RALLY: Contemporary Indonesian Art – Jompet Kuswidananto & Eko Nugroho

Since its launch, RALLY: Contemporary Indonesian Art – Jompet Kuswidananto & Eko Nugroho, has presented two perspectives on modern Indonesia through the works of Kuswidananto; a sound, installation, and video artist, and Nugroho; whose colourful murals, paintings and embroideries spill across the floor, walls and ceilings of the gallery.

Kuswidananto and Nugroho, both artists from Yogyakarta’s vibrant art scene, have transformed the iconic spaces of The National Gallery of Victoria, Australia with this exhibition. 

fluoro spoke to Kelly Gellatly, Curator of Contemporary Art at the National Gallery of Victoria about the exhibition, the role of a curator and more. 

(f) Describe the work of Eko and Jompet in your own words.

(KG) Eko Nugroho work is graphic and immediately engaging. Coming out of background as a street artist, he employs a cast of idiosyncratic characters to ‘people’ his images – strange, hybrid forms that bring together human, animal and technological elements. These are often executed in a bold style reminiscent of comics – which are a great influence – and the Indonesian tradition of wayung, or shadow puppet theatre. He works across a variety of media including painting, drawing, sculpture and animation; combining and re-working traditional and culturally-specific mediums such as tapestry and batik in a manner that highlights contemporary political and cultural issues in a playful and humorous way. The practice of collaboration is central to Eko’s work.

Jompet Kuswidananto is a multi-media artist who works across sculpture, installation, photography and video. Central to the concerns of Jompet’s practice is the rich and diverse cultural history of Indonesia, and specifically Java. At the core of Jompet’s practice is what he refers to as the ‘Third Realm’ – a kind of ‘in-between’ space. To reflect this within his work he uses the various cultural symbols of Indonesia’s complex and ever-changing past to speak of the adaptive nature contemporary Indonesian society and what he believes to be some of the most pressing concerns of a nation that has only recently become a democracy. Jompet’s initial training in broadcasting and his role as a musician is immediately apparent in his sculptural installations which employ sound (music, or the kind of charged speech delivered at a political rally) and movement (the beating of drums or the waving of flags) to both evoke and engage with the political and cultural concerns facing Indonesia today.

While Eko and Jompet’s work is conceptually and aesthetically different, and they both deal with the complex and at times sobering issues of contemporary Indonesian society (and how this reverberates globally), their respective practices nevertheless create an optimistic picture of the future and of humankind in general.

(f) It has been two months since the exhibition opened to the public. What has the response been so far?

(KG) The response to the show has been fantastic – really positive.  I think the work of both artists, and the exhibition as a whole, presents a very different side of contemporary Indonesia – one that is completely at odds with what is generally represented in the mainstream media within Australia. The exhibition seems to appeal to those who are already engaged with Indonesian culture on a deep level as well as well as those who simply happen upon it as part of a more general visit to the NGV. It is hard to stand in the space and not be impressed by the scale and immersive nature of the installation – hopefully this in turn encourages people to spend some time to both connect with and really enjoy the work.

(f) What does the world need to learn about Indonesian contemporary art?

(KG) I think it’s important to acknowledge at the outset that Eko and Jompet are first and foremost great contemporary artists with international reputations, who happen to be from Indonesia. While their work engages very much with the country in which it is made, it wouldn’t succeed if that is all it achieved. Both Eko and Jompet come from and continue to work in Yogyakarta, which is home to a vibrant contemporary art scene. They are just two of a number of good artists that have emerged from this context. True to their generation, Eko and Jompet don’t share the acute desire of Indonesia’s previous generation of artists – such as Heri Dono, FX Harsano and Agus Suwage – to critique an oppressive regime in their work; as a result their individual practices touch upon cultural and political subjects in a manner that is neither strident nor didactic. I think that this is true of many of the artists coming out of Indonesia at this time. 

(f) Have you seen the role of a curator change over the last few years?

(KG) While it is certainly different for the various areas of specialisation, and the role of a curator who deals with Medieval and Renaissance art for example, differs greatly from mine, in large part the notion of the curator as a kind of dilettante, disconnected from life and absorbed only in their research, is long gone. Curators today have to be able to deliver far more than simply the exhibition and publication they are currently working on.

The contemporary art curator is not only the ambassador of the artist within the museum, but the public face of their area of practice externally – the individual who engages and works with collectors, gallerists, private and corporate sponsors, philanthropists and the general public. It is a role of competing demands and increasingly short timelines – one of the most often heard ‘complaints’ of curators today is that the work of curating – the research and writing and the considerable time it takes to do so – happens around everything else.

However, no matter how much it changes, it’s a role that continues to be driven by a passion for art and a love of lifelong learning.  

(f) Why did you move into the field of contemporary art?

(KG) For me, contemporary art speaks powerfully of the times in which we live and hopefully encourages us to look at the world, and the issues that occupy us, in different and unconventional ways.  Whether it be a question of politics – with concerns ranging from international terrorism and civil unrest, to immigration and the resulting fear of the ‘other’ – issues of identity (encompassing race, gender and sexuality); the impact and importance of history, sovereignty and place, or concern for the environment; contemporary artists provide multi-layered, open-ended and often speculative approaches that don’t necessarily aim to provide definitive answers, but instead establish a space for contemplation and thought. Working with contemporary artists to either acquire their work for the collection, deliver exhibitions or write on their practice is exciting and ever-changing and, importantly, a great privilege.

(f) What’s on the cards for the contemporary art side of the NGV in 2012-2014?

(KG) While I don’t want to give too much away at the moment, it’s true to say that there will be a lot more contemporary art on display at both NGV Australia at Federation Square and NGV International in coming years. This will include important acquisitions of Australian and international contemporary art for the collection as well as a raft of contemporary art exhibitions. Watch this space!

RALLY: Contemporary Indonesian Art will be on display until Monday 1 April 2013 at NGV International, Melbourne, Australia.


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