Thursday, October 27, 2011

The “Missing” Eye of the Messenger

The “Missing” Eye of the Messenger

Astrid Reza

Let us imagine Indonesia in 1965 as a 20-year-old nation. A dynamic, intelligent, vigorous youth. Brave enough to refused the aid from United States. Believed in being revolutionaries to change the nation faith for the better. The political dynamic was in its heyday, with the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI – PartaiKomunis Indonesia) seems to be winning the majority. Then suddenly after the night of 30th September 1965, this youth changed dramatically. The eye of the youth changed into a dark gloomy desperate old eye. The youth body lost its spirit, oppressed and just stood there as to watched the bloodiest event in the modern Indonesian history. Millions were killed and gone missing, no one know the exact number. The effect of the event was tremendous that the rivers in Java and Bali turn to the color of blood red.The army took power under General Suharto. No one stop the killings under the name to exterminate the communist. Since then the word “communist” went missing from the tongue of Indonesian cause of fear and traumatized memories. It was an unstoppable mass killing unheard by the world maybe even until today.

Forty-six years later, we found this same eye lingering still in Iwan Effendi’s paintings. At sixty-six years old, Indonesia became the fat old corrupted image of an old man. But the eyes, the same dark gloomy desperate old eye stayed the same. It stayed as to wait for judgment day. Some say, the eyes are the key of the heart. These eyes represent the Indonesian heart struggling with their unresolved histories.

In the series of paintings by Iwan Effendi together with the poems of Maria Tri Sulistyani, this “missing” histories making their way to be re-interpreted by the generations of Indonesian who are lost in the knowledge of their own history. For to understand ourselves today is to dig into our own history, on where we come from and how are we standing here today. Iwan uses the metaphor of eyes, heads and birds throughout his paintings to describe his perception of the event in 1965. The lost of hope in the sad eyes, decapitated heads everywhere and rumors around the event (“kabarburung” in Indonesian means “news bird” or to be translated as gossip surrounding the truth). While Maria’s poem seems to sing away in a melancholic tone accompanying the paintings. If Iwan’s painting could sing, Maria’s poems are their voices.

While working on his works, no matter how bright the colors Iwan’s trying to put in his painting, the gloom of the work atmosphere always stays. The process for him is like taking off a dark veil of his own nation. Like what Maria said because this matter could not be taken lightly that it’s not a bright happy thing to be brought up. To talk about the killings, the sadness, the anger, the silence and the lost of hope from such a long time, had never been an easy thing to do for anyone. To express the poems for her is to mourn the faith of the unheard victims.

These works are an attempt to reread the history of a nation, of what had gone wrong, putting a puzzle together to convey a message from the past for a better humanity in the future. It is a reminder for us that the same thing could happen again. Humancapability of destruction and violence could create such a hellish moment in a nation’s memories. Finding the truth of the event is very important as a learning process for every single human being. For the hope someday the eye of the messenger could flicker and brighten. That an old body could maintains its young spirit and optimistic heart. That hope could never be completely lost.

Yogyakarta, 10th September 2011

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Eye of The Messenger is Reviewed on Daily Serving-New York

Eye of the Messenger

Iwan Effendi, The Crane Song, 2011, Acrylic on canvas, 100cm x 150cm. Image Courtesy of Yavuz Fine Art.

The joy and plight of many contemporary, Western-centric cultural practices today is the recognition that artistic shouldering of the collective burden of history does not necessarily attribute any value to the work. At worst, it is unfashionable and counter-productive to contemporary discourse; at best, it provides a vague notion of plurality and diversity that benefits a particular portion of the arts patronage. On the contrary, contemporary Asian art’s transformative power and value in the region, almost always lies in recollection of the memories of post-war political independence, the marvel at socio-economic progress and sorrows of rapid industrialization.

In 1965, Indonesia found itself once again at a political crossroads after having endured an extended period of political instability since securing independence from Dutch colonial rule. In the twilight of President Sukarno’s rule in 1965 marked by bitter ideological conflict and political polarization, a coup at the end of September triggered a widespread wave of violence that brought General Suharto to office for over 3 decades. Generations removed from these events after 5 decades, the suppression of dissident artistic voices in the Suharto’s iron-fisted rule mean that contemporary Indonesian artists have only in recent years, begun their cathartic response to the trauma.

Eye of the Messenger by Iwan Effendi at the Yavuz Fine Art Gallery is such a response, interrogating the construction of Indonesian history in political upheaval of the 1960s and ultimately acknowledges that the socio-cultural and political discourses surrounding these years are cultivated, cultured and fabricated.

As Walter Benjamin wrote, the craft of storytelling, does not aim to convey the pure essence of the thing, like information or a report, [but instead] sinks the thing into the life of the storyteller, in order to bring it out of him again. Similarly, a desire to contribute his own gesture of political resistance and social commentary underlies Effendi’s surrealistic images through a combination of word-and-image binary that is part-storytelling, part-myth and part-reality.

Iwan Effendi, Long Lost Memories, 2011, Acrylic on canvas, 70.5cm x 150cm. Image Courtesy of Yavuz Fine Art.

Iwan Effendi, The Bird Who Feeds The Fish, 2011, Acrylic on canvas, 70.5cm x 150cm. Image Courtesy of Yavuz Fine Art.

“Here I tell you, my friends,” Effendi writes in his catalogue, “a story where history was buried.” A large green tree with all-seeing eyes dominates Treasure Hunt (2011); The Crane Song (2011) is a diptych of opposing colours of blue and orange tones composed of a man who wears eyes as his cloak; Long Lost Memories (2011) is a piece of bulbous objects, bird eggs and birds that peer disconcertingly into nothingness. “But thank god, our eyes can’t lie,” Effendi further remarks. Ocularity and perception feature prominently in his canvases; the physical eye, and by extension, the visual experience, is used as a cautionary metaphor because of its ability to fall prey to yet simultaneously, resist manipulations.

Iwan Effendi, Eye of the Messenger 2011, Installation View. Image Courtesy of Yavuz Fine Art.

The works in Eye of the Messenger are ironic and multi-layered: dismembered, colourful body parts float in the dimensional space of the canvasses and are tacked onto each other. They can’t be contained by the boundaries of canvas, spilling out of the seams and onto the surrounding white walls. Unlike the luminous simplicity and crack-quality of flat-faced satiric drawings that invite ridicule and laughter, Effendi’s cartoonish works cry out like multiple voices in a Greek tragedy clamouring to claim their own truth. In this context of use, reception and exchange, Effendi’s works accrue a varied interpretive history of – and perhaps even grant absolution to –those who have found finally regained their silenced voices.


Eye of the Messenger is on show at the Yavuz Fine Art Gallery until 13 November 2011.