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Art on the Rise

For the young and techno-literate, it’s a good time to be an artist in Indonesia. With the global spotlight on the country’s emerging, pluralistic, consumptive economy — symptomatic of a juvenile democracy — many prolific contemporary artists have sprouted up that encapsulate the country’s zeitgeist through works in various media. 

After the contemporary art boom in 2007 catapulted many artists, including I Nyoman Masriadi into international stardom, the art scene has developed with private, mostly international support that provides borderless canvas onto which artists can pour out their creativity.

From Europe to Australia, galleries are eager to feature the works of Indonesian artists, most of which produce works that depict an ever-changing urban society. Eko Nugroho, whose works range from street art murals to multimedia installations, highlights modern life in urban areas. He portrays diverse but reclusive individuals, epitomized by masked persons — a symbol he takes from his Javanese background. He also explores religious intolerance in his work.

The independent, Jakarta-based collective Ruangrupa has also become a prominent voice in expressing urban and political concerns. The group is currently exhibiting an installation focusing on urban life and migration in Sydney. Some of the collective’s artists will also exhibit their works at the Singapore Biennale next month. 

Indonesian Visual Art Archive director Farah Wardani said the country’s contemporary art scene has been undergoing a significant period, in which it has drawn support from local and international art galleries and exhibitions.

Farah cited Eko and Agus Suwage as the two most influential contemporary artists in the country at the moment. Fifty-year-old Agus is known for his drawings, which he began creating in 1980s. Agus has acquired international recognition, as one of his works, titled Luxury Crime, was chosen for viewing at a modern and contemporary art exhibition in Paris in 2010. 

Artists that get noticed on the global stage tend to be from Yogyakarta. Besides Eko, Rudi Mantofani and Jumaldi Alfi of the Jendela Art Group also come from the city.
 Bali-based art critic Jean Couteau said the proliferation of high quality art from Yogyakarta was the result of the city’s multicultural background and appreciative audience.