This winter 2019 issue of the TAASA Review trains its lens on Indonesia, corresponding with the National Gallery of Australia’s Contemporary Worlds: Indonesia – the largest exhibition of contemporary Indonesian art ever presented in Australia. Another relevant initiative is No god but God: The art of Islam at the Art Gallery of South Australia, on display from late August. The articles on these two gallery endeavours, along with the other contributions in this issue, reflect the vibrancy and complexity at play across the Indonesian archipelago and its rich mosaic of arts and cultures. While this issue is not seeking to focus on particular themes, conversations occur between several of the articles. It comes as no surprise that a number address environmental concerns, and recognise the past as a keystone for guiding the contemporary.
We open the issue with NGA senior curator Carol Cains’ overview of Contemporary Worlds: Indonesia. This major exhibition acknowledges the strength and growing prominence of our near neighbour’s contemporary art scene, and includes significant works by artists of international prominence – many of whom are old friends of Australia, courtesy of such projects as the Asia-Pacific Triennials – as well as by creators exhibiting in Australia for the first time.
Two of the participating artists in Contemporary Worlds are featured in separate articles. Elly Kent writes on Sundanese artist Tisna Sanjaya’s participatory performance art, with her erudite contribution incorporating a history of art as activism in the country. Wulan Dirgantoro looks at another of Indonesia’s prominent contemporary artists, Arahmaiani, focusing on a recent performance, The Past has not Passed. Like Sanjaya, Arahmaiani is a passionate advocate for the environment and endeavours to raise awareness through art. Rising intolerance and the need to reconnect and acknowledge Indonesia’s plural pasts are also pressing concerns for Arahmaiani, and these themes lie at the core of her performance.
My discussion with architect Eko Prawoto continues conversations around staying attentive to the environment and the past as guides for contemporary living. Constantly seeking to harness local wisdom, Prawoto creates stunning contemporary works that remain responsive to the natural environment and to Indonesia’s enduring traditions of craft and design. Meanwhile, it is nature’s devastating forces and the ensuing effects on artistic community and continuity that inform the fascinating piece by James Bennett and Muchammadun. Here we see how environmental catastrophes – earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions – have markedly affected art styles in Indonesia, with Lombok the case study. Karen Cherie MacDonald’s article goes on to explore the loss of practitioner knowledge and skills, highlighting the fragility of cultural traditions. Hers is an inspiring account from the field about an initiative to revive and perpetuate the plaited art traditions, including basketry and the making of sunhats, in villages in East and North Kalimantan.
Other articles present evocative journeys-by-proxy to various archipelago islands, through consideration of remarkable pieces from Australian and international galleries. Joanna Barrkman shares her research on the Katharane Mershon Collection of Indonesian Art, Fowler Museum at the University of California Los Angeles, covering both American dancer Mershon’s life in Bali during the 1930s and a selection of exquisite objects from the Collection. Art Gallery of South Australia curator Russell Kelty outlines some of the treasured objects in No god but God: The art of Islam, including a magnificent early-mid 19th century sesako (throne rest) from Southern Sumatra and a collection of manuscripts. Musician Margaret Bradley generously provides a personal account of her three-decade commitment to musical interchange between Australia and Indonesia, detailing some the instruments of South Sulawesi and her recent collaborative performances in Makassar.
Keeping with the theme of travel, curator Matt Cox shares riveting background information on the making – in three separate batik regions in Java – of the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ Tiga Negeri cloths, and discusses the profound effect on batik production brought about by the introduction of railways in parts of central Java.
Finally, Caroline Turner’s book review is a fitting feature, as she looks at T. K. Sabapathy’s Writing the Modern: Selected Texts on Art & Art History in Singapore, Malaysia and Southeast Asia 1973 – 2015. Sabapathy has been a monumental figure in the writing of Southeast Asian art modern and contemporary art history, and the volume will be a boon for all members interested in Indonesian art.
TAASA pays tribute to Carl Andrews, founding President of TAASA, who died in February this year. Carl played a pivotal role in the early years of TAASA’s establishment and many members will be saddened to hear of his passing. His obituary on p26 has been kindly provided by Paul Genney, TAASA Secretary from 1991 to 2000.
3 EDITORIAL: INDONESIA - Christine Clark, Guest Editor
4 CONTEMPORARY WORLDS: INDONESIA AT THE NGA - Carol Cains
7 THE INFLUENCE OF ENVIRONMENTAL CATASTROPHES ON ART TRADITIONS: AN INDONESIAN CASE STUDY - James Bennett and Muchammadun
10 BALI – A DANCER’S HOME AWAY FROM HOME: THE KATHARANE MERSHON COLLECTION OF INDONESIAN ART - Joanna Barrkman
13 ARCHITECTURE IS ALWAYS TEMPORARY BUT NATURE WILL REMAIN: A CONVERSATION WITH EKO PRAWOTO - Christine Clark
15 NO GOD BUT GOD: THE ART OF ISLAM AT THE ART GALLERY OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA - Russell Kelty
16 TRADITIONS OF DISSENT: CONTEMPORARY ARTIVISM IN INDONESIA - Elly Kent
18 PERPETUATING THE PLAITED ART TRADITIONS OF EAST & NORTH KALIMANTAN - Karen Cherie Macdonald
20 IN THE SHADOW OF THE PASTS: HISTORY AND CONNECTIVITY IN ARAHMAIANI’S PERFORMANCE ART - Wulan Dirgantoro
22 MAKING MEANING THROUGH MUSIC IN MAKASSAR: A PERSONAL JOURNEY - Margaret Bradley
24 IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN: TIGA NEGERI BATIK CLOTHS AT THE AGNSW - Matt Cox
25 BOOK REVIEW: WRITING THE MODERN - Caroline Turner
26 CARL ANDREW (3 JULY 1939 – 18 FEBRUARY 2019) - Paul Genney
27 RECENT TAASA ACTIVITIES
29 TAASA MEMBERS’ DIARY: JUNE - AUGUST 2019
30 WHAT’S ON: JUNE - AUGUST 2019