Friday, January 18, 2013

Dyan, the Search for Self

By Kuss Indarto

Dyan Anggraini went to “ASRI” Yogyakarta Art Institute in an advantageous time in terms of creativity. She began her study in the 1976 academic year. Among her peers were artists Haris Purnama, and the late Hardjiman. It was the time that became an important episode in the history of Indonesian art, one year following the “Black December Affair”.

“Black December Manifesto” was signed on the 31st of December 1974 by a group of young artists that include FX Harsono, Hardi, Bonyong Munni Ardhi, M. Sulebar, Siti Adiyati, D.A. Peransi, Muryotohartoyo, Juzwar, Baharudin Marasutan, Ikranegara, and Abdul Hadi WM, two years prior to Dyan Anggraini’s enrollment in the Art Institute. It was a culture affair around the subject of art that resonated for many years and even still does till now. The emergence of Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru (GSRB, ‘New Art Movement’) that follows boosted the affair. As part of the Black December Manifesto, point five or the last point reads, “That what have hitherto been checking the development of Indonesian painting are outdated concepts that remain upheld by establishment, those profiting from art and culture as well as established artists. To save our painting now it is time for us to present to such establishment the honor of being retired persons of culture”.
An anti-establishment spirit and resistance of outdated concepts often showed up in conceptual works by young generation artists that expand ideas about art. Those works used various media. Conceptual art, installation art, and various works of art of extreme and unconventional kinds became striking. And the “ASRI” Art Institute campus was the main basis of this development.

As a fresh sudent Dyan Anggraini was affected by the new atmosphere of creativity introduced by her seniors in the campus. While conventions known to the academic methods of creating works of art were maintained, the questioning of such conventions was growing stronger at the same time. The controversies over “Black December Manifesto” and the New Art Movement (GSRB) were quite intense. There was, for instance, the fiery polemic between two members of the Art Institute’s teaching staff who were Koesnadi (held as conservative) and Soedarmadji (who supported progressivity among the young). The polemic was published in the Yogya-based Kedaulatan Rakyat newspaper. All this helped trigger creativity among the young including Dyan Anggraini who was a new student.

Artifacts of Dyan’s works bear obvious influences of the movement to resist established conventions. Her Scenario is an example. The work was made in 1979, the third year of Dyan’s study at the Art Institute, and shown in “Kelompok Lima Putri” (“Five Women Group”) collective exhibition at Senisono building in Yogyakarta. In addition to Dyan the four artists are Tri Nawangwulan, Aisyah Thibron, Ria Andaryanti, and Hartina Azir. Scenario is actually “only” a two-dimensional work measuring 70 cm x 70 cm, but it incorporates a three-dimensional material in the forms of toy soldiers and a girl doll. The combining of different kinds of material is not caused by the artist’s limited ability to draw certain objects. Rather, it has something to do with attempt to play with the borderline between two- and three-dimensional media in the context of introducing more possibilities in creating works. Dyan’s technical skills in making paintings were already relatively sufficient then, and it seems that the incorporation of three-dimensional materials is meant to add some dramatic effect to the work.

Such nature of Dyan’s visualization remained at least until 1981 or one year before she finished her study at the ASRI Art Insititute (in 1982). Aside from the “Black December Affair” the strong influence of Pop Art introduced by Andy Warhol and others a decade earlier in the West helped shape the phenomenon of creativity among a lot of students and young artists of the period. It became a strong current reaching everywhere including Yogyakarta. Dyan admits this. With a student friend of hers, Ivan Haryanto, Dyan even made an exhibition in 1980 at Taman Budaya Surabaya entitled “Conduct the Pop Art”.

Domestic Life Made the Difference

Dyan’s passion as a young artist had to slacken after her marriage. This is despite the fact that Dyan Anggraini’s aspiration to become an artist had always been ardent from the beginning. And genetically it was something given that Dyan’s world is art: her grandfather Djajengasmara was a painter and so is her father Rais Rayan. Deliberately or not the two of them instill in Dyan the awareness of the extensive world of art.

Yet her decision to get married then follow her husband Hutomo, a dentist, to move to Tambelangan in the interiority of Sampang, the island of Madura, had consequences for Dyan’s career as a creative artist. In Madura she found herself in a situation in which it was not possible for her to practice her art as intensely as she’d used to before. At least in a period of seven years (between 1982 and 1989) Dyan busied herself more with domestic matters, as two children were born into the family, than immersing in the creative world of art that had already meant a lot to her – particularly when she was a student of art. She produced nearly zero creative work while she introduced painting and embroidery to children in her neighborhood in Tambelangan added with some minor art activities.

The year 1989 becomes a turning point for Dyan to come back to pursuing creative art. In that year Dyan definitely left Madura to work as a civil servant at Taman Budaya Yogyakarta cultural center. That was a pragmatic yet strategic decision as in such position Dyan saw that she would be in a setting that enabled her to remain in touch with artists and spare herself time to practice her art.

It works. She eventually got her chance to make a comeback. There were opportunities for her to make works, to exhibit regularly, while enhancing her progressiveness as an artist by socializing with the art community in Yogyakarta.

For about a decade, 1989-199, Dyan’s paintings mostly feature female figures. Her works tend to be illustrative, highlighting female subjects in the central space of her canvas, and the depiction is somewhat deformative (instead of highly realistic). In the first half of the 1990s it is obvious that Dyan had to work hard to improve herself in technical matters due to her long absence from painting. Only after that did her process of exploration to find some “creative work identity” begin. At times faces that fill her canvases, with the eyes blackened, would resemble those appearing in the works of Amedeo Modigliani or Jeihan Sukmantoro. Dyan’s own daily life as a young mother is also reflected in her paintings: of mothers babysitting their children, mothers tenderly holding their beloved kids, and the like. It is easy to see that the thematic scope of Dyan’s paintings of this period is quite limited to the basic aspects of mother-and-child human relationship. It is something broad, general, and many other artists around her had already worked on it before her. Her passion for visualization experiments like what she’d made in her younger years as a student simply left no trace at all in this period. 

More Substance into Painting

It is only by the second half the 1990s that Dyan began showing her concern to incorporate substance in her list of issues to work on in her art creation. And the mask seems to be a subject that she picked to generate ideas for works to make. In her work called “Dialog” (125 cm by 145 cm, oil on canvas), dated 1996, Dyan presents a female figure dressed in white sitting on a chair. The chair on her right is vacant but a mask lies there. You may suppose that the woman is a mask dancer regularly surrounded by noisy crowds when performing but returns to the quiet of her home when not on stage. So she has the mask to converse with.

In the next period the appearances of figures and masks in Dyan’s paintings alternate with the folded-paper boat. They could actually stand completely as separate things but in some cases Dyan deliberately makes them come together.

The subject of folded-paper boat in Dyan’s painting seems to serve as a communication means for her in speaking with her audience. The folded-paper boat is a metaphor for the soul and a representation of a community vulnerable to disorientation amid critical problems. I think the paper boat is also associable with an element of a swollen bureaucracy with its assumed power. It seemingly has the liberty to maneuver but it is actually easy for it to be drowned. It is as if the paper boat was clean and white but it is actually easy for it to be smeared with writing and doodling on its body.

Dyan often presents the subject of the folded-paper boat set in “empty space”. Yes, the subject appears alone, or as a group, but very often shows in “empty space” that is quiet and isolated. Is this part of the representation of Dyan’s feelings as part of the bureaucracy?

Of the two main subjects, the folded-paper boat and the mask, Dyan seems to prefer the latter for being her main vehicle to express what she has in mind. Tens of works came from her hand and she showed her works that feature the mask in various exhibitions both collective and solo. The mask is the theme she picked for her current works.

Dyan renders the mask in different aesthetic tones and makes the mask her means to share her perceptions of cultural and social issues that trouble her mind. These last years the image of the mask has been Dyan’s main representing device.

Obviously such creative choice is not an aesthetic output out of the blue. It is not something given. I think Dyan’s choice on the mask represents a synthesis of theses and antitheses reached through the creative efforts of the artist who’d been intensely working for long involving a bunch of aesthetic experiments. There, supposedly, explorations supported by surveying and researching in the artist’s typical methods must have been made. Unlike those of scientists or researchers working in laboratories or quiet libraries, the artist’s methods involve various kinds of observation that include talks, reference photos, and watching live topeng (mask) dance performances for instance. So the masks that we can now see represented in Dyan’s paintings already become a knot of her evolving creative art through a long process. She has eventually arrived at a point that she finds suitable for her intent. And the ‘point’ is connotative or associative masks, or the representation of the mask of which the signification already transcends its physical reality.

The Masked Civil Servant

In visual terms, Dyan’s works suggest how the artist put great significance on the form and image of the mask. This makes me think of affective connaturality, an approach in explaining creativity process introduced by Jacques and Raissa Maritain, the thinker couple from France, in their The Situation of Poetry: Four Essays on the Relations between Poetry Mysticism, Magic, and Knowledge published in 1955. Despite the oldness of the concept and despite its intended purpose to study literary works, I think it remains relevant for today and it may also be applied to all other kinds of creative work including the visual arts. The concept of affective connaturality says that the correspondences between a person, or an artist, and what s/he knows are not made by the relationship betwen thought and observed objects but by the relationship between the objects in question and the person’s feelings and sensory capability.

The point is easily reflected in the masks represented in Dyan’s paintings that are already ‘absorbed’ by the artist so that those masks make out of themselves a particular aesthetic identity. So Dyan’s masks are necessarily different from, for instance, those of Suwadji or any other artist. This is because Dyan’s approach to the mask as an object in her works is not one of “gathering knowledge about”; instead, she relies on intuition and inclination, subjective resonance, which proceeds to the making of artworks. From there emerge the masks over which she has the mastery and articulateness in dealing with the forms and images suitable for the figures wearing them.

Furtherly, Dyan, with her authority as a creative artist, superimposes her world of ideas on those images of masks. Again, the mask moves to the position as a device or a central instrument to carry Dyan’s ideas. So what we see on Dyan’s canvases are human figures wearing masks that reflect the dynamics of human problems disturbing to the artist’s mind. Various social and political problems become subject matters in Dyan’s works, with implied remarks and possible interpretations offered and suggested to viewers.

An illustration is given by Dyan’s solo exhibition "Beyond the Mask" at Santrian Gallery, Denpasar, Bali, 5-24 March 2007. The exhibition showed a number of paintings that depict figures in the Korpri civil servant costume but wearing masks on their faces. This is very interesting knowing that Dyan herself belongs to the Indonesian civil service.

One of those works narrates a masked male figure dressed in white and a piece of cloth with the “Korpri” civil servant uniform motif on his shoulder as if a duster. Then there are three other works that show male figures all bare-chested, all wearing masks of different expressions. One of them wearing a tie with the “Korpri” logo motif and another one has a shawl around the neck and with the shawl showing the “Korpri” motif also.

The works strongly persuade a viewer to interpret them as referring to the habit of most Indonesian civil servants having not very desirable working ethos. The Indonesian civil servants, constituting some 4 millions people, are assumed by Dyan as persons of deceitful slave mentality or individuals that do not position themselves rightly within the public service system. Ridiculed as a male figure with a tie (of the Korpri logo) but bare-chested, is there still something to expect from a system? Are those civil servants still able to perform professional management in their operation, as demanded by the people, in keeping with the swift and highly dynamic progress of today’s life?

This is Dyan’s version of profound autocriticism. As already known by many, the total number of Indonesian civil servants increased greatly in the Soeharto’s era. At the background of it is the political interest of strengthening the power structure through bureaucracy. The number of civil servants was multiplied and they were mobilized to support the ruling party Golkar that was Golkar as major pillar of Soeharto’s regime besides the military.

So now, with Soeharto’s rule already, de jure, over, the main and most “rotten” inheritance he passed includes the gigantic number of civil servants with vague job descriptions and relatively bad working ethos. This owes to the fact that in the past when they succeeded to become part of the bureaucracy they assumedly made the vertical mobilization socially. The point is that those bureaucrats or civil servants, government officials, seem to uphold the outdated presumption that they belong to the new ‘aristocrats’ who claim for ‘respect and honor’ because of their very status rather than their professional achievements. So in carrying out their tasks they do not act as ‘servants  of the people’ (or pamong praja in Javanese) but, rather, as ‘ones who give orders’ (pangreh praja in Javanese language).

They are masked humans hiding behind their status as civil servants just to gain social recognition. With their destructive laziness and ‘petty aristocratism’ they have become like inoperative land to consume billions of Indonesian rupiahs annually all for nothing. For a country crushed under huge loans to pay back this is obviously a mega-irony. And Dyan as part of the bureaucracy, having experienced herself the entire vicious circle through its implied problems she faces in her working environment, can only give critical remarks through this work of hers. These remarks may perhaps have only slight positive effect even on her immediate working environment but I think for Dyan herself it could just be inspiring in a reflective way offered by John F. Kennedy in his word, “... ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”.

Dyan has tried to give warning about many cases, symptoms and social phenomena through her artworks. And by Dyan the mask, hitherto iconic to many ethnic cultures and arts throughout Indonesia, is ‘crystallized’ and transferred to a different sphere of iconicity. In Dyan’s characteristic framework these funny or beautiful masks are made to offer ‘reading’ of matters far from funny and beautiful but, instead, may be full of grievances, irony and hypocrisy. Now these masks have transcended their own physicality. They are moving to find new meanings that divert from the previous ones.

Dyan’s visualization themes will naturally keep changing to follow her creative passion as an artist. These last months, for instance, she seemed to be tempted to explore self- portraiture. Although it is not yet predominant enough for being a central theme for her most current works, her self-portraits apparently suggest some personal concept. It looks like Dyan intends to look into the mirror, to conduct some introspection into what she has done through her past decades: to her husband, to her children and extended family, to the Taman Budaya Yogyakarta Cultural Center institution she has worked for in tens of years, and also to herself as an artist regarding her existence in the world of art. These self-portrait drawings are like instruments by which to (re-)discover and improve herself as a human being that aspires toward completeness. Although she knows very well that reaching for it is not a simple matter, isn’t it so Ms. Dyan? Well, good luck with your search! ***

Kuss Indarto, an art curator, editor in chief to

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Visual Brand Biskuit Khong Guan

SETIAP kali menyimak kaleng biskuit Khong Guan (Assorted Biscuit Red), serasa melihat lunturnya budaya patriarkhi. Selama hampir 63 tahun (menurut beberapa sumber), visual dalam kaleng itu tak berubah alias konsisten: citra seorang ibu dengan dua anak laki-laki dan perempuan, tanpa kehadiran seorang bapak. Sepertinya mereka sedang menikmati sarapan pagi bersama kopi dan biskuit. Apakah si ibu itu seorang janda? Apakah si bapak selepas subuh sudah berangkat keluar kota dengan flight pertama yang isuk-isuk uput-uput? Ataukah si bapak justru tukang begadang yang baru berangkat tidur ketika anak-anaknya bersiap-siap ke sekolah?

Fakta visual di kaleng Khong Guan ini berseberangan dengan opini seorang feminis, Sylvia Walby, (sorry, lupa judul bukunya, hehe) yang membuat teori menarik tentang patriarki, yakni membedakannya menjadi dua: patriarki privat dan patriarki publik. Inti dari teori ini adalah telah terjadi ekspansi wujud patriarki, dari ruang-ruang pribadi atau privat seperti keluarga dan agama ke wilayah yang lebih luas yaitu negara. Ekspansi ini menyebabkan patriarki terus-menerus berhasil mencengkeram dan mendominasi kehidupan laki-laki atas perempuan. Patriarki privat bermuara pada wilayah rumah tangga. Wilayah rumah tangga ini sebagai dasar awal utama kekuasaan laki-laki atas perempuan. Sedangkan patriarki publik menempati wilayah-wilayah publik seperti lapangan pekerjan, negara, dan lainnya.

Kalau ada asumsi bahwa secara kultural pun, gejala dan budaya patriarki bisa dikonstruksikan, dilembagakan, dan disosialisasikan, maka jangan-jangan (gambar kaleng) Khong Guan ini adalah “agen” dari pelunturan budaya patriarkhi yang sedang beroperasi di wilayah-wilayah privat. Ah, tenane? Alamak, seriyuz amat mbacanya, hehehe… Selamat pagi!