Socio-historical approach in contemporary art

Bandung Contemporary Art Award #04
Lokale Hulptroepen (Legiun Lokal KNIL), painted with charcoal on pine wood by Maharani Mancanagara in Bandung Contemporary Art Award #04, Lawangwangi Creative Space, Bandung.

Just as the recent criticism on Indonesia’s fine art by some high profiles inside the art council itself underscores the lack of relevant social criticism, the more localised contemporary art bienalle in Bandung this year presents a more savvy view which involves a socio-cultural approach, a tendency to revisit interweaving human history with its conspicious butterfly effect we have seen today.

The fourth BaCAA situated in an art “hideout” on the upper Dago, opened since 2009 as a patron for contemporary exhibition by local artists, nonetheless is making an implosion to an updated textbook version of the local art scene, in that several young artists made a unanimous call for a contemporary exhibition that creates a distinction in the thinking of the past, in contrast of the relentless if not laborious effort to the public and the new generation artists themselves to find a tiny standpoint in the spinning universe they are trying to keep up with.

Globalisation turns out to be a push-factor that leads people into becoming lost in making perspective, not to mention the bigoted art commercialisation. The subtlety of what appears to be an inward art critisicm is implied in the dozens of A4 jumbled prints sticked to the front wall of Lawangwangi Creative Space, one of them is a derivated copy of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s drawing, American’s second to none global icon of pop artist besides Andy Warhol, whose idea is about distancing what is continuously mentioned as a modern art and the established old artworks.

What strikes most is the artist’s opinion about what constitutes a contemporary art instead of the hopeless attempt of late to make oneself considered an artist through quirky aesthetics and subjective vision of sophistication. He believes the answer is a profound understanding of the root. Hence, the search of simplicity as inquired in Marcus Aurelius first principles of each particular thing, “What is it in itself?” Perhaps this too leaves the title of his work Belum Ada Judul.

“You Promised Me Mars Colonies Instead I Got Facebook” by Nurrahmat Widyasena, who gets honorary mention in BaCAA #04, Lawangwangi Creative Space, Bandung.

A revisit to the struggle for independence against centuries of Western colonisation, for instance, constructs a piece of work through the wall-mounted frames of ethnic-based freed slave group of Mardijkers who were unable to find the ground during the making of a new nation due to the established social and cultural distance from the indigineous people.

A community shaped by the Dutch’s policy at the dawn of colony era in Dutch East Indies, the Mardijkers, or literally the greats, whose word originates from the Sanskrit, posed in the daguerrotypes which hadn’t it preserved, their proof of existence will fall into oblivion. And so too the existence of the Maluku people the nationalists abhorred during the post-independence struggle, where they formed a considerable part of the Dutch KNIL forces in retaking the former colony by force, and failed due to vanishing international support in the wake World War 2.

The exodus of hundreds of thousands of Moluccans was a historical and political burden carried by the Netherlands in the modern history that Indonesians could not care less. For the alliance to the western invaders predisposed to the national sentiment. In addition to the two cases above,the hate-mongering political behavior against the enemy of the majority that resulted in an outcast also came to light with the social antagonism to the homosexuals, in its way revealing the name Khem Parasti Berman, the voice of LGBT whose role was almost unheard of in the post-reformation era.

Muhammad Vilhamy - Belum Ada Judul (BAJ). Mixed media on paper, plastic.
Belum Ada Judul (BAJ) by Muhammad Vilhamy, one of the three winners of BaCAA #04.

Talking about art commercialisation in Indonesia, In Kurasi dan Kuasa, Agung Hujatnikajennong argued that one of its major outcome is impoverishment (pemiskinan), in the practice of entirely submitting to the medium of painting to allow the exorbitant price tags. Therefore the independence of the modern world gives rise to new media, among the most feasible is photography, but done so without compromising the beauty of its essence, that is, history disclosure.

To unclassify information means that the intellectual society demonstrates a self-taught approach to comprehend the time and space around them as opposed to rootless visual aesthetics that often deliberately hid under the complex disguise of the overhyped word conceptualism. Just take a look at Guggenheim museum as the proponent symbol of contemporary art that has chain operations abroad. It suggests that globalisation, and the “mental internet”, as suggested by Iranian intellectual Daryush Shayegan, a Western-educated professor, is a major factor in shaping the uniformity in how the west-east continents perceives the present dynamics.

The recent tendency to focus on building the dialogue of civilisation, his famous rebuttal against Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilisation, is really taking place, for admittedly a good reason to nurture a peace era. But at the same time we are trapped in the energy-consuming endeavor for outward thinking, whereas we go farther backwards in perceiving who we really are. After all – without minisculing art’s nature as visual and auditory spectacles – the thought-provoking paradigm for the sake of self-assesment among the maturing society is an absolute necessity.


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