Asian Spiritual Art Exhibition 2001

By Suwarno Wisetrotomo, an Art Critic live in Yogyakarta.

"Enlightening" is possibly a word commonly used to suggest such meanings as having strong character, aura, or something like light that is shining from something. This something, from which such something like light is shining, can be a teaching, possibly of life, or of artwork.

If the teaching is of artwork, it possibly takes such forms as dance, lines of song, orchestra, painting, graphic art and the like. It comes to present something that is not always easy to explain, but is potentially powerful to disturb our mind and heart. It comes to offer a very strong character resulting from deep thought and feeling. And such a condition implies that it tries to affect at least two things, they are our mind and heart. On the one hand, it can affect our mind and, if succeeds, will lead to light and freshness, which in turn will lead to wide conception. Or, on the other hand, it possibly touches our heart and, if succeeds, will lead us to stable emotion, which in turn will lead us to wise behavior.

Which one of the artworks is capable of provoking such values? And how can we try to identify such an artwork? Isn't it possible that the shining aura affecting our heart or mind derives, instead, from the artist's personal quality? The fact that artists, more often, are men or women with trained senses capable of producing sharp views provides this possibility. It is because of this very fact that we may find some aura shining from, or spouting at, an artist's words and works. People go even further, thinking of any word and work by an artist as possessing such a value. But, who is the man who gets the authority to evaluate or measure an artist's personal quality and behavior?

This simple description implies one thing: there is a significant correlation between artists and the works they have created. The illustration is as follows. An artist named Amang Rahman (the late), who spent much of his time following the course of silence and kept longing for the truth, while totally submitting himself (his life) to God, had always tried to express his feeling or emotion in all of the works he created. While he was leading a very simple life with so many laughs here and there, spirituality originating in his deep longing for his God colored every step of his creative process. And he had produced paintings that suggested purity of a believer's heart, the glory of God's verses, solemn and calming silence, and hopes of peaceful life. In addition, such values also characterize the poems he wrote, as can be seen in the following quotations:

Is it you speaking:
"You, tired man
Come to me
Closer to the heart of mine
With clean heart
With clean desire"
(from the anthology Sajak Putih, l984)

Another poem of his which seens quite moving to me, as it suggests a total
submission, is this:

Of the self
Every piece of his senses
Every piece of his feelings
So cold, he felt

I know
You are the death of me

Any time
At noon or night
You'll come to pick me
Do come in the morning
And say:
"Good morning!"
"Good morning!"

And you'll catch me lying
Not of surrender
But of consent
(from the anthology Sajak Putih, l972)

As reported, Amang Rahman, the painter, died in the morning while sleeping after his shubuh prayer. Either his poems or his paintings suggest so deep reflection that we get 'disturbed'. Such artworks, I think, are ones that convey enlightening contents, leaving influence either on the creator himself or on the other people.

An artwork with shining aura or enlightening contents is made possible only by long, intensified creative process. Perhaps, an artist has to perform something like ascetic rite before he can produce an artwork with such a character.
This ascetic rite varies as to its kinds and methods, dependent on the artist's condition. Some artists tend responsive to social and political problems; some are concerned with psychological tensions of varying kinds common in political, economic and cultural clashes; some are bothered with existential problems, with problems in communication, etc. All of them must become persistent, critical observers in their own fields of interest, seeking best way and language (metaphor) for presenting their thoughtful ideas, or they produce no good works at all.

Unless the artist is deeply understand the matters of his concerns, he will not be capable of striving for such a goal. It seems clear that producing or creating an artwork with enlightening character is not as easy as we think. The key words are keep thinking, keep reflecting, keep questioning, keep seeking, and, last but not least, keep trying.
This illustration may apply for other cases. Watching the works of Ahmad Sadali (the late), for instance, which deal with such sublime colors that reflect deep emotion, we are getting an increased consciousness of God, of the glory. Watching Borobudur's silhouette in the center of cosmos space, as can be seen in Srihadi Sudarsono's work, our consciousness of the existence, glory, and absolute power of the Creator, is also increasing. Our consciousness of existence, of function, of limit, and of the importance of love is also latently moved, when we are watching Ivan Sagito's paintings which deal with pieces of shawl, banana leaves, well, etc., using a very smooth, accurate, and surrealistic way of expression.

The fact that spiritual artworks always result from a very long, intensified creative process, and by artists deeply devoted to their profession, is undeniable. This very fact makes us believe in artworks with such prophetic tendency as Amang Rahman's poems, which seem to have predicted what is going to happen. It is no surprising to find such a prediction in artworks with prophetic tendency because such artworks are always created with a very stable faith, great sensitivity and sensibility. And, indeed, such a process appears not only contemplative and analytic but also predictive. By predictive I mean evaluating, predicting, or just estimating.
This art exhibition, entitled Asian Spiritual Art Exhibition 2001, conducted by Asian Christian Art Association (ACAA) in cooperation with Rumah Seni Keluargatuk, at Affandi's Museum in Yogyakarta, is an initial effort to provide a frame of how religiosity and spirituality are dealt with and reflected in artwork.

We see by this exhibition that religious icons and symbols do not always constitute the primary language, by which religious faiths (as well as ideology) are affirmed or confirmed in artwork. Spiritual and religious arts are by no means propagandist's works, which scream out bombastic slogans, while repressing the other's faith. For all their different ideological backgrounds, forms and languages, spiritual and religious artworks are ones that invoke consciousness latently, keeping providing free 'rooms' for anybody.
In such artworks, anything in daily life can constitute their element or metaphor. An artwork is always of value as far as it approaches any object (raised as its main theme) using distinctive point of view that invokes our consciousness of power, love, greatness, unlimitedness as well as limitedness. An artwork may also deal with a very simple theme because a great wisdom may result from how we deal with a very simple thing.

As an initial step, this art exhibition, or at least its underlying spirit, deserves attention and continuation, particularly if it can afford a more critical frame. A number of painters exhibit in this show. Most of them are from Indonesia (Bagong Kussudiardja, Kartika Affandi, Gregorius Sidharta S, Ign. Pamungkas Gardjito, Wahyu Sukayasa, I Gd. Sukana Kariana, Lucia Hartini, Made Sukadana, Basori, etc.), one from China (He qi), one from India (Alfonso A. Doss), one form Korea (Jae Im-kim), and one from Malaysia (Hanna C. Varghese), each in his own way of seeing deals with faith and spirituality.

All of them offer various language codes, ranging from the personal to the universal (by the universal I mean those that are easy to know). Bagong Kussudiardja in his works entitled Birth (l995) and Crucifixion (1998) suggest a duration of time, from the beginning to the end, of which both Christ and human being must take charge. The interval between birth and death is life's time within which man has to lead his life with spirit and bravery. In this sense, one's declaration that he is brave to survive is more precious than his declaration that he is brave to die. Only in life does man face a number of challenges, including 'crucifixion', to reach perfection (happiness).

In the same spirit as Bagong Kussudiarjo's, the painter Alphonso A. Doss (India), Hanna C. Varghese (Malaysia, in his work Good News, For to Us a Child is Born), Gregorius Sidharta S., Ign. Pamungkas Gardjito (in his statue work Mother and Child), and Lucia Hartini (Indonesia), use or adopt religious icons. Religious aura in their works is build up by the use of familiar symbols or signs such as crucifix, lotus, and cosmos space.

Representations by the use of personal metaphors can be seen (and felt) in Nyoman Sukari's works (for example, the painting Soul Purification), in Jae Im-Kim's works, for example the paintings Mystery of Korea I, II, III, and in Muh. Basori's works (the paintings Disconnected, Depth). The three painters seem to declare the importance of ascetic rite for getting enlightened.
Although soul purification as stated or represented by Nyoman Sukari is of personal experience and interest, it produces communal impact, much like freedom and deep thought, or community's (nation's) spirit, which can only grow from individual's concern before it become a united force. Smooth provocation can be very effective to lead to clear thought and wise attitude. I think the three painters have used such a way of expression.

Having tried to read most of the works, I can not avoid finding the fact that each of the painters is representing his self in this exhibition in that his participation is not based on a shared ideology. It is always possible, however, that they share the same belief as to how spreading religious experience should be performed in order that different believers, in spite of the different ideologies, are not polarized. I believe that artworks, particularly painting, have such a spirit and force.
This exhibition is pluralistic, and indeed it can cause bias. However, we, again, can learn from the whole universe about wisdom as nucleus of the consciousness. We can learn to be wiser, to happily weigh available codes, while avoiding feeling as the truest. We may get enlightened in this way.


© ACAA - Asian Christian Art Association