Mangu Putra’s latest solo exhibition draws on archival footage of Dutch colonisation.
Art Radar took the time to have a quiet chat with Mangu Putra about his new show at Singapore’s Gajah Gallery.
Indonesian artist Mangu Putra has a series of recent paintings on display at Gajah Gallery in Singapore from 25 November to 11 December 2016. Entitled “Mangu Putra – Between History and Quotidian”, the exhibition examines archival footage of Dutch colonisation in Bali in the early to mid 1900s. Putra uses colonial photographs published by Dutch institutions in order to re-imagine scenes by placing Balinese people at their centre.
Putra was born in 1963 in Sangeh in Central Bali, Indonesia. He studied at Institute Seni Indonesia where he majored in Design and Visual Communications. He worked as a graphic designer until 1997, after which he turned to a career in the fine arts.
Even though Yogyakarta, Bandung and Jakarta have developed into significant creative hubs in Indonesia, Putra has chosen to remain in Bali, where he investigates Balinese history and the experiences of his own family.
Through the 1990s and 2000s Putra developed work that explored concerns regarding the environment. In one example, the exhibition “Spiritual Landscapes”, volcano wastelands were filled with worshiping Balinese figures. He expanded this theme to other contexts, depicting Denpasar as an alienated urban space and a series on Tibet. The works investigated the tension between rituals and spirituality on the one hand and the decaying landscape on the other.
In the last ten years Putra has turned his attention to the untold stories of Indonesian veterans, particularly the surviving fighters of the Balinese Puputan War and the fight for independence.
Professor Adrian Vickers, Director of Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Sydney and also author of the catalogue essay, writes:
Mangu Putra shifts his attention towards the degradation of the natural world and the neglect of those who made Indonesia, as part of a search for spiritual meaning. He brings a dark perspective to this quest for meaning, one that is critical not just of the wider nature of Indonesian politics, but also of those who contribute to the neglect of the environment and of history.
In the exhibition “Between History and the Quotidian” there are 11 works, each drawing on Putra’s masterful painting technique, his great attention to detail and his interest in photography to create hyperrealist pieces.
Art Radar took the time to have a quick chat with Mangu Putra about his work and influences.
You started off as a graphic designer. What inspired you to move into visual art and how has your background in graphic design informed your creative practice?
Visual arts gave me the freedom to express myself, while with graphic design I needed to follow a set of ‘rules’ or design principles. Technically a big part of my work is still influenced by design. Distorted prints, rough ‘noise’, and dots resulted from the process of photocopy, blurred photographs – they all in a way inspire me.
Could you explain a bit about the exhibition “Between History and the Quotidian” and what themes you were exploring?
“Between history and the quotidian” is a result of my findings and explorations about my country’s history in fighting colonialism. This is only a small part of my long process in my own fight for my country.
What drew you to working with historic archival photographs and what process do you go through when you reimagine them?
I chose to utilise archival photographs because these visuals gave me a deeper source of inspiration. While observing photographs of these historical events, I reimagined those events and translated my observations on my canvas.
Why is it important for you to go back to archival documents in the context of Indonesia?
I am interested in digging through historical archives because they document important national struggles against colonialism. These archival photographs I have never seen before, they inspire me so much and I find them aesthetically pleasing.
What role does the concept of memory (individual, collective, national or institutional memory) play in your work?
The works I produce from historical explorations do not depict actual histories. They depict a dialogue between my thoughts and feelings towards what I have read and observed during my research. So my works reflect my personal perception of what happened in history.
An essay by Professor Adrian Vickers mentions your attention towards the natural world and themes of neglect of the environment. Could you explain your interest in this topic and why it is particularly relevant in the Indonesian context?
Nature is an endless source of inspiration for me, in whatever condition it may be. In its most beautiful state, or in its broken, polluted state. I contemplated many things through these natural phenomena lately. Paintings of decaying nature like the ones in the ‘pollution series’ are an expression of how I feel about what I see. I am aware that I myself contribute to the decay of nature through my daily use of motor vehicles, chemical substances to paint, detergent, etc. My paintings are not to inform, but rather to share my feelings and thoughts through art. It is not my way of dictating the relevance of these issues.
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