A corner of Anton Ismael's solo exhibition, 'Rumah.' (Photo courtesy of Ruci Artspace)

Anton Ismael Deconstructs Concept of Home in Solo Exhibition


APRIL 05, 2016

Jakarta. For most people, Anton Ismael is best known for his commercial works. Under Third Eye Space, the photography collective he founded in 2005, he has shot countless advertising campaigns for products as varied as ice cream and mobile phones — many of which are characterized by their polished sheen and animated models.

But when he is not catering to a client's request, the 40-year-old artist and photographer pursues his true passion: teaching. For the past 10 years, Anton has been offering free photography classes for more than 2,500 students through his "Kelas Pagi" ("Morning Class") program, now regularly held in Jakarta and Yogyakarta.

"I'm a teacher — an educator — who happens to be able to take photographs," he said before his third solo exhibition opened at Ruci Art Space, South Jakarta, last Friday (01/04).

The new show, entitled "Rumah" ("Home"), expanded on his teaching experience. Through photographs, mixed-media structures and set installations — Anton seeks to unpack the concept of home, commonly viewed as a space where we get our first taste of education.

"I consider home as an installation, a space, that has a big role in shaping our perspectives. I became who I am today because of my [childhood] home, my parents," Anton said, adding that he had always tried to escape from his family's strict doctrines.

"I believe that education is about freedom," he quickly added.

Coming off that philosophy, Anton and curator Ade Darmawan conceived the exhibition as an opportunity to deconstruct and challenge the long-held notions of identity, belief and education that are traditionally rooted at one's home.

Displayed near the entrance, an array of small framed photographs depict the interiors of houses Anton visited during a research trip across Java. He discovered that many families liked to display a painting of mountains on their living rooms — which might be the reason behind Indonesian students' habit of drawing such cliched vista during art classes.

"Apparently, a lot of us are still trying to find our mountains," Anton said. "We become anxious when the image is not in our line of sight."

A photographic work called "Potret Nenek" ("Grandma's Portrait"), displayed inside a narrow room at the venue, represents Anton's critical eye on the legacy of the past. The framed photo of the matriach is marred by a splash of orange paint, as if to taunt her outdated way of thinking.

'Toto Dahar' photography series by Anton Ismael in his solo exhibition. (Photo courtesy of Ruci Artspace)

A similar rebellious vibe is also apparent in the "Toto Dahar" photography series, the title of which refers to Javanese table manners. Reminded of a one-way dinner conversation he used to experience as a child — when his parents would "interrogate" him about his day — Anton now turned the table by photographing nipples peeking out of plastic table cloths in a blunt, provocative statement.

Another series called "Bayangan" ("Shadows") is one of the most fascinating, if blatantly obvious, parts of the exhibition. As the title suggests, each of the five photographs portrays a figure — a high-school student skipping school, a daughter ready to leave her village — with someone standing behind them.

"There is always someone behind us who influences the way we act," Anton said. "This is a reminder that you are you, not the person standing behind you."

Stepping outside the confines of photography for this exhibition, Anton also experimented with rather ambitious installations. One of them, a holographic image depicting trophies, entitled "Petuah" ("Advice"), is placed inside a pitch-black room that evokes an eerie atmosphere.

"I want to convey how our parents always want us to achieve something," he said.

Amid the serious undertones Anton let in a surprisingly cheerful vibe in one corner of the exhibition's room. A week before the opening, he invited five children to paint the white walls however they liked, resulting in colorful drawings of rainbows, animals — and the inevitable mountains.

"You can't escape them!" Anton laughed before turning pensive. "I do always tell my students, never be afraid of making mistakes."

"Rumah" opens Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., until May 15 at Ruci Art Space, Jalan Suryo No. 49, Senopati, South Jakarta.