Personal Oikumene:

The Javanese conception of life is a holistic one and the philosophy hamemayu hayuning bawana states that life is a house. It is a symbiotic vision of the world that binds the individual ‘I’ to the larger universe.  If life is a house, then society is a family.

Personal Oikumene, the theme of this exhibition, refers to the personal home, but this exhibition is not just about interiority. Each of the participating artists has a separate studio practice. By inviting the seven artists to show their work together the curators have placed the powerfully individual gesture of personal expression in confrontation with the plural act of collaboration and agency. In doing so, they create a continuum from social analysis to activism.

Personal Oikumene, prompts us to contemplate that which we inhabit. We occupy our minds, body, clothes and we feel alone in these.  The individual condition is challenged by the fact our minds are shaped by society, our body once occupied another, the clothes we wear are collaborations of products grown and spun by others. As we contemplate this co-dependency we begin to realize we are enmeshed in infinite networks – communities, worlds, cosmos. From this position, where everything is interlinked, we can transition into a framework of shared responsibility.

The Artists:

Each of the artists exhibiting in Personal Oikumene has a personal universe. Like all humans they occupy a strata of contexts, ranging from the intensely personal landscape of the imagination and the exterior realms of body, community, society and place. These zones of occupation inform their work. As we view their individual works together it is possible to collate a portrait of the human condition.

Nurify Gadisgelap’s understanding of the world is mediated through the body. Sexual and sincere, her diaristic images draw on naive figuration to convey the emotional loneliness and sometimes-rudderless nature of adult existence. Superimposing hand drawn images onto pages taken from Enid Blyton’s adventure tales Lima Sekawan (Famous Five), Nurify encounters the banal domesticity of daily life with a sprightly sense of rebellion and whimsy. The transparent gouache quality of the characters at play hints that we are catching a glimpse of the imperceptible.

Fran Anggoman deals with the body as a site of social conflict. Fran’s canvases and woodcut prints are dynamic and opulent, reflecting the chaotic nature of urban existence. Borrowing from the lexicon of tattoo art, his forceful pop-art iconography conveys a vision of decadence and violence that smacks of a coded political aggression. Fran’s is a noticeably male vision; a heady explosion of babes, bombs and billionaires. His treatment of the female figure is key.  Glamorously detached but shackled to the patriarchal gaze and artillery these subjects are passive and neutralized, impervious to the violence all around them.

Adopting a lighthearted countenance Sarwoto Kotot lampoons the inhibiting influence of social conditioning and institutionalization.  Kotot often references traditional Javanese toys such as the paper plane in this painting. Though toys are symbols of innocence they are also loaded objects, heavily encoded with cultural values that they transmit to children. In an act of playful rebellion, Kotot turns our expectations on their head by creating sculpture out of drawing tools. His hedgehog is an amusing visual pun but the menacing points on the spiky tips of the pencils also hint at something sinister. 

Piko Sugianto is a prolific artist and he records the world around him with devotional intensity. His practice conspicuously deals with personal landscapes both mental and physical. Highly ordered formal constructions synthesize expressive, gestural brush strokes and textural elements. Piko’s introspective images show us hybrid spaces in which the world of appearances is tinged with visible emotion.  For instance, a tenderly drawn charcoal image of a house is all the more poignant with the knowledge the artist’s home and studio cracked in half during the recent earthquake and he is forced to live in a dilapidated state. 

By contrast Rizky Hidayat exudes an optimistic world-view.  Born with a crooked left hand, he draws intuitively with this arm despite being right handed.  In physiology the right side of the brain is thought to be the creative one and thus not rational or trained like the left. This defiant gesture of drawing with the ‘other’ hand bucks institutionalization and the constraints of authority. In this way his work occupies a duality of self-expression and social engagement.

The sculptures and drawings of Nur ‘Emprit’ Wiyanto and Asep Prasetyo show that the humblest of materials can produce the most fascinating of objects. Nur lives in a simple house in a secluded hamlet far from the main road where he is surrounded by coconut fields. Using lidi(the skeletons of coconut leaves) he constructs elegiac and beautiful forms. Playing with the properties of suspension and balance, his organic constructions formally reference the beauty of trees and the body in motion. 

Asep is fascinated by found objects scavenged from flea markets, garages and the streets. Harnessing the aesthetic potential of detritus, he builds surprising assemblages. Invoking a low-tech appearance, his sculptures pose a challenge our lust for the new. Other works have a robotic appearance that speaks of pastiche. Imbuing discarded objects with aesthetic value is a gesture of optimism, a desire for a more beautiful and mindful world.

***ketjilbergerak, meaning small movement, is the creative project of a group of Javanese activists committed to fostering healthy dialectics within society. The arts are their medium for dissent.

ketjilbergerak is a democratic movement that advocates a freethinking. Rejecting fragmentation, they solicit interactivity between creative practitioners from all local, national and global stations.  Inciting dynamic interactions across a range of creative disciplines the movement champions plurality in opposition to the homogenizing effects of globalization and totalitarianism. 

What does global integration mean for the production and distribution of art? For ketjilbergerak it means defending a polycultural regional identity. Indonesia and in particular, Java, has a rich history of ethnic diversity, a patchwork identity exacerbated by colonial occupation.  ketjilbergerak internalize their post-colonial struggle by involving artists working across a range of mediums; writing, performance and the visual arts. Encouraging discursive encounters they pose a challenge to rigid notions of regional identity and national culture. 

ketjilbergerak challenges barriers of ideology and difference. Artists are no longer bound by geographic or gender contexts, rather they are able to roam the globe via electronic communication, traversing geography, history and media simultaneously. Isolation dissolves into multiplicity as we occupy a range of contexts, entering a new and unmoored zone where there is a constant collision and interactivity.

ketjilbergerak is a fluid organization for whom collaboration is a strategy of engagement. For ketjilbergerak the audience completes their work, for in the act of looking a transaction occurs where the artists’ worlds overlap with the viewers: during this moment they are conjoined.  In the spirit of hamemayu hayuning bawana creativity is product of converging worlds and an expression of social harmony. For the duration of this exhibition, until we disperse, you are ketjilbergerak and I am ketjilbergerak.

This is our Personal Oikumene. 


Sarah Vandepeer
Independent Curator & Gallery Manager, Stella Downer Fine Art
Sydney, Australia