At first glance, Indra Wahyu’s latest solo exhibition, “Child’s Allegory,” at the Vanessa Art Link gallery in Central Jakarta, appears to be a pleasant series of paintings of children at play.
But a closer look reveals the artist’s true intention, “to add to his canvases a flavor of social concerns,” as curator Milovan Sutrisno explained.
“The atmosphere he depicts refers to the dramas on the Indonesian stage of power: a dimension in the realm of democracy where layers are still being unveiled,” Milovan said.
The children in Indra’s paintings are shown playing in the streets, or putting their heads together as if to plan their next prank.
Indra uses watercolors and acrylic and stencil paints, making the lines and forms blurry at times — a metaphor for the artist’s view of the current state of the country, in which democracy is “awash” with power plays.
Depicting children, Milovan added, serves as an allegory, thus the exhibition’s title.
“The process in which the stories behind the scenes are unveiled is colored by accusations, resembling juvenile stage plays,” the curator explained. “[Indra] is laughing at the immaturity of the democratic process in this country.”
Indra’s history of exploring social themes in his work can be traced back to 1997, when he first enrolled at the Indonesian Institute of Arts (ISI) in Yogyakarta to study painting.
“At that time, the monetary crisis struck Asia and Indonesia was experiencing severe economic problems,” Milovan said. “Students began demonstrating. Indra Wahyu, with fellow ISI students, made animal masks to be worn during demonstrations. The distinct appearance of ISI protesters made them become a spectacle of sorts. The act of demonstrating became not merely an act to demand change, but also to entertain people, setting the stage for democracy using cultural forms characteristic of Yogyakarta.”
Indra has used art as a tool for protest ever since. The 34-year-old explores his social concerns through his art, showing both compassion and concern on the canvas, turning it into a powerful medium for criticism.
“The imaginary society in Indra’s paintings consists of children,” Milovan said. “They become metaphors for important figures in society.”
Two of Indra’s most eye-catching works in the exhibition tackle themes of progress and development, showing that these are often achieved at a high price. Some groups are always left out or neglected in the process, while others suffer its hardships without receiving any of its benefits.
The painting “Today in Negotiation” shows two opposing groups of children, standing in front of a bulldozer, seemingly ready to enter a fistfight.
“The bulldozer serves as a symbol of progress,” Milovan explained. “At the same time, however, it also symbolizes the numerous evictions of poor residents from their homes [in the name of development].”
Similarly, “Standing on the Wind” shows several children posing as construction workers, obviously struggling against a strong wind, seemingly ill-equipped for the job at hand.
Another painting raises questions about Indonesia’s education system. In “Blow Up … Blow Up … Then Vaporized Into the Air,” a boy and a girl sit next to each other at a desk, blowing up red balloons that go floating up in the air, but then burst.
“The work was inspired by the idea that schools aim to produce educated and righteous people, but at the end of the day they merely create corrupt people,” Milovan said.
It is clear that Indra’s paintings, which seem so easy on the eye at first, are imbued with concerns, accusations and criticisms, all of which make for a truly inspired and meaningful art exhibition.
Solo painting exhibition by Indra Wahyu
Until Wednesday, Aug. 24
Vanessa Art Link
Jakarta Art District
Tel: 021 7243982