Friday, March 07, 2008

Barak that Resists Poor Quality

(Agapetus Kristiandana's work)

By Kuss Indarto

SEVEN Balinese artists make a “conspiracy”. On a ‘cool’ or at least easy to memorize date – the 7th of the 7th month of 2007 - their “conspiracy” began. They, who have gone through their processes in Yogyakarta and some of them decided to reside in the city, maintain the “conspiracy” and make it bear a new tag: Kelompok Barak – Barak Group. Yes, it is an art group.

Listed as the members of the group are the names of artists already discernible on the map of current Indonesian art (or: art in Indonesia): Gusti Alit Cakra, Made “Dalbo” Suarimbawa, Made Sukadana, Made Toris Mahendra, Nyoman Darya, Nyoman Sukari, and Nyoman “Jangkrik” Triarta A.P. There is hardly any “academic generation” sentiment of fellow ex-students of the Indonesian Institute of the Arts to make them join together; rather, they do it more in the intention and spirit of communality based on ethnicity. Such presumption is not without risks as there could be still other spirits and reasons underneath the base, waiting to be revealed.

In order to “assemble” (again) — something that is currently not easy to accomplish by many artists wanting to group together – the obvious prerequisite is some psychological merge among the members of Barak Group. Even this doesn’t necessarily and instantly smooth the way to a group exhibition. When psychological barriers are already overcome, the next question is whether or not there is some shared substantial issue to make such exhibition. Are there strong and significant differences between their current works and those made when they went through their processes and presented their works in their own personal identities? Then, are the progressiveness, creativity and new achievements of these artists traceable in this exhibition?

Sharing the island of origin that is Bali and being alumni of the same School of Art (and Design) of the Indonesian Institute of Arts (ISI) in Yogyakarta, they maybe have “equal” creative-esthetic lines of ideas. The system of knowledge constructed in the education and training at ISI Yogyakarta as well as the knowledge of strategies of artistic creativity in artist-intellectual communities in Yogyakarta have somehow shifted their system and viewpoints of creative process and artistic pursuit. A different world, which includes the notions of rationality and interdisciplinary relationship among others, drives them to move on in a different perspective that enriches their awareness of the realm of creativity. Their visual expressions on canvas finally develop.

Their new setting in Yogyakarta surely offers these art students scenes that are different from what they used to see when they lived in Bali where autodidactic artists – with spiritualism as the basis of their artistic practice – surrounded their daily life. As Sanento Yuliman observes ("Seni Lukis Indonesia Baru" in "Dua Seni Rupa, Sepilihan Tulisan", Kalam, 2001), the Hindu Bali culture and religious rituals have shaped what he calls old Balinese painting. Old Balinese painting is based on a rite called yadnya, an offering to Ida Sanghyang Widhi Wasa (God), in the form of ritual items that include the depictions of characters from the Ramayana or Mahabharata epics that are regarded sacred. Many paintings are connected with Hindu theology and philosophy. Nearly all paintings have religious functions and religion has its share in defining the place, form and application of such works. The process of making all such works of art is accompanied by a ritual known as pasupati by which to sanctify the works as offerings to gods.

The significant point above, i.e. the academic world and the communal spirit in Yogyakarta, contributes importantly to all the achievements of Barak community artists in their pursuits in the city until now. Yet, in another dimension, it should be realized that – borrowing from Laura Nader in her Naked Science: Anthropological Inquiry into Boundaries, Power, and Knowledge; Routledge, 1996 — the academic world takes science as a way to know and understand the world that is often crowded with ideological contents that result in massive marginalization of other models of science, local sciences especially.


YET the fact that the academic world and rationality introduce change is also supported by “new realities”. For example – as the tendency observable in their seniors, peers, and juniors ranging from Nyoman Gunarsa, Made Wianta, Wayan Sika, Gusti Nurata, Nyoman Erawan, Made Budiana, Made Sumadiyasa, Made Wiradhana and through Putu Sutawijaya, for instance – pursuing esthetic progressiveness while maintaining Balinese cultural roots as the footing of their evolving creativity.

In extreme cases, a considerable number of Bali-born artists in Yogyakarta even “negate” Balinese culture as their creative basis. This phenomenon is observable in the works of Nyoman Masriadi, for instance, which has brought forth a tendency of creative “anomaly” that really deviates from the common pattern of “communal creativity” à la Sanggar Dewata Indonesia (SDI) group of Balinese artists based in Yogyakarta founded by Nyoman Gunarsa, Made Wianta and others on the 15th of December 1970. The anomaly introduces a subversive-creative current to challenge the mainstream tendency of SDI artists mostly burdened with the strong culture of patronage seemingly “indoctrinated” by senior artists to the younger. As I remember, in the second half of the 1990s Nyoman Masriadi offered a creative negation through his works that tended to be strikingly figurative in his mockery of himself and his hegemonic surroundings. This is a far cry from the mainstream of flooding abstract expressionism sweeping Balinese artists then.

So, do these seven Barak artists also want to offer another germ of “creative movement” now fading in SDI? Or is Barak Group offering “self-criticism” directed to SDI seemingly sound asleep as a Balinese community in Yogya that bears the Balinese religious and mystical spirit expressed in existent cultural and religious symbols? I don’t know. Perhaps the issue is too complex to deal with in the context of this writing.

We are perhaps too much burdened by history as if hoping it will visit us again to overcome current problems. For example, we maintain the expectation that was there in the 1950s when the Cobra (Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam) movement emerged to bring forth eight important issues including, among others – as Jean-Michel wrote in Cobra, April 1950 – that world’s contemporary painting was threatened by two dominant forms that had to be opposed, namely banal realism imitating reality in a vulgar way and orthodox abstract art. Hmmh... an old issue that should have been scheduled as a possible action to launch in the context of current Indonesian art (art in Indonesia).


TAKING this exhibition as a “movement” is too much of an expectation. But this doesn’t mean we may necessarily put aside the creative offer of these seven artists with their works.

The first strong feature to draw attention in this exhibition, as can be expected, is the format of the majority of the works that cannot by all means be called small. All the artists seem to want to be engaged in fights, first of all with regard to the sizes of their works. This may indicate that each of them has a lot of extraordinarily great flare, power and spirit. Yet, opposite to it, a prejudice creeps in: they are being responsive to the trend and, what else to say, market sentiment.

The next noticeable thing is the variety of their works that seem to be trying to seize each other. Here are Gusti Alit’s works that remain faithful to the abstract style. His works do not thump; instead, they are calm while tending to be enigmatic. In specific ways, the works by Made Sukadana and Suarimbawa “Dalbo” take a similar line. They have abandoned the lines and patterns of the abstract style that was the mainstream among Balinese artists in Yogyakarta about one decade ago. The forms they make have the potency to provide a middle way between the abstract style that pursues “pure forms” such as suprematism with Kashimir Malevich as the hero, "purifying” the world with human thoughts and feelings as essential basic forms, and that of Vasily Kadinsky dealing with the spiritual aspect of the form, space, and technique of an artistic expression that liberates form from its reference in nature.

Nyoman Darya, Nyoman Sukari and Nyoman Triarta “Jangkrik” tend to be highly figurative. Their modes of expression facilitate them to deal with extra-esthetic matters, namely issues of social life – but they don’t fall into offering excessive slogans. Toris Mahendra’s semi-figurative works, with their dominant and eye-catching reds, seem to be intensely showing the artist’s inner world in the representations of agitated half-human bodies.


THE MODES and patterns of creation of the seven artists in preparing this exhibition reflect their relatively intense dealing with their own individual worlds. Each of them has his own personal viewpoint or perspective in implementing it on canvas. In addition to personal dispositions, their experiences as creative individuals have enhanced their creativity and sensitivity in perceiving things. From here one can elaborate the issue so as to provide inputs for the creative development of this group in the future.

Yet, can we necessarily take the shifts in the visual forms as progress? With all their intensity in working, have they made certain achievements? That may remain questionable. It could be that the intensity of working only brings forth shifts or achievements in merely artistic terms (visual) but not necessarily those of creative frameworks to help artists produce shrewd works in terms of form and ideational world. Regarding this, in making works artists are not only supposed to just play with their intuition but also to employ their rationality and intelligence in applying every cubic centimeter of paint on their canvas.

Currently, artists don’t only sit doing nothing but waiting for inspiration to arrive but “research” the ideas passing through their minds, do they? And, for the member artists, is Barak Group just a means to launch group exhibitions or is it a forum for struggling with ideas that will later bring about a “movement” – however small it is? Can Barak group position itself and be taken as a hub the members’ enthusiasm – just as the word “barak” in Balinese means “red” and “a shelter” in Indonesian?

I hope Barak keeps the intention to move on dynamically, full of spirit, dashing off from stagnation. The Barak Group that resists poor forms, poor concepts. Let’s wait for their next move!

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