INDONESIAN CONTEMPORARY ART
It was a sweltering Hong Kong afternoon, and I was feeling scattered after running through Hong Kong’s charmingly retro Hollywood Road district in search of the renowned Sin Sin Atelier. Upon discovering it, I was escorted into Sin Sin’s office, which was unlike any ‘office’ I have ever seen. I felt I had stumbled upon an oasis of tranquility within Central, or a secret inner sanctum. Clearly I had found a special place, and a very special woman. Her name is Sin Sin, and she was kind enough to spend some of her time speaking with Art Radar.
To be blunt, Sin Sin is the reigning queen of Indonesian art in Hong Kong. A well-traveled ‘lifestyle designer’, she opened the Sin Sin Atelier in 1998, which features her personally designed collection of Southeast Asian inspired clothing, handbags, and jewelry. She also runs the Sin Sin Fine Art Gallery, which is widely considered to be among the most prominent art galleries in Hong Kong, and represents the best artists from Indonesia and around the world. The Sin Sin Annex, located across from the atelier, displays progressive installation and performance art, and serves as a public space for artist lectures. Sin Sin’s establishments are distinguished as Hong Kong’s only art spaces specializing in Indonesian art.
Also, as though Sin Sin weren’t multi-tasking enough, art lovers traveling to Bali in Indonesia can stay at Villa Sin Sin, Sin Sin’s 3 signature villas designed in collaboration with star-architect Gianni Francione, which surround guests in Balinese art and Indonesian beauty.
But questions remain, what makes this energetic art maven tick? Why is she working with Indonesian art in Hong Kong, and what insight can she offer into the Southeast Asian art scene? Read on for more.
Humble Hong Kong beginnings
Sin Sin now deals in artworks from all around the world and wistfully describes art as the ‘taste of life’, but once upon a time she was a Hong Kong Chinese girl growing up in a Chinese incense-filled temple in the rural mountainous Diamond Hill area of Kowloon, Hong Kong, and lived alongside native clans people.
Born into a devout Catholic family in the late 50’s, she studied at a Catholic school. As far her education beyond that, she is proud to be self-taught and comments, “I wasn’t into academics… I was always involved in creative activities, like acting, dancing, singing… There is an ancient Chinese saying about my approach to education. Roughly translated it means I would rather gain life experience by walking my journey.”
A true free spirit, she says that she always wanted a career in art, but her highly successful career has been spontaneous rather than strategic. She remarks, “I didn’t plan this, you can’t plan.” When she is not making and managing art at her atelier, she can be found performing Chinese opera, practicing calligraphy, or traveling and enjoying life.
Lucky eye for art
She always had a keen eye for art, and her ability to pluck artwork that will appreciate in the future from far-flung galleries is uncanny. She describes her first experience buying art, which was 18 years ago in Vietnam, when she bought a piece for a few hundred US dollars that is now estimated to be worth 30-50 times what she paid:
“Years ago  when I was starting to collect art, I was lucky to see the work of Bùi Xuân Phái in Vietnam. I felt strongly attracted by his work, and wanted to learn more about him… It happens to have appreciated quite a lot, but it is extremely special to me for the way it makes me feel.”
“West is mature, the East is upcoming”
Sin Sin has a connection to multiple places and cultures, including Hong Kong, Laos, Thailand, Indonesia, and mainland China. She explains:
“I appreciate the earthiness of these cultures, the simple and beautiful life of the people. Of course I’ve traveled to the States and Europe, but when I was younger the West didn’t speak to my soul yet. Their attitudes are developed, not exciting and new. There is no pleasure in the modern world… In the East there is something new, but under developed. You can feel the suffering and people waiting to be discovered. It speaks more to the soul, more natural, more earthy… West is mature, the East is upcoming.”
Regarding her extensive travels, Sin Sin says, “I love India, Shangri-la, Yunan… Bali and Indonesia was amazing energy for my 20’s, so many people go and never come home. And people there are willing and wanting to do something, there are so many possibilities when things are cheaper. Now there is a different need in my life. I go to places like Tuscany and Switzerland. [Also] there is different energy in Yunan, it is mysterious, powerful, and severe, but in a calm and peaceful way.”
Why Indonesian art?
Sin Sin has been cultivating close relationships with Indonesian artists for the past 6 years. She does not speak Indonesian Bahasar yet she does not experience barriers communicating with the artists: “That is part of the beauty between me and the artists, we still understand.”
So why is Sin Sin so interested in Indonesian art? She explains:
“It makes me happy to see them [the artists and communities] grow. They are open, free, and they share. When one artist sells, it is good for the group. I don’t want to say mission- but, I want to share the beauty of this part of the world. I’ve traveled to Indonesia for about 24 years, and I fell in love, even though there are things to hate, like there are in any country. But, I loved the nature and the culture, that it’s between Hindu and Muslim, and it’s so beautiful. Who doesn’t like this? It is full of color, freedom, the beauty of nature, and ceremony. You feel free as a bird.”
The Indonesian Invasion Exhibition
Sin Sin credits curating the Indonesian Invasion exhibition as the favorite project of her career, and it was certainly a significant event in the Asian art world. It stands as the largest and most important survey of contemporary Indonesian art that has ever been shown outside of Indonesia. It took place April 2- May 15, 2008 at the Sin Sin Annex and Atelier, featuring 14 of the most notable Indonesian artists of this generation. Each artist was chosen for his distinct individuality, and most already had prior success selling at auction. The following artists were included:
Enin Supriyanto, an Indonesian curator, also contributed to the exhibition with his lecture ‘The Contemporary and Sub-Cultures: A Slice of Indonesian Contemporary Art,’ on March 31, 2008 at the Hong Kong Visual Arts Center. This lecture was recorded and is currently accessible to the public at the Asia Art Archive. The Indonesian Invasion exhibition was also documented by Roland Hagenberg, and his coverage and artist interviews are available on Youtube.
Sin Sin on the Indonesian Art Scene
Q: Which artists do you collect and admire?
“I admire so many… I don’t put myself in a box, like, this is the only kind of work I like- boring! It depends on the message they channel. I like primitive and contemporary. I appreciate ancient things. I would also like to see Western artists inspired by the East, and Eastern artists inspired by the West, but this takes time…”
“Of Indonesian artists, I collect Yunizar, Rudi Mantofani, Putu Sutawijaya, S. Teddy Darmawan, and Jumaldi Alfi. Of Chinese artists, I collect Sun Guangyi, Wong How Man, Wong Yan Kwai, and Niu An (Ann New). Overseas artists in my collection include Rolf Lorenz [UK], and Rick Lewis [USA].”
Q: Who is the most significant Indonesian artist right now?
“I love them all, the beauty is that they are all individual and different. Yunizar, Putu Sutawijaya, Rudi Mantofani, and Jumaldi Alfi are very established, and their work is difficult to get because they are very hot at the moment… Bob Sick Yudhita is one of a kind. He is a real, true artist, and works in a street art style, like Jean-Michel Basquiat.”
“Kokok Sancoko is among the most prominent upcoming artists, and is a great observer. His work gives viewers a lot of room to think.”
“S. Teddy Darmawan is an artist who is never afraid of taking risks and making art with many possibilities. There is no doubt of Teddy’s passion to the art world.”
Sin Sin describes a big jump in the Indonesian art scene recently (in the past 2-3 years) and for the first time is seeing interest from the West and overseas. Coincidentally, Indonesia was classified as a ‘Next 11’ country by Goldman Sachs in 2005, a country with a newly emerging economy with optimistic outlook for investment. Sin Sin agrees these shifts in world affairs ‘obviously’ appear to correspond to the contemporary art market, because citizens are finally becoming monied enough to purchase their own cultural symbols, and the international profile of a country rises and gains esteem among other nations, which will also purchase the artwork from that country. Hence, Indonesian art is finally making its way to New York City.
Q: Who are the professionals you most admire and enjoy working with in Indonesian art?
Enin Supriyanto, a curator of Indonesian art. He knows it and is supportive, and gives his honest idea.
Q: Which institutions do you recommend to art lovers in Indonesia?
Q: Where are most Indonesian artists educated?
The most artists are in Jogja [Yogyakarta, also Jogja, Yogya, Jogjakart], and the school is there [Indonesian Institute of the Arts]. Most artists are trained at this one school.
Q: I noticed your formal title on your website is ‘Lifestyle Creator’. What is a lifestyle creator?
I’m involved in all aspects of creative design. Sometimes I’m a curator, a designer, and sometimes I feel like a producer when I put so much of my energy into a project. Who am I, then? Call me an artist, a creator.
Q: What future projects are you excited about?
Something I’m planning, but can’t speak on yet. I’m also interested in creating a show overseas. It is a beauty for people to see another part of the world like this. I’m looking for the right gallery, and I’m ready to see what we can collaborate overseas. I am based here to contribute something to my society, but I’m sure my artists want to go further, and I’d like to take them far away. I’d like to take the East to the West to show the new vision of the East. As a Hong Kong Chinese, I want to introduce this artwork, because I believe people want to know things but do not have access. Or maybe people want to know but don’t know who to talk to. Maybe I can have a contribution here.
Sin Sin’s Advice
For artists starting out:
Starting is easy! It’s like a honeymoon. If you decided, don’t give up, because it will be difficult. But I would say to artists from China, Laos, Indonesia… Why do you want to do this? Everyone discourages an artist, and being a 100% artist is so hard. They want to be free, okay, but everything comes with a price. This is the choice. It is a difficult way to go, especially in Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s history is less than 50 years as a developed city, since the 1960’s. But now, art helps people… Now is like a revolution, and people should focus on life and have more energy.
For artists approaching galleries:
Do research, see what work the gallery represents and if your work matches. Then you can approach by sending something, pictures.
For new collectors:
Well, I don’t know the stock market, but if I want to buy a stock, I’d go to a good broker. If I want to buy art, I’d go to a gallery with a collection that is appealing to me, and start there.
The Sin Sin Atelier and Annex is located at 52-53 Sai Street, in Central Hong Kong, and the Sin Sin Fine Art Gallery is at 1 Prince’s Terrace, Mid-levels, Hong Kong.
-contributed by Erin Wooters
- Inspiring art in important Indonesian art shows Spring 2009– Apr 09
- Overview Indonesian art- Only 5 of 50 auctionable artists today will have lasting value– March 09
- Collector’s new Indonesian art gallery opening causes ripples– Feb 09
- Seismic changes in Indonesian art scene since 2007 Borobodur auction– Dec 08
- Indonesian, Filipino prices rise at Sotheby’s despite meltdown– Oct 08
- Sin Sin website
- Indonesian Invasion- Youtube- Roland Hagenberg visits studios of Indonesian contemporary artists -Part 1- -Part 2- -Part 3- -Part 4- -Part 5- -Part 6-