ART PROFESSIONAL INTERVIEW INDONESIAN ART EVENTS
In an Art Radar Asia exclusive interview with Cemeti founder Nindityo Adipurnomo, we hear the fascinating story of their latest venture working collaboratively with artists from Myanmar. Read on to learn how cultural conflicts and artistic disappointments were eventually resolved.
New Zero Art Space in Myanmar and Cemeti Art House in Indonesia joined hands in June this year to present the collaborative project and exhibition “+Road|5 Myanmar Artists + 5 Jogja Artists“ in Yogyakarta.
Within a tight schedule of two weeks, five Burmese artists and five Indonesian artists interacted and produced performances, videos and installations.
These creations acted as a language through which the two distinctive cultures could communicate their differences, resolve conflicts and move closer to mutual understanding.
The five participating Myanmar artists included Aye Ko, (Executive Director of New Zero Art Space), May Moe Thu, Htoo Aung Kyaw, Nwe (Thin Lei Nwe) and Zoncy (Zon Sapal Phyu). The five Indonesian artists were Doger Panorsa, Ikhsan Syahirul Alim (Ican), Restu Ratnaningtyas, Ristyanto Cahyo Wibowo and Wibowo Adi Utama.
To understand more about how the collaborative project came into being, how the event was viewed by the local art community, and to gain some insight into the Indonesian art scene, Art Radar Asia spoke with Nindityo Adipurnomo, one of the executive directors of Cemeti Art House.
From a commercial art promotion to a cross-cultural art exchange project
Nindityo Adipurnomo explained that the idea of collaboration between the two art spaces was initiated by Aye Ko, Myanmar artist and director of New Zero Art Space and Community New Zero Art Space. Ko thought that, by hosting a project of this kind, New Zero Art Space might land an exchange grant from the Asian Cultural Council in New York. With this in mind, Ko proposed the idea to Mella Jaarsma and Nindityo Adipurnomo, co-owners/coordinators of the renowned Indonesian gallery Cemeti Art House and winners of the 2006 John D. Rockefeller 3rd Awards, who expressed a keen interest.
Art censored in Burma
The couple saw “+Road” as an excellent opportunity to develop networks within regions such as Myanmar. They had learnt much from New Zero Art Space and they had been seeking opportunities to cooperate with them since attending the New Zero Art Space organised 2007 ASEAN Contemporary Art Exchange Program, an event open only to members of the space. Of the programme, Adipurnomo recalled how each of the artists, gallery owners and art activists who participated had to bring along a single painting of a limited size with no political message. The night before the event, the Burmese police came and censored the art works on display, and removed the works of four Burmese artists. Despite this horrific episode, the programme was fruitful; each of the art activists present conducted informative talks.
In addition, “+Road”‘s aims were in line with the project-based platform Cemeti Art House has been working under since the beginning of 2010. This new platform focuses on an alternative approach to art and society in Indonesia. They have a successful model to follow; Landing Soon (2006-2009) was a three year exchange program in which one Dutch artist and one Indonesian artist resided in Yogyakarta and received assistance, guidance, and support from the studio manager through weekly progress reports.
“The reason [for launching the new platform] was because we were fed up with all the exhibition models, art fairs, auctions in Indonesia; [these events] never pay attention to invest in a kind of healthy regeneration of the art scene. No, I’m one hundred percent sure that they do not realise this. The Indonesian commercial art scene has been investing in promotion only.” Nindityo Adipurnom
Conflicting goals of Burmese and Indonesians
However, it turned out Aye Ko wasn’t thinking about the kind of collaborative exhibition Adipurnomo had in mind. Basically, he just wanted to use Cemeti’s exhibition space for a group exhibition of five Myanmar artists and five Indonesian artists, where published catalogues could distributed. His commercial approach to the collaboration, which did not aim to provide any platform for meaningful interactions among artists, was certainly not what Cemeti Art House wanted.
“We did not want to only organise a promotional exhibition that has no interesting curatorial subject, not being involved in how artists go through their process before presenting their works in exhibition. And so we, in the end, asked [the artists] to just come to Yogyakarta; not bring any paintings with them. Instead, each of [the artists] should be well prepared with an individual artwork presentation in Power Point to see what we can do together.” Nindityo Adipurnomo
Jaarsma and Adipurnomo tried carefully to intervene and transform the cooperation into a “mutual exchange project” instead: a program involving short events such as artists’ talks, discussions, workshops and master classes, allowing both groups of artists to understand each other better and create possibilities for a deeper collaboration, with an exhibition as the end goal. And in Jaarsma and Adipurnomo’s eyes, it was a success. “+Road” became a truly collaborative project for the ten artists involved, where they could engage themselves in intensive cultural exchanges and meaningful interactions.
Mix of talents strongly affects resulting artwork
The choice of the five Burmese artists and the five Indonesian artists was made separately by New Zero Art Space and Cemeti Art House respectively. Adipurnomo launched an open application, attracting nearly seventy artists, and selected five from this group. He admits to being disappointed with the choice made by New Zero Art Space. Among the five Burmese artists, only two were professional artists, while the rest of them were new members of New Zero Art Space and were very amateur beginners. In contrast, the Yogyakarta artists selected by Cemeti Art House had a lot professional experience.
Disappointment at Cemeti
“[The Burmese artists] are bad painters: they cannot draw, have no sense of colour and have, in fact, a very superficial sense of exploring materials… While our local Yogyakarta artists you can see, … that they were very well trained academically, strong and skillfull in model drawings, sketches, colours, well experienced in treating materials with good sense.” Nindityo Adipurnomo
Burmese artists favour performance art, political art
Although the Burmese artists were generally inexperienced painters, their strength lay in performance art, an artistic skill which the Yogyakarta artists were either still developing or not interested in exploring.
“My very personal observation was that the artists from Yangoon were very much into performance art. They are very direct, expressive and always fulled of political intentions in their performance. They really use their body as the most direct tool and medium…. It often becomes a physical movement that is very close to a dance performance. One of our local artists participating in this project was [hesitant] to join the workshop on performance!” Nindityo Adipurnomo
This mix of opposing artistic strengths, differences which became very apparent during the workshops, influenced what was produced for the exhibition finale. “+Road” showcased a lot of video works and photographs, and a smaller number of installation and performance pieces, with no paintings at all.
More opportunities open up future collaboration
Overall, Cemeti Art House viewed the collaboration as a successful pilot project, achieving its aim of engaging artists from two cultures in interactions that led to a gradual mutual understanding.
“[The] major understanding [the artists] did have was cultural dialogues. This is something that I find you can not just improvise in an Internet facilitation. You really need to [be] facing each other. Building up your assumptions, making a lot of missunderstandings and opening up conflicts, so that in the end you will understand each other better. We did ask every Indonesian artist to be a partner everyday by sitting on the same motorcycle – one motorcycle for two artists – during the two week intensive dialogue…. The time was just too short for so many reasons. But now we know better how to handle and open up more networks with young artists, who are really willing to continue in a deeper context.” Nindityo Adipurnomo
Working towards a healthy regeneration of the Indonesian contemporary art scene
Adipurnomo considers Cemeti Art House to be ground-breaking in promoting a healthy regeneration of the Indonesian contemporary art scene, which has grown largely commercially up to this point. From “rumours and a very quick-glimpse analyzation and observation”, he suggests that banks have been gaining control of the Indonesian art market.
Banking money makes a mark in the Indonesian art market
“In the beginning, [art] was dominated by rich people around the tobacco industry. Of course, Dr. Oei Hong Djien was the respected ‘pioneer’ of the Indonesian collectors, among many others who were more nationally known; Dr. Oei Hong Djien is going international quickly. He was also very generous in educating and influencing many other rich Chinese people in the tobacco industry to invest their capital in art. Starting from that mile stone, Indonesian art dealers and collectors [were] growing fast. Most of [these collectors] were hunting names instead of, you know, a ‘quality’. They created many kinds of tricks in order to get as many ‘big names’ as possible, which they could easily call ‘masterpiece’ makers. Auctions and art fairs were becoming a medium for them to gamble in so many tricky ways. This rapid growth of gambling spirit stimulated many other rich people, out of this tobacco industry, to borrow money from banks to join this gambling. That is the way banks are now getting involved. A lot of bankers started to invest their capital in the arts.” Nindityo Adipurnomo
New Jogyakarta Art Fair attracts outside collectors
With the opening of the Jogyakarta Art Fair recently, art dealers and bankers, many of whom had never visited the region before, flocked to Cemeti Art House to see what was happening. This is, perhaps, further evidence that the Indonesian arts scene is commercialising.
“Cemeti Art House is considered to be ground-breaking in promoting a healthy regeneration of the art scene. We have only been ‘fighting’ for that faith for so long. Of course, we are not the only ones. There are many others, such us Ruang Rupa in Jakarta, and the new comers like JARF (Jatiwangi Artists in Residence Festival), Forum Lenteng, and many other smaller scale [organisations] who come up and disappear and come up with different formulas [only] to dissappear again.” Nindityo Adipurnomo
- Leading non-profit institutions gathered by Tate Modern for art event: Art Radar Asia lists Asian participants – July 2010 – comprehensive descriptions of 11 Asian art spaces
- Unapologetically political Burmese artist Chaw Ei Thein discusses her country and her art: Asia Art Archive interview – June 2010 – outlines a revealing interview
- What is Indonesian style? Jumaldi Alfi on the art, style and Jogja – interview – November 2009 – Art Radar Asia gains insights from a renowned Indonesian artist
- Historically important Indonesian gallery Cemeti closes…to change focus – May 2009 – a report on gallery closure and changes
- Myanmar artists explore new media, produce courageous art – April 2009 – an overview with details on 4 Myanmar artists