Suraji Mixes Animals With Human Emotions

Wayang-style animals, complete with Ray-Ban shades, use a fallen tree and skateboard to flee. (JG Photo/Carla Bianpoen)

By : Carla Bianpoen | on 7:04 PM March 05, 2014
Category : Life & Style, Arts & Culture

Comments on the current human condition have been aired in many ways, both literally and artistically. Some must be studied to grasp the essence, while others hit you in the face. Like many times in the past, a dismal political and social situation offers artists a ready made theme for their artistic creations.

But as one looks at the paintings by Suraji for his solo show at Canna Gallery, it must be admitted that amidst the artistic comments, his oeuvre is a class apart.

Using a technique derived from the Western practice of realism to make commentaries on critical issues in today’s world, his works are easy to understand, in particular by the Indonesian public that is familiar with the sordid social and political situation of the present day.

But the European public visiting the Indonesia pavilion at Art Paris+Guests in 2010 seemed appreciative.

Some French visitors revealed it reminded them Dutch painter Hieronymous Bosch whose images illustrating his moral and religious concepts were nurtured by an imagery deemed fantastic for that time.

Suraji’s work in question (“Bebaskan Kami ,” or “Set Us Free”) is indeed stunning. Featuring various animals or rather hybrid creatures on the run from entanglement in a net of rats, the fascinating work has an exceptional flow and aesthetic.

While it would be too far-fetched to link Suraji’s style with that famous artist of the 15th century, it would be interesting to conduct some research into the issue.

Suraji’s imagery as seen in his current works seems less complicated leaving the public to be more observant of the technique he applies.

A slightly greater transparent light comes through, which is achieved by a certain way of layering and scraping of the acrylic paint.

Among the remarkable works in this show of paintings, 3-Ds and installations, “ Beri Kami Kehidupan ” (“Give Us Life”) stands out. Featuring a lion stepping into an urban environment, Suraji indicates numbers of animals chased from their natural habitat by painting them onto the elongated body of the lion, almost as if the king of the jungle is leading them to a new, promised land, albeit it with a heavily bandaged leg.

Resembling a giant exodus, the big cat painted with a pained facial expression dwarves the cramped, grey, concrete urban vista.

Treating animals as if they were humans is nothing new, but for Suraji it is a novel approach after previously rendering humans as wild animals. In “ Seandainya Aku Jadi Manusia ” (“If I Was a Human Being”) he features an animal as if it was a human being, a green monster no less, in the act of strangling rats.

The artist also draws on his cultural background, featuring wayang characters, a form he has grown up with.

The animal heads on human bodies in “ Ayo Lari ” (“Let’s Run”), are placed on a thin acrylic slab and painted on both sides with acrylic and oil paint, rendering the illusion of a screen for a wayang play.

But the demi-human figures with animal faces and their monstrous claw-like feet are placed on a log that is planted on a wooden roller skating board while thin guitar strings spanning the breadth of the work enforce the impression of speed.

The installation titled “ Bermain-main di Atas Awan ” (“Playing Above the Clouds”) looks different from the animal critique — or so it seems at first sight.

Entering a darkened room with a huge tree and a black wall with dwarflike animals positioned as if playfully running around, one’s first impression may be that of the Brothers Grimm’s Snow White fairy tale.

But soon it is revealed that at issue is a dwindling forest, with reckless logging spurring the alarming effects on the home of our rich biodiversity. In this sense, the dwarfed animals that seemingly playfully carry pieces of wood logs appear in a different light.

A huge but bare and leafless tree lays bare not only the issues of environmental depletion and the impact of climate change, but also the artist’s opinion relating to the vulnerable condition of a large and resourceful country.

Born in 1971, Suraji graduated from the Indonesian Institute of Fine Art Yogyakarta in 2000. Awards include the Osaka Century Association Prize, Osaka Triennial, Japan (2001) and the Jakarta Art Award (2008).

Visual Voice, The Wild and the Domestic
Through March 27
Galeri Canna Jl. Boulevard Barat Raya
Blok LC 6 No. 33-34
North Jakarta
Tel. 021 452 2536

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