Indonesian artist Dadang Christanto's latest works feature aluminum human head figures, depicting victims of the 1965 massacre.
Dadang Christanto began a "counting victim" project in 1999. The Indonesian sculptor, who lives in Australia, has recently added to it creating more than 200 aluminum sculptures of human heads a tribute to the victims who perished in the turmoil of 1965.
Dadang has put the largest figure on the first floor of Yuz Museum in Darmawangsa Square in South Jakarta, at an exhibition titled Mengingat Senyap (Recollections of Silence), which opened May 24 and will run until August 24. It is a white sculpture of a bald head without a nose and mouth, and with ten small masks placed from his forehead to his chin.
On the other side of the row of small masks on the sculpture of Wajah yang Tak Pernah Lengkap (Never a Complete Face), Dadang painted patterns influenced by the Hindu epic Ramayana-based wayang (leather puppet). There's also the ten-headed king Rahwana wearing military boots. There are figures of women turned upside down, some of them plunging into a blazing fire. The scene depicts the burning of the Alengka Kingdom in the episode of Anoman Obong (Hanuman Setting Fire). The exhibit's curator, Agung Hujatnikajenong, describes it as However, we can also consider it as "a narration of patriarchal and militaristic culture."
The ten masks represent the public figures that in Mereka Pernah Bermimpi (Once They Had Dreams) appear as ten head sculptures, also symbolizing the ten wuku (seven-day periods) in pawukon (old Javanese 210-day calendar). The persons, according to Agung's notes, are D.N. Aidit, Njoto, Sulasmi, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Sukarno, Haji Misbach, Widji Thukul, Sudisman, Muso, Amir Syarifudin and Tan Malaka.
In this event Dadang still uses his typical head sculptures: bald heads, half-closed but with hollow eyes, and gaping hollow mouths, a symbol of agony.
Yet unlike the artist's previous works, these recent sculptures also apply pawukon and wayang iconography, which indicates his return to the Javanese idiom of expression. Agung said in preparing this exhibition, Dadang had involved the community of wayang painters in Gentheng village, Kasongan, Yogyakarta, especially Subandi Giyanto, a specialist in this art and Dadang's friend while in the Indonesian Fine Arts School (now Fine Arts High School) in Yogyakarta. Subandi, born into a family of wayang craftsmen, also taught Dadang everything about pawukon. "My friend gave me a lot of input regarding the remarkable culture of Hindu-Java," said Dadang when opening the display.
Dadang said he did not know much about Javanese culture when he was younger. But when he settled in Australia, he made frequent visits to Yogyakarta and began to gain a better understanding and appreciation of Javanese culture. Several years ago he returned to Yogyakarta to immerse himself in the riches of Javanese culture and worked with Subandi, also a porcelain craftsman and metal casting expert. The skills he developed during this period inspired him to create metal figures with pawukon-themed painting adornments.
He also included pawukon series in the form of canvas oil paintings describing symbols of wuku in the old calendar, such as a tiger, pig, fish and bird and wayang characters. The symbols overlap the pictures of white human heads etched with red and black paint.
Dadan graduated from the Indonesian Arts Institute in Yogyakarta in 1986. In 1999, he was invited to teach performance art at the University of Northern Territory, Darwin. Since then he has resided in Australia in 1999, where he owns a house in Ferny Hills, Brisbane. Dadang is among the Indonesian artists frequently invited to international art events, such as Asia-Pacific Triennale in Australia (1993), Sao Paulo (Brazil, 1998), Kwangju Biennale (Korea, 2000) and Echigo Tsumari Triennale (Japan, 2006).
His works have been collected by various museums and art galleries. His famous creation, Mereka Memberi Kesaksian (They Bear Witness, 1996-1997) is kept by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. It takes the form of 16 male and female statues standing while delivering packets and children's clothes, which are mostly those of Dadang's children. The other, Hujan Merah (Red Rain, 2003), has been bought by the National Gallery of Australia.
Dadang belongs to a generation of artists of the 1980s, arising against the repressive political background of the New Order. Born in Tegal, Central Java, in 1957, Dadang has often appeared at performances and exhibitions to address political issues of the period. Other artists paving the way for this type of art at the time were, among others, Tisna Sanjaya, Arahmaiani, Moelyono and Agung Kurniawan.
Dadang's latest installation, which hopes to draw attention to the hundreds of thousands of victims of the 1965 massacres, is also a special tribute to his father who disappeared along with many others accused involvement in the September 30 Movement and members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). Dadang was only eight years old at the time and recalls the experience as "a horror beyond description."
Since then, the "PKI children" stigma became attached to his family. "My older brothers were treated as inferior. So were our friends whose families were implicated in the 1965 incident in Tegal," Dadang said in a video recording played during the exhibition.
He said he refused to attend school because he was bullied. "My school mates uttered sensitive words like 'PKI children'. It hurt and they did it repeatedly," he said.
His Di Sini Aku Temukan Kalian (Here I've Found You) installation is among his most powerful works. As we enter an iron cube of average human height, dozens of separated heads are displayed on each wall, neatly arranged on small racks. Is this the victims' mass burial? When we get close to the head sculptures, we can see our own images reflected back at us.
No. 42/12, June 13, 2012
Dandang’s Mereka Pernah Bermimpi installation.