Indonesia Will Step Onto the Art World Stage at This Year’s Venice Biennale
In Sanskrit, sakti refers to the primordial cosmic energy and the personification of divine, feminine creative energy, as well as indicating change and liberation. Of Hindu origin, in Indonesia the concept of sakti was quickly integrated into local cosmology, becoming associated with such mythical figures as the rice goddess Dewi Sri and the South Sea Queen, and with certain objects like the keris (dagger). Given Indonesia’s 700 living languages, the idea of sakti can be denoted by other words, but the meaning is almost always the same: a strong creative energy, divine and indestructible, that contains the capacity for achievement beyond mere human ability. As energy, it can be understood as a foundational creative principle.
At the 2013 Venice Biennale,“Sakti” is the theme of the Indonesian Pavilion. The Biennale, which opens June 1, is not the first to include Indonesian participation. In 1954, the Indonesian artist Affandi was invited to show his work in the international exhibition. He was followed almost half a century later by Heri Dono in 2003. That year, Indonesia planted its flag in the Palazzo Malipiero with the first Indonesian pavilion, curated by Amir Sidharta, under the theme of “Paradise Lost: Mourning the World.” The country 49 again participated in 2005, with a pavilion at the Telecom Italy Future Center.
Now, for its official appearance at the Biennale after an absence of several years, the Indonesian Pavilion is moving to 500 square meters in the Arsenale. It is a graduation of sorts, reflected in the ambitious scope inherent in “Sakti.”
In preparing for this year’s Biennale, the challenge has been to discover how to draw on the principles of sakti while illuminating the present in a contemporary artistic language. Curatorially, the idea is that the artists should be able to explore individual aesthetics and to consider aspects of history, and the social and pluralistic aspects of the local culture in a global context. The works should reflect an alternative art practice and articulate a new cultural presence.
The artistic selection team included curators Carla Bianpoen and Rifky Effendy, project initiator and producer Restu Imansari, and Commissioner Adji Damais. Selecting the artists was no easy task, and a long period of deliberation was required. From a list of about 25 names, the team decided on Albert Yonathan Setyawan, Eko Nugroho, Entang Wiharso, Sri Astari (Rasjid), and Titarubi.
Here is a brief introduction to the five artists whose work will represent Indonesia at the 55th Venice Biennale:
Albert Yonathan Setyawan (b. 1983) was, at the time of his selection, in the final stage of his MFA studies at the Visual Arts Department of the Bandung Institute of Technology. But his inquiries into the relationship between the human being and the natural world, expressed in geometric configurations of spiritually imbued ceramic objects, are well known. Currently studying ceramics in Japan, Setyawan’s work for the Indonesian Pavilion will consist of a labyrinth made of thousands of ceramic objects. The form of each object is inspired by various prayer houses, including the church, the mosque, and the temple. While personally preferring to follow the spirituality of religions rather than their institutional frameworks, Setyawan’s work reflects the tolerance that is embedded in traditional Indonesian culture and manifest in the many hybrid art forms that have absorbed and adapted foreign elements. When problems arise, the artist’s interactive labyrinth — with just one way to enter and exit — suggests that problem solving should begin with the self.
Eko Nugroho (b.1977) is relatively well known, having participated in the Lyon Biennale and recently opened an exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris. Nugroho has a preference for collaborating with local communities whose contributions, such as embroidery and machine sewing, have added a special accent to his works of fantasy and folly. For the Indonesian pavilion, however, Nugroho decided to make an almost-realistic presentation of a raft. Made of bamboo and old oil barrels, with iconic figures as passengers, Nugroho’s raft metaphorically suggests the Indonesian nation. He says that the success of the Indonesian people in managing to grow and prosper while weathering financial, political, and social storms, as well as natural disasters, is a feat of sakti. The flag fluttering from the raft’s pole is made of traditional dyed batik.