New Emissary

Popok Tri Wahyudi’s Indonesia

An artist attempts to narrate the experiences of Indonesian people through his trademark style of painting.

‘Every situation changes. When the situation is bad, we can only hope it changes to good. Many good things also have a sad story behind them. So in some ways, we must create war before peace, right?’

This is how Indonesian artist Popok Tri Wahyudi describes ‘Left Behind and Stranded,’ a painting created in the unique ‘Jogja comic style’ that’s become his trademark over the past few years. The bold colours that comprise this work, along with its comic format, are a stark contrast with the darker themes he deals with, such as sacrifice and the departure of loved ones seeking better opportunities. The figures in the painting being consumed by the flames rising around them, their arms bound to their bodies by an invisible force, represent the pain and frustration felt by those left behind in such situations. But, as Wahyudi says, the bitter irony is that such pain and sorrow is a sacrifice for something good—for the hope of a better future.

Last week, I interviewed the 37-year-old artist, who told me a little about his background, which included a stint at the Indonesian Institute of the Arts, Yogyakarta. And this summer, Wahyudi had his first international solo exhibition, which was held at The Annexe Gallery in Kuala Lumpur. Valentine Willie Fine Art, a consultancy that deals with modern and contemporary South-east Asian art and which put on the show, aptly describes Wahyudi’s captivating work:

‘Popok’s vivid colours, simple forms and comic style compositions are powerful storytelling devices that can be easily accessed by his audience. Popok’s comic inspired work is very much rooted in the everyday. They address the socio-political issues of Indonesia’s charged environment through social satire and an inimitable brand of “Jogja comic style”, characterised by thick black outlines and bright bursts of colours, stylised depictions of human figures against part dystopian part science-fiction settings.’

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Wahyudi shared with The Diplomat a little more detail about some of his other recent works, which attempt to narrate the experiences of Indonesian people and society:


For Departure


’For Departure’

Wahyudi: ‘The story of departure is the story of going somewhere, to try and make a better life. It’s like a bird when released from its cage…or escapes. Women especially, and not only in Indonesia, are expected to stay at home and often don’t have the right to leave. They stay because they must serve their husband or their family. When women are stuck in a bad situation they want to go somewhere, run from the situation. This piece is also about that.’


Fetching a Glory

’For Fetching a Glory’

Wahyudi: ‘This tells the story of what happens when we to try to secure a victory. We might travel somewhere. Some of us even choose to do something bad to get to somewhere better. Some people call it glory. This painting shows a journey made by a group of people—or even a nation—that has experienced both bad and good situations. The people remain confident in their journey. Even though many victims are shown here, such as those heads you can see covered in red carpet, securing the best results for any situation means some sacrifices must be made.’

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For The Disrespectful Master

‘For the Disrespectful Master’

Wahyudi: 'I think this one shows a situation that only occurs in Indonesia. In Indonesia, if you own a car or vehicle you have speed and power—you feel stronger and more powerful than other people. So you can act like a king on the road and you can show other people that you’re the only car owner on the street. You can press the gas pedal and it makes a powerful sound to go along with the speed. You don’t have to respect pedestrians, cyclists or anyone else.

'This work describes the terrible situation on Indonesia’s streets—we have real problems. It’s very easy to buy a motorcycle here, and so we have many of those on the roads as well. Users of both have some terrible habits.'