ART AND REMEMBERING
“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.