Genevieve Couteau's "The Old Lempad." (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)

'The Orient and Beyond,' a Tribute to Genevieve Couteau at National Gallery


JANUARY 26, 2018

Jakarta. The Institut Francais Indonesia opened "The Orient and Beyond," a tribute exhibition of the works of French painter Genevieve Couteau at the National Gallery in Central Jakarta on Wednesday (24/01).

Curated by Eddy Soetriyono and the artist's son, art critic Jean Couteau, the exhibition shows Genevieve's journeys to Laos and Bali.

Born in 1925, Genevieve was an outstanding graduate from the Nantes School of Art. She soon became a prominent artist of the Paris art scene.

Before she arrived in Bali, Couteau visited Laos upon Prince Souvannah Phouma's invitation in 1968, to find inspiration and portray the country's spiritual identity.

She visited markets, monasteries and spent time at the prince's palace. The journey resulted in a series of artworks and a book titled "Memoire du Laos" ("Memory of Laos").

She continued her spiritual journey to Bali. In 1975, she arrived there with her son.

"Back in 1970, people in Bali were still living a slow-paced life and were still very close to their traditional culture. That traditional culture is what attracted and inspired my mother in making her artworks," said Jean Couteau.

Genevieve created several paintings and drawings, which later became some of the most influential works of the Balinese fine arts scene.

In contrast to many western artists, who often sexualize Asian women in their paintings, she did not exploit the beauty of a woman's body.

Her son said she was not into creating descriptive figurative works.

"My mother's paintings and drawings imply a message of humanism in which she presents a typical viewpoint of a woman who, when confronted with others, empathizes and embraces the differences," Couteau said.

"Almost all of her paintings look like a sketch, which sometimes can be hard for the audiences to figure out, but they are very artistic and well describe the object without exaggerating it."

In a painting titled "Barong Landung 2," she portrays two women surrounded by men who are all much smaller than them. It does not show how superior women are, but it tells the audience they too are capable of being superior.

"All of my mother's paintings offer a chance to challenge common stereotypes and change the narrative surrounding women who are often misinterpreted or unacknowledged," Couteau said.

Genevieve did not portray women in domestic settings, as caregivers and mothers. Most of her paintings show individuals.

Beside feminism, Genevieve was also interested in spirituality, which she shows in her figurative painting titled "The Old Lempad," Couteau said.

'The Old Lempad.' (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)

The Lempad series is a story of the artist's meeting with the great I Gusti Nyoman Lempad in 1975. Couteau said his mother had a vision, in which she saw the Balinese master, who at the time was more than 100 years old.

The small painting shows an otherworldly old man with long nails. Pastel shades surrounding him add to the mystical expression. Couteau said it portrays death coming to pick up the man's soul.

"Her unique character and the approach that she used in her paintings, made her one of the most outstanding expatriate artists in Bali. Therefore, we should celebrate her and respect what she had contributed to Indonesia's fine arts," Soetriyono said.

The exhibition at the gallery's A building is open until Feb. 14, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.