Selected Unpublished Articles

Agus Suwage and Spectres of Civilization

Agus Suwage always lure and decoy critics with his works, recently, by transferring images of world legendaries on his canvass and in appropriation. The difference is the absent of his self image while depicting them, a signature that usually appeared in his earlier canvass. The current works create ironic, if not subversive, images of world figures holding cigarettes in their left hands. Among them are Nehru, Monalisa, Soekarno, Rembrant, Marilyn Monroe, Mahatma Gandhi, Yasir Arafat, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Frida Kahlo, Salvador Dali and Bruce Lee.

All of them are dead. But in Agus’ latest exhibition, titled “I/CON” (Nadi Gallery, Jakarta), their portrayal does connotes to other meanings as referred to its title. In his curatorial note, Agung Hujatnika reviews the tradition of portraiture in the history of Fine Art; from Leonardo Da Vinci to Affandi who was obsessed with the portraiture of himself; from mimesis of reality in paper and canvas to the emergence of photography. Modern civilization does acknowledge the significant of portrait as a reflection of one’s soul. Nonetheless, Suwage’s portrait presents a different kind of portrayal, one which fills with ambiguity.

In his series “Aku Ingin Hidup Seribu Tahun Lagi” (I want to live another thousand years), Suwage seemingly present a paradoxical image. It is not merely a contradiction of reality and imagination or the interpretation of quoted titled by Indonesian legend, but also the existence of the figures within the explosion of photographical images. Suwage transfers the images of world music legends in much colourful atmosphere in his “The Times They Are A-Changin’”. There is Bob Marley, king of reggae, smoking pot; Madonna, the goddess in red, complete with her sensuous outfit; the aging Peter Gabriel, former Genesis’ vocalist, pulling out his wrinkled left eye.

The artist who was born in Purworejo in 1959, apparently fascinated in recreating the images of those he admires the most and at the same time leaving his own articulation within them. We could distinguish his creative marquee through his exceptional drawing skill as well as the complex interpretation that lies behind it. His recent works shows equal metaphorical and ironic quality in a much intimate portrayal filled with nostalgia.

The post-auratic images emerge and exist within the contemporary world, invade us through the circulation of changing media industry. Their images linger and allure us away from their meaning, a spectre far from frightening, allowing us to openly accept it. Similar to the forgotten myths exist in our lives.

Suwage – graduate in graphic design from Bandung Art Institute in 1986 – often time include letterism in his paintings. Lyrics within portraits’ of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Bob Dylan or across the psychedelic face of Thom York create a poetic sense of the images. The exhibition – on display starting April 3rd to April 17th, 2007 – apparently is an advance stage of Suwage’s artistic exploration that often uses iconic images disturbing the representation of photographic images into a modern myth.

Suwage’s works – aside of presenting the obvious preference of appropriation – also represent human nature facing popular, iconic and even canonical imagery. They serve and yet avoid the imagery, or often time ignore or lured by its own existence. Myth is a masked spectre tailing the modern civilization. While appropriation supposedly emerges as its cure to paralyse the spectre, neutralize and then implant various meanings on the imagery, rather than banishing it.

Rifky Effendy
(translated into english by Vidhyasuri Utami)


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