Heri Dono explores power structures and reflects upon socio-political issues of the current times in his new series of works.
The show is the Indonesian artist’s first solo gallery exhibition in Hong Kong, featuring satirical caricatures of the complex global political arena. Art Radar spoke to the artist to find out more about the works on show.
Inspired by traditional Javanese style puppet theatre Wayang Kulit, Jakarta-born Indonesian artist Heri Dono draws attention to international political issues through depictions of fantastical mythological characters with a contemporary flair. His current solo exhibition entitled “Land of Freedom” is on view at Tang Contemporary Art in Hong Kong until 12 August 2017.
Currently based in Yogyakarta, Heri Dono (b. 1960, Jakarta, Indonesia) is an internationally acclaimed figure in the Indonesian contemporary art scene, and his works have been widely exhibited, including at the Venice Biennale in 2003 and 2015, the Gwangju Biennale in 1995 and 2006, the Singapore Art Museum, the National Gallery of Indonesia in Jakarta, Musée d’art contemporain de Lyon, France, and Asia Society New York, among others.
Shadow Puppetry and Indonesian Tradition
Wayang kulit is a traditional form of puppet play in Indonesia. Made from buffalo hides and leather, the puppets are designed with intricate costumes and embody certain characters. Their shadows are projected onto a back-lit screen to form the storytelling process in this Javanese folk tradition. In his artwork, Heri Dono references the Indonesian conventional aesthetics of puppet theatre as he juxtaposes folk with contemporary, as well as reality with fiction.
In a press release, Hou Hanru, an influential Chinese writer and curator based in Paris, San Francisco and Rome, writes about Heri Dono’s art:
[Heri Dono] humorously skewer[s] the current political situation with imagination and illusion. He presents the tension between illusion and reality and highlights the intersection of local culture and contemporary art. They enact a kind of Sci-Fi and tragic comedy. He calls it Heridonology.
With his artistic career spanning almost four decades, Heri Dono has lived through the oppressive Indonesian regime in the 1980s, followed by the Post-Suharto era ever since the “reformasi” in 1998. Today, Indonesia has plunged into neoliberal globalisation, not unlike many countries around the world. Alluding to recent global political turmoil, Dono’s artwork encapsulates the complex ideologies that circulate in global politics, and re-examines the current situation by revealing the tensions embedded within.
Heri Dono’s new works in the show present sharp commentaries on current affairs. The works in the show include Trump vs the Dragon, Super Trump – Land and Brexit and Trumps – Storm. As new world leaders replace their predecessors, the political divide of the masses widens. The title of the show, “Land of Freedom”, brings attention to the notion of freedom against the backdrop of military intervention, the destruction of the environment, and corruption that occur in different nations.
Speaking about his definition of freedom, the Indonesian artist comments:
Freedom is the basis of human rights – for self-expression, for thinking, with respect to every individual person. It also means the freedom to express without discrimination or being discriminated in return, to be treated equally and valued as human beings. Unfortunately, freedom does not appear in real life. We live in a kind of jail where freedom co-exists with suppression and humiliation. Perhaps freedom only exists in theory but not in practice, when really it should be something that is practiced on every level – from the level of family to education. It’s connected in every way to how we make decisions for our future.
The Myth of The Land of the Free
The United States is proclaimed as the “land of the free”. However, in light of recent political events, many cease to believe in this motto. Referring to Donald Trump’s presidency, Heri Dono reflects that
Under the new president of the United States, America is not the land of the free. If you look at Hollywood and how the American dream is portrayed as a discourse of life, these ideas can only be expressed through movies. In real life, the concept of the American dream cannot transfer to different cultures and other countries. Life is not a fiction, and the president is not a movie character.
Immigration and the Shattering of the American Dream
From the Indonesian perspective, the artist observes:
Before Donald Trump became president, there used to be a long queue for Indonesians to visit the American embassy in Jakarta. I don’t see that anymore after he became president. Indonesian students on exchange in the US have come back to Indonesia before any deportation policies could take effect. This is not a place where humans can live freely.
Freedom in the Context of South East Asia
In the show, the kinetic sound installation Born and Freedom comments on the relationship between the Indonesian population and the government. The animal imagery of dogs and human beings held by leash symbolises the tension in the country, in spite of the apparent freedom after the 1998 reform that marked the downfall of a military regime.
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- “Shah Abbas and his Page Boy”: Iranian artist Fereydoun Ave at Rossi & Rossi, Hong Kong – June 2017 – “Shah Abbas and his Page Boy” references Muhammad Qasim’s 17th century painting of the Safavid ruler Shah Abbas I in the collection of the Musée du Louvre in Paris
- Singaporean and Indonesian artists explore “Fantasy Islands” at Objectifs, Singapore – January 2017 – “Fantasy Islands” presents the work of seven Singaporean and Indonesian contemporary artists that deal with the notion of ‘island’
- Art can change the mindset of society: Indonesian curator Alia Swastika – interview – January 2017 – Indonesian curator Alia Swastika was recently celebrated by Apollo International Art Magazine as a young arts professional to watch
- Indonesian artist Mangu Putra: “Between History and the Quotidian” in Singapore – in conversation – December 2016 – Mangu Putra’s latest solo exhibition draws on archival footage of Dutch colonisation
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