'Beauty' and 'Terror'

Indonesian artists on show in Paris

The title of the Indonesian contemporary art exhibit in Paris echoed the latest bombings in Bali. Astari Rasjid and Pintor Sirait, two of those on show, do work on Bali, but did not choose the title because of the 2002 bombings - and they certainly had no inkling of the Oct. 1 tragedy at Jimbaran Bay and Kuta Beach; Beauty and Terror was selected by their host gallery, Galerie Loft.

Amid the flurry of activities during rentree - the month after the summer holidays end in France and which heralds autumn - Indonesia made a big splash on the artistic scene.

Strategically, the two shows featuring the 12 Indonesian artists coincided with the Foire Internationale d'Art Contemporain - the International Contemporary Art Fair - held on the weekend of Oct. 8 through Oct. 9. Buyers and collectors were thus alerted to a new source of creative inspiration, a welcome change from conventional tourism tactics.

Indeed, Jean Marc-Decrop of Galerie Loft, who used to deal with classic and contemporary European masters, branched out six years ago into Chinese contemporary art, which was then unknown in the West, but is now much sought after. A certified expert on the subject, Decrop, together with his associate, Jean Francois Roudillon, has established a Galerie Loft in Paris, Barcelona and Hong Kong, specializing in Chinese contemporary art.

Last year, Decrop staged a successful Chinese-Indonesian contemporary art show in Jakarta called On The Edge. Together with an associate, Decrop runs Galerie Loft in Paris and in Barcelona.

Thanks to his flair, Indonesian artists will profit from a welcome - yet overdue - exposure on the international market, as Decrop organized not just one, but two exhibitions in Paris: one in Galerie Loft on the Rue des Beaux Arts on the Left Bank and another in the huge entrance hall of the Assurances & Conseils Saint Honore, which is associated with Rothschild Banque, located on the swanky Avenue Matignon on the Right Bank near Christie's auction house.

Astari Rasjid, Pintor Sirait, Agus Suwage, Yusra Martunus, Yunizar, Alfi, Eddy Hara, Agung Kurniawan, Ugo Untoro, Bambang Toko Wudarsono, FX Harsono and Marsyadi thus became ambassadors of Indonesia's contemporary artistic expression to France for the duration of the show. While Pintor was the only sculptor among this group, the painters provided a spectrum of work through their explorations on various techniques.

Astari Rasjid stands out not only because she is a woman, but also because she seems determined to deliver a semipolitical message through her artwork. In Europe, she has been likened to Mexican artist Frida Khalo, who painted mainly self-portraits.

Astari and Pintor were the only artists able to attend the opening in Paris. They were invited to stay for two weeks at a friend's flat overlooking the lovely gardens of Palais Royal opposite the Louvre, to soak in the atmosphere and to work on ideas and new projects in the "city of light".

Indonesian Jais Darga and her French husband Pascal Lansberg, who jointly own a gallery in the neighboring Rue de Seine, also attended the openings, a celebratory occasion with flowing champagne. They had just flown back from Bali, where the Darga Gallery had featured Jean-Michel Basquiat in a popular exhibition.

One anonymous collector an elegant figure known for owning many casinos, loves sculptures, and some of Pintor's piece caught this collector's eyes on opening night, Sept. 30 and interest in paintings was also high.

It is a proud fact that Indonesia is now firmly on the map of international fine arts, which is of extreme importance for the pieces' commercial value. In this case, the common saying "the only famous artist is a dead artist", cannot apply here.

According to Decrop, Indonesian contemporary art deals with burning current issues such as the transformation of traditional society and modernization. The explosion of consumerism and business, the internet, burgeoning urbanization and ecological disasters, the nouveau riche and the role of women in traditional Muslim society are treated openly and boldly - without shame - in these artist's work.

And nudes are no longer a taboo theme among artists.

The 12 artists have participated in the Venice, Kwangju, Jakarta, Shanghai and Tirana biennales, and their work has been auctioned by Sotheby's and Christie's in Hong Kong and Singapore, not forgetting Larasati auction house. It was thus high time that the French public was introduced to their dynamic and thought-provoking oeuvre.

Og the group, perhaps Astari and Pintor are the most cosmopolitan, as they have been educated abroad and share certain similarities in their theoretical approach to art.

Javanese Astari grew up partly in India and Burma, and attended the University of Minnesota and the Royal College of Art in London, where her penchant for gender issues was fortified.

Meanwhile, Pintor, who is Batak, was born in Germany and educated there and in the United States before returning to Bandung, West Java. The sculptor now works mainly in metal, producing pieces of varying scales. His current work in progress is a 600-meter-long piece commissioned by Singapore's Changi Airport.

The artists of Beauty ad Terror are thus clearly rising on the global horizon, although they are already established in their home countries: their work is considered pivotal for those of the younger generation who are considering a career in art.

While firmly anchored in Indonesian culture, they all explore the limits of traditional artistic expressions, extended to a broader, unversal canvas.

Gone are the days when over-stepping traditional cultural expression was considered non-Indonesian - or non-Asian.

Beaute et Expression Terrorise: Art contemporain indonesien (Beauty and Expressions of Terror: Indonesia contemporary art) ran from Sept. 30 to Oct. 29 at Galerie Loft, Paris. For look at the gallery's permanent exhibition, visit www. galerieloft.com.

- Kunang Helmi - Contributor/Paris



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