Atreyu Moniaga Portrays a Journey to Recovery in Solo Exhibition


MAY 30, 2016

Jakarta. It has long been debated whether an artist’s personal life can be taken into account when judging his body of work. Should we stick to the text—or whatever form the artwork takes? Or should we dig deeper into the artist’s biography to find personal stories that have shaped his creations?

Atreyu Moniaga, a Jakarta-based photographer and illustrator, seems to inhabit the latter school of thought in “Pulih” (“Recover”), his first solo photography exhibition on view until June 25 at Qubicle Center in Senopati, South Jakarta.

Atreyu claimed two of the works in the exhibition were produced after a particularly vulnerable moment in his life. “I created these two when I was trying to be strong again,” he explained, pointing to a grim-looking pair of photographs that depict a distorted vision of human bodies: a woman whose entire face is trampled by a foot and a man whose head is replaced by a stream of water running down his body. Each photograph is permeated with a sense of defenselessness, further emphasized by its dim surface and painting-like quality.

Asked about the personal experiences that spurred the emotions behind these works, Atreyu first appeared hesitant. He finally answered, “I was in a mentally abusive relationship. My ex was emotionally unstable, which left me an emotional wreck, too. The dynamics weren't good in our relationship.”

Atreyu shot the two photographs at the end of 2014. He spent the following year preparing for this show. “The exhibition took us six months to prepare,” Atreyu said, citing the help of curator Jhosephine Tanuwijaya in creating a narrative that pulls together all of the 15 works on display.

“Those two works can still be disturbing to me—they reminded me of the time when I made them,” Atreyu said. “At the same time, though, they have also calmed me down. My other works ended up not as aggressive.”

As the title suggests, the exhibition portrays the artist’s journey to recovery, which the curator has divided into three main phases. “The first one is when I sensed there was problem but I was still in denial about it. Then there’s the vulnerable moment, and finally the part where I'm picking up the pieces,” Atreyu said. “Those are the big themes. Inside each theme, there are several works that might not be directly related to the story but they share the same amount of pain and feeling.”

'Pulih' traces the different stages in one's journey to psychological recovery, as depicted by these images. (JG Photo/Nico Novito)

The largest work in the gallery happens to share the same title with the exhibition. It portrays a shirtless young man lightly covered in white powder, standing amid a dark, forest-like setting with a mysterious expression that taunts the viewers. The photograph is made up of nine square segments with empty spaces in between, an aesthetic decision that, according to Atreyu, represents the recovery process itself. “When you are recovering, you don’t fully recover,” he said with a laugh. “You’re still picking up the pieces.”

Atreyu’s other photographs in the show also present a human figure front and center, from a morose-looking woman squatting amid tree leaves to a man wearing a crown in front of a waterfall. One especially gloomy photograph illustrates a man shackled with a web of red thread. The thread can also be seen dangling from one photograph to the next on the gallery wall, as if to symbolize the connection between each work.

“My curator told me that I had to explain to people that [this exhibition] is not only about one story. It’s a composite of various things that have happened—just like an album, you know,” Atreyu laughed.

Talking about the creative process behind his photographs, Atreyu said he usually started off with a sketch based on his feelings. “It’s like a graphic diary. I want to remember this moment, that moment, but I don’t have to tell anyone about it. There are even some hidden messages that I don’t want to tell my curator—I want to keep them to myself,” he said.

Atreyu used professional models in the photos, but he also cast his own friends. “I first told them about my stories, and then as it turned out they would often tell me they had experienced similar episodes in their lives,” he recalled. “Many of these pictures were taken in less than 15 minutes, because I already knew beforehand how I wanted them to look like. So on location, often I just needed five frames to get what I wanted.”

These printed chairs are the results of a collaboration between Atreyu Moniaga and Jakarta Vintage's Luthfi Hasan. (JG Photo/Nico Novito)

In addition to photographs, the exhibition also showcases the artist’s collaboration with Luthfi Hasan, the founder of Jakarta Vintage, a company specializing on mid-century furniture design.  “I once helped Luthfi in a project, and now it’s his turn. He transformed my work into these two pieces called 'Life After A Broken Heart' and 'Life After Love,’” Atreyu said of a pair of low-slung chairs bearing upholsteries embossed with his ethereal prints.

Over the humming, meditative soundtrack enveloping the gallery, Atreyu reflected once again on the personal meaning of his works. “These images represent the feelings I’ve thrown up after I was sick,” he said. “This exhibition is proof that I am fully recovered.”

“Pulih” continues through June 25 at Qubicle Center, Jalan Senopati Raya No. 79, South Jakarta.