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Jogja: Heart of Indonesia’s Art

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New Emissary

Jogja: Heart of Indonesia’s Art

Bali may look like an art town, but most of Indonesia’s top artists actually come from another place: Jogjakarta.

Most people think of Bali if they’re asked to think of where to go for art in Indonesia. After all, when you think of an art town, you imagine a slew of galleries and a lot of artists showing their wares on the streets. Bali certainly has all of that.

As I wrote before, though, there’s not much in the way of art in Bali’s shopping areas that will do much for your soul (or your home). There are a couple of galleries there that I recommend, such as Tony Raka Gallery and Kendra Gallery, who work with Indonesia’s leading artists. But most of these top artists in fact come from one place in Indonesia—Jogjakarta.

Jogjakarta (which most people call ‘Jogja’) is the real art town in Indonesia. The place has several art schools, including the top one in the country, ISI Jogjakarta, and thousands of artists. Surprisingly, what you won’t find here is many galleries. The galleries that show the works of many of the artists from here are located elsewhere—in Singapore, Jakarta, Europe, North America and Tokyo.

In fact, the only sign you get that you are in an art town is the large number of murals on the street. Otherwise it looks like just another medium-sized city in Indonesia, with traffic jams, low-rise buildings and what seems to be millions of motorbikes.

Instead of galleries, you’ll find art spaces (such as Tujuh Bintang Art Space), collectives and individual artist studios. These art spaces are run by artists and have shows featuring those based in the area. Many of the artists who went to school stayed in Jogja because they found a community here. It’s a great city for them because there are so many others in the same field. Collectors of Indonesian art and those who love art in general come here to find the artists.

Before I travelled there, friends told me that they ‘love Jogja,’ but none of them were art fans. What they loved was the comparatively small scale of the city, (population about 3 million) and the friendliness of the people. I went for the art, but it was intoxicating to be in a place where the people are so welcoming. It felt like how I imagine southern California felt in the ‘60s.

I was lucky to have as my guide Agus ‘Bagul’ Purnomo and his wife, Ratna Maharani. We have shown Purnomo’s work in our gallery for more than three years, after I had first seen his work in a catalogue of Indonesian works. He’s a graduate of ISI Jogjakarta and has won many awards for his paintings. We call him the ‘numbers guy’ because he creates abstract works comprised entirely of numbers. In a now well-known story, he and his family went to his local Tesco supermarket and when they returned home, they unpacked their bags and discovered that many items they had paid for were not in their bags.

When they went back to the store to get a refund, they were told that they couldn’t get one because they couldn’t prove what they had not received. All of the info on the receipts were just numerical codes, so they couldn’t prove what was missing.

Tesco didn’t give them a refund, but in a way Purnomo owes them his gratitude, because when he returned home after re-visiting the store, he did what any artist would do: he began to use this experience in his art. He wondered whether everything and everyone was being reduced to numbers, so he started using numbers in his art. Their attempt to get a refund was unsuccessful, but it provided material for a new direction in his work. And you have to see what he can do with numbers! Next week, I’ll write more about my visit to Purnomo’s home and studio and his recent work.

Jogja Heart of Indonesia’s Art


On a separate note, more than 200 people attended the opening receptions of our recently relocated gallery in the Nihonbashi area of Tokyo. The gallery got a rave review in the art publication, Art iT and I’d like to invite those of you based in Japan or visiting, to join us for the opening of Jun Ogata’s new Zen Garden Show on November 19 from 6-9 PM. We’ll show more than 40 of his works on canvas and paper, plus some small works from Agus Purnomo.

Images: ilhamsaibi / Flickr (top), (bottom).