Apart from the occasional graphic novel, I’ve tended to avoid comics and rarely think of them as an art form.
However, looking back, I’ve realized my childhood was enhanced by them. The newspaper that was delivered to our home had a substantial black and white comic strip section featuring classics such as Family Circus, Garfield, Hägar the Horrible—back then, it was the only part of the paper I read every day.
So recently, I was both surprised and pleased to come across paintings in the style of comics that left a particularly strong impression on me.
The pieces are by Indonesian artist Popok Tri Wahyudi, who recently had his first solo exhibition in Malaysia. He uses a unique format for them that he calls the ‘Jogja comic style,’ and aims through them to narrate the experiences of ‘regular’ Indonesian people from different of walks of life. Wahyudi’s paintings have been described as depicting ‘political situations in a sinister comic light,’ addressing the ‘socio-political issues of Indonesia’s charged environment through social satire.’
I was able track down and interview the 37-year-old artist, who told me more about his background and recent works
Where were you born?
I was born in the Mojokerto region of East Java, Indonesia.
Why did you decide to become an artist?
Actually, when I graduated from high school in 1991, I went to study for a diploma at Brawijaya University. But I quit in 1992 because I didn’t really like it and decided to go to art school. I don’t believe in scores on a certificate. I chose art school because the only thing I know is the skill to draw. I wasn’t born into an artistic family, so I’m the only artist in my family.
How did you become professional after art school?
I studied at the Indonesian Institute of the Arts, Yogyakarta, to become a professional artist. I think since I studied at the arts school the Indonesian art scene came to know me. Perhaps it’s also because I joined apotik komik (an artist group formed in 1997 by Wahyudi and 12 other of the Institute’s students). At the time, we created an exhibition…a mural, on the wall, and that sort of activity was the first of its kind in Indonesia. But the atmosphere made it very difficult for young artists to have the opportunity to create exhibitions, especially in a gallery, so that’s why we broke the rule and went to hit the public directly on the street.
Are you a full-time artist now?
Yes, I’m a full time artist, but before as a young artist and art student I worked in a t-shirt factory as t-shirt designer from 1994 to 1999. I quit because of the economic crisis.
What are some of your recent works about?
Some are about human mobilizing—especially after September 11, 2001, with how the security regulations became very tight. For instance, sometimes I’m really jealous of those from other countries because I’m not really confident as an Indonesian passport holder. We have a large Muslim population and sometimes I’ve had bad experiences while crossing a border or entering a port when leaving the country.
So part of my exhibition talks about my experiences while travelling. Also, it’s connected with the recent situation in Indonesia. In our culture, we have some wise sayings from the elderly such as the Javanese saying ‘mangan ora mangan asal kumpul.’ It means that even if we don’t have food to eat, we can still be together.
So many of us, even in bad situations, never try to leave our homes or homeland to go to more promising lands because it would be difficult for the family if they leave. I’ve tried to draw the idea in one painting that says, ‘please, let me go.’
Next week, I’ll feature more of Wahyudi’s paintings and the social messages and meanings behind them.
Images by Popok Tri Wahyudi