An interior view of the Indonesia Pavilion 'Keep Our Dreams Alive' where artist Albert Yonathan Setyawan shows his works, during a preview of the 55th International Art Exhibition in Venice, Italy, May 29, 2013. (EPA Photo/Andrea Merola)

A Trojan Entry to World Stage

FEBRUARY 25, 2015

massive undertaking is currently in progress in art studios in Yogyakarta and Bandung, West Java. Together with his team, renowned Indonesian contemporary artist Heri Dono is building a giant statue of a komodo dragon that is nearly four meters tall, over seven meters long and three meters wide, from rusty iron plates.

And just like the Trojan Horse, the giant komodo will have ample room inside for people to climb in.

Named “Trokomod” (Trojan Komodo), Heri Dono aims to “strike” the Arsenale di Venezia during the 56th Venice Art Biennale.

It will be the second time Indonesia to participates in the prestigious international art exhibition.

Heri Dono’s “Trokomod” will be the sole artwork displayed in the Indonesia National Pavilion during the Biennale, taking place from May 9 to Nov. 22 this year.  

“[The Trokomod] is like an ancient animal made futuristic,” the artist said. “It comes out of the part of the world, which is like a blank spot in the world of fine arts.”

Cultural diplomacy

Indonesia almost missed the opportunity to participate this year.

“When we were supposed to register in Venice Art Biennale, the government was still in transition, so we didn’t know whether they still wanted to participate in the event,” said Restu Imansari Kusumaningrum, producer and artistic director of Bumi Purnati Indonesia, an independent production house that co-produces the Indonesia National Pavilion, together with Change Performing Arts — an independent production company from Milan.

“But luckily, the new government again supports the event,” Restu said.

Indonesia’s participation this year is fully supported by the Tourism Ministry, the National Gallery of Indonesia and Yuz Museum Shanghai.

“We believe Indonesia’s participation in this prestigious event is important to increase the number of tourists coming to this country,” said Rizki Handayani, director of MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) and special interest promotions of the Tourism Ministry.

“Besides, Indonesian participation in Venice Biennale will make our young generation very proud,” Rizki said.

The former deputy minister of tourism and creative economy, Sapta Nirwandar, who currently acts as commissioner of the Indonesia National Pavilion at the 56th Venice Art Biennale, worked hard to lobby the new government to support Indonesia’s participation in the prestigious art event.

“Contemporary art is an important tool of Indonesia’s cultural diplomacy,” Sapta said. “And it helps to introduce Indonesia to the world.”

Indonesia pays around Rp 2.5 billion ($190,000) for a space at the Arsenale di Venezia during the Biennale.

“But if we think of the news value and [value to] Indonesian contemporary art, it wouldn’t be a cost, but an invaluable investment,” Sapta said.

The Indonesia National Pavilion covers about 300 square meters and is located in front of the Grand Canal of the Arsenale di Venezia.

The rather small space is one of the main reasons Indonesia decided to select only one artist to represent the country at this event.

“With only one artist, [the theme of our national pavilion] will be more focused,” said Asmudjo Jono Irianto, one of the artistic advisors for the Indonesia National Pavilion.

Asmudjo said that the same decision has also been made by Australia and the United States for this year’s event.

Originally, 10 Indonesian artists were screened to present their works at the Indonesia National Pavilion at this year’s Venice Art Biennale before finally, the artistic advisors and producer decided on Heri Dono’s artwork.

“I think that ‘Trokomod’ is very interesting, as it intertwines history, myth and legends,” Asmudjo said. “[The artwork] can be an entry point to understand Indonesia’s current position.”


The iron komodo is indeed a sophisticated artwork, which attempts to summarize Indonesia’s past, present and future in relation with the rest of the world.

The concept of the artwork is also in line with the main theme of the Biennale, which is “All the World’s Futures.”

“We cannot take a look at the future without considering the past history,” Heri Dono said.

Therefore, the artist read many history books, contemplated and created dozens of sketches before coming up with “Trokomod.”

The giant Komodo has six telescopes, with which the visitors may take a look inside the artwork.

“This is very interesting,” Asmudjo said. “I think this symbolizes introspection.”

When visitors look inside, they can see various historical objects from Europe, including the works of Karl Marx, wigs of British judges and antique guns neatly displayed within.

“It’s like an ethnography museum,” Heri Dono said. “In ethnography museums, [Europeans] usually put objects from the East as ‘The Other,’ or weird items from parts of the world that are very different from theirs.”

“With [Trokomod], I want to remind them that maybe they’re weird [in our eyes],” the artist said.

“With this, we’d like to challenge [the European] concept of subjects and objects,” Heri Dono said.

European colonization of Indonesia, according to the artist, is an example of the European concept of subjects and objects.

“Whereas we, in the East, have the concept of Mandala, in which everyone is  equal,” the artist said.

Trokomod holds three large dioramas, portraying Indonesia’s past, its present, and also future predictions. “The future is still very fuzzy,” the artist said.

The giant artwork is estimated to be completed by the end of the month. After completion, it will be dismantled and packed to be shipped to Venice.

Heri Dono first attended the Venice Art Biennale in 1991, when he participated in an international artists exchange program in Basel, Switzerland.

“At that time, I vowed that one day, I’ll have my artwork featured at the Venice [Art Biennale],” Heri Dono said with a smile.

That dream came true in 2003, when he was invited by the curator of the 50th Venice Art Biennale to display his painting and puppet, titled the “Trojan Cow,” in the prestigious art exhibition.

“I’m actually a bit sad [to be the sole Indonesian artist exhibiting in the 56th Venice Art Biennale],” the 55-year-old said. 

“I don’t have any obsessions to be the sole [Indonesian artist]. It’d definitely be so much more fun if I could be together with other artists in Venice.”


Indonesia holds high hopes for Heri Dono’s artwork in the national pavilion this year.

In 2013, during Indonesia’s first participation in Venice Art Biennale, the pavilion featured six renowned Indonesian artists, including Albert Yonathan Setyawan, Eko Nugroho, Entang Wiharso, Rahayu Supanggah, Sri Astari and Titarubi, in the National Pavilion.

The Indonesia National Pavilion, which was named “Sakti” (Magically Powerful), was among the top 10 most visited pavilions in the Venice Biennale in 2013.

“We drew a lot of attention,” Sri Astari said while sharing her experience at the previous Biennale. 

“Artists, collectors and critics from around the world were there. There, we became cultural ambassadors for Indonesia.”

Indonesia again hopes to draw a lot of positive attention in Venice Art Biennale this year.

“Hopefully, our national pavilion will be as successful as the last time’s [2013] and give a positive impact on Indonesia’s art world,” said Sapta Nirwandar, commissioner of the Indonesia National Pavilion.

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