ART AND RE­MEM­BER­ING

The Peak (Malaysia) - - View From The Peak - MINDY TEH, ED­I­TOR-IN-CHIEF

“The strug­gle of man against power is the strug­gle of me­mory against for­get­ting.”

Mi­lan Kun­dera’s words res­onate with the artist Dadang Chris­tanto so deeply, he is wont to re­peat it. He quotes it in his in­ter­view this month with The Peak and, again, to me at a closed-door din­ner held by Lim Wei-Ling, the gallery owner who is rep­re­sent­ing him in Malaysia and whose art space is hous­ing Chris­tanto’s works un­til No­vem­ber.

For Chris­tanto, a re­mem­brance of things past is of ut­most im­por­tance to him. The artist has been, for years, tack­ling the dif­fi­cult and deeply per­sonal sub­ject of the mass killings, rape and tor­ture that oc­curred in In­done­sia in 1965, end­ing in 1966. Chris­tanto’s own father was taken away dur­ing the purge and, to this day, he does not quite know what had re­ally be­come of him or where he might have died. Chris­tanto’s art re­vis­its the mas­sacres again and again be­cause, “I have made my­self a wit­ness.” He claims that if we don’t con­front our past, it will come back to haunt us. “Why shouldn’t we stand as wit­ness through art­work about such vi­o­lence?”

Art and re­mem­brance seem to be the pre­vail­ing themes among the artists we have in­ter­viewed this month and mae­stro Fer­nando Botero is a great pur­veyor of this. In an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view, the 86-year-old re­calls the pre­cise mo­ment he de­cided to high­light the hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions in Abu Ghraib prison, cre­at­ing a mas­ter­piece that af­ter­wards left him “emo­tion­ally ex­hausted.” While Botero does not con­sider him­self a po­lit­i­cal artist, he does ac­cede that, “What art can do is leave a tes­ti­mony. If an artist has the abil­ity and will to ap­proach po­lit­i­cal events in or­der to leave a tes­ti­mony of the hor­ror, the ab­sur­dity, or the in­jus­tice of vi­o­lence, cor­rup­tion and stu­pid­ity, he should do it.”

One of our own na­tive sons, Teh Hock Aun, chan­nels his mem­o­ries into pos­i­tive ac­tion. The Glas­gow-based artist, who is set to show­case a solo ex­hi­bi­tion here at Balai Seni Vis­ual Ne­gara at the end of the year, laments the state of art in the coun­try and is de­ter­mined to set things right, cre­at­ing a highly struc­tured arts pro­gramme called ICE (Imag­i­na­tion Creation Ex­pres­sion) in his old high school to en­cour­age more stu­dents in fine art. “En­cour­age stu­dents to make a mess and find so­lu­tions,” he says. “This is how you en­cour­age stu­dents to do art – imag­i­na­tion. If you have good imag­i­na­tion, you have good art.”

Some­times, that imag­i­na­tion is served through grim re­al­ity. At the din­ner with Chris­tanto, I point at the year em­bla­zoned in bronze on the t-shirt he is wear­ing. “Never for­get,” he tells me, even manag­ing a smile.

With In­done­sian artist Dadang Chris­tanto.

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