unskilled for, to put spotlights upon them.
Plenty of exhibitions were also orchestrated around ArtJog’s timing. At the pre-opening I befriended some art journalists, who later got invited by celebrated Yogya artist Nasirun to attend Made Djirna’s solo exhibition opening in Sangkring, and I decided to tag along. We arrived quite early, thus managed to talk lengthily with both artist and curator. Curated well by Wayan Kun Adnyana, Made Djirna pointedly questioned the logic behind the continuing usage of Chinese golden coins in banten (= daily offering).
Originally, precious Chinese golden coins were included in banten to symbolize natural resources and wealth, as such to offer the very best for the gods. Yet that logic is lost over time, and today’s generation only knows that the presence of such coins is mandated and hence, since the real vintage coins are all gone, resort to cheap metal fakes which will be thoughtlessly discarded the day after—the way I saw it, a continued mandate as hollow as the hole in the center of those coins.
The last dose of my Yogya art therapy, but absolutely not least, was FX Harsono’s solo exhibition in Jogja National Museum about the untold 1947-48 massacres of Chinese descendants by various Indonesian independence troops in Java (a reference made in Usmar Ismail’s 1954 movie Lewat Djam Malam, as I recalled).
A guided tour and high tea were scheduled that afternoon but I could only find time before noon and yet, such was my luck for being the sole visitor, FX Harsono came up to say hello and, much to my surprised delight, decided to sit by me for over an hour talking from the journey leading up to his exhibition to latest socio-dynamics of Chinese Indonesians. Somehow no trace of rage, yet crystallized grief remained palpable especially in the installation illustrating his insistence to write dark history only to be washed off by even more insistent downpour. I left the museum with goose bumps, pondering just how many untold dark histories out there across this archipelago.
As I once wrote on this column, I’m no art buff by any means. I like what I like, sometimes without be able to articulate why. Penikmat seni, someone who savors art, is the only term I can think of myself. And this weekend Yogya just spoiled rotten this li’l penikmat seni. My mind was intrigued, my senses were massaged, and my soul was enriched. Such a smart way to usher in the annual month-long soul cleansing.
Ramadhan kareem, everyone.
This article is originally published by the Jakarta Post.