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Minangkabau artists thrive by looking back
Features - June 10, 2004
Margaret Agusta, Contributor/Jakarta
In these times of rapid sociopolitical change and uncertainty, the current exhibition of creations by West Sumatra artists at the National Gallery in Central Jakarta is historically important, not only for artists and other players within the Minangkabau milieu, but for Indonesia as a whole.
The retrospective display of 118 artworks by 111 painters, sculptors, calligraphers and graphic artists carries the visitor back to the beginnings of the delving of Minangkabau artists into the potential of modern art techniques and thinking in the mid 20th century, up to their present experimentation within the contemporary discourses of the global art community.
Necessarily eclectic, this grouping of artworks speaks clearly of the role that ancient philosophies can play in man's attempts to solve the problems facing contemporary society.
As suggested by visionary Indonesian thinker Soedjatmoko, with the mounting world population and the fading of national borders, with the encroachment of globalization driven by technological advances, human beings will have to begin to look into their inner realm of spirituality, nurtured by ancient tradition and ignored in modern thinking, to resist the pervading sense of emptiness and despair.
Apparent in the majority of the artworks on display through June 12, no matter what style, media, or technique explored by the individual artist, are the still strong and vital tenets of the ancient nature-centered philosophy of the Minangkabau people.
Always explorers and seekers of knowledge and fortune, rarely conquerors or aggressors, the Minangkabau, with their tradition of wandering for the benefit of those who wait at home, continue to be imbued with the ancient wisdom of their adat (custom).
According to Taufik Rahzen, a Bandung-based cultural observer with a special interest in the Minangkabau culture, the artworks in this show reflect three core elements of the philosophy and tradition of West Sumatra.
These are: spirituality growing from the abstract mysticism of nature; reverence toward the "feminine" -- the potential to create or the impetus toward renewal, and the lyricism born of the joy of simply existing as an integral part of this natural world that God has created.
Sebuah Kelahiran (A Birth) a galvanic plate sculpture by Duvrart Angelo reflects all three of these core Minangkabau cultural roots in one simple and elegant piece. Another work, Hitam yang Rapuh (The Fragility of Black) done in mixed media by Afdal speaks more singly of the give and take of life and renewal, of being and becoming simultaneously.
Another piece, Kedalaman (The Depth) painted in acrylic on canvas by Ibrahim speaks more distinctly of the spiritual exploration of the import of nature and of the nature of man within the natural world.
While still another work, Dalam Solusi (In the Solution), a series of acrylic-on-canvas panels by Iin Risdawati, bursts forth with the exuberance of spirituality that has been basic to the resilience of the Minangkabau people throughout the ages.
Other works in this show of note, in the context of looking within the soul of a specific cultural group and tradition to find and extract answers to the problems facing the individual artist within contemporary society are: Calon Kepala Suku (Chieftain Candidate) by Indra Wilmar, Mengulang Kaji Lama (Repeating the Old Observation) by Zul Afrita, Tumpuan (The Stand) by Zirwen Hazry, Nun (There) by Zulkarnaini, Still Far by Hamdan, Keinginan Kata Hati (Heart Wish) by Budi Eka Putra, My Village is Nothing Comfortable Anymore by Ardison, and Aku (I Am) by Desrat Fiandra.
This exhibition, initiated by the vision and determination of Putri Retno Intan from the Seni Sarasa Foundation in West Sumatra, brought to fruition by Bandung-based art critic and curator Mananoor and Adi Rosa, a pillar of the Minangkabau artistic community, and made a reality through the moral support and sponsorship of the Gebu Minang organization, and the efforts of the Sakato art group in Yogyakarta, is part of a series of exhibitions featuring the works of regional artists from throughout Indonesia.
An exhibition of works by artists originating from the Batak ethnic grouping of North Sumatra is scheduled for early next year, with another focusing on the works of artists originating from Kalimantan planned for the near future as well.
It is hoped that, not only will this program be continued until all of Indonesia's many regions have been represented in shows in Jakarta, but that perhaps also, the National Gallery will consider selecting a number of the best works from each of these ethnic representations to be shown in a combined exhibition in Jakarta, which could also travel to each of the regional capitals for display there.
This ongoing National Gallery project, motivated by the desire to explore the potential of all of the artists of various ethnic persuasions living and working in this archipelago, in order to discover a cohesive and representative face for Indonesian art in international forums, deserves the attention and support of the Indonesian public and the international art community as a whole.