BJ XII Equator Artist Profiles

(Few months ago, I was asked to help writing the artist profiles for Biennale Jogja XII for their catalog; specifically asked to go more about the personal information about an artist and their work instead of more biographical-list way. Apparently, that format is changed in the last minutes and I am writing some other profiles, now, in a more biographical way. Those biographical profile can be found in upcoming BJXII catalog, and posted below are the previous writings I made before)



Eko Nugroho (b. 1977) is one of the most celebrated young contemporary artist in Indonesia. He was among the generation who grows up during the period of upheaval and reform that cause the downfall of the New Order era. Nugroho was one of the first street artist to use mural paintings to openly criticize the downfall of the Soeharto regime. 

Maturing during the transition of democracy in Indonesia, he is deeply engaged with the culture of his time and is committed to making socio-political commentary in his work.These bizarre comments are often cleverly ironic (eg. "Menggergaji Es Jeruk"- roughly translated as chain-sawing lemon juice), quirky (eg. "Rintihan Agar-Agar"- translated as moan of the jelly), and sometime provocative without losing its humorous edge. This was the result of growing up in the middle of strong Javanese culture where the ironic statements are often too subtle to notice. 

By juxtaposing the images with critical text, he tries to entice the young Indonesian generation to deal with political issues  For instance, he once put a speech bubble saying "Please shoot me from the back" along with his part man-part machine characters. This choice of using part man-part machine character and the mask characters shows the influence of both traditional culture and global popular culture.Even when he was chosen as the first Indonesian artist ever to collaborate with Louis Vuitton, he somehow managed to stay grounded and true to his local tradition as well as global popular culture. 

His work is influenced by batik and traditional embroidery style with a powerful inspiration from contemporary street art and comics. In 2000, he founded a collaborative zine, Daging Tumbuh, as a more democratic approach toward the communal life in Yogyakarta and Indonesia. Daging Tumbuh can be freely copied and distributed while he invite participation from both artist and non-artist to contribute in the zine. This comic compilation was in  fact becoming the one art movement that become his vehicle to get to the point where he is standing right now. Recently, he launched a collaborative postcard exhibition project inviting everyone without age nor artistic standard to join in. In this project, everyone can be an artist whose small work can be displayed in a gallery at several different city. 

The ‘democracy’ of working on his project includes the across disciplines works he do; from comic and book project, murals, paintings, drawings, animation, large-scale embroideries, sculptures and contemporary interpretation of wayang kulit or shadow puppets. This tendency of working a lot in public space and with the local community is very much informed by his background in the street art. He captures the intensity and the frenzy of the street. His work is deeply anchored in the urban environment with a certain tension between the Indonesia and the West, the local and the global, the fine art and the street, and between the political stakes and intimate reflections. Living in a country with a climate that has been politically charged for decades and increasingly open would also contribute to his funny and critical word play. As he says in one of his exhibition, This Republic Needs More Semeleh*.

(*) Semeleh can be roughly translated as 'laid back' and picturing a condition of surrendering willingly whilst maintaining to stay alert.  



In 1975, FX Harsono (b.1949) co-initiated a radical student movement called "Black December" and also the "Indonesia New Art Movement" that cost him his education. He was then expelled from STSRI 'ASRI' Yogyakarta where he studied painting. After a certain period trying to survive on the street, he then finished his bachelor at IKJ (Jakarta Art Institute) in 1991. Despite the dark academic record he made during his youth, he started lecturing in the Faculty of Art and Design at Pelita Harapan University in 2005. 

In the early 1980s, he start making research based work which often considered politically threatening for the government. Not only being a risk-taker, he is also known for daringly chose a young curator to curate one of his notable solo and to pay regular visit to young artist in different cities to challenge their artistic language every now and then. Harsono himself is actually an active art critic who regularly write about social questions and the development of contemporary art. He played a vital role in the development of Indonesian contemporary art, redefining art while he was still studying, bringing out politically-charged installations in the 1990s, and continue to constantly remind people about a certain dark history that should not be forgotten.  

Work wise, Harsono always updating his artistic language to the current new social and cultural context ever-since  His oeuvre can also be seen as a constant reflection of his own position as an artist withing society, showing a certain series of self portraits that deliberately obscuring the face part.  

His recent work is largely based on his own biography and family history as a minority. Being a Chinese descendant, he often questions himself whether he is actually a Chinese who doesn't really understand that culture or whether he is an Indonesian who was not completely accepted for who he is during the repressed era of Suharto's new order. Starting from those questions, he searched his personal history, learning to write his own Chinese name, digging through his parent's family portraits, and found more that he expected. From what seem to be a personal history, memory, and questions of identity; he grasp the sense of political pressure and certain racism in Indonesia. This intersection of the personal and the political is particularly evident in his most recent works, showing not only his concern about the buried history but also touching a more global issue on self-identity in the fast changing world today.



Hassan Khan (b.1975), one of Cairo’s multi-talented artist, works with videos, music, and does writing and translations urged by theorizing and instinct. His works explores the margins at which a vernacular attains its stature. His works somehow journeys back and forth between the individual and the communal, between the revealed and the hidden. The intensity of his hometown, Cairo, might bring an important role to this artistic tendency. Cairo, as the largest city in Africa and the center or the Arab world, is populated by somewhere between 16 to 25 million citizen. The street where the distinction between public and private is very casual; has a certain loudness and theatrical energy that inspired Khan’s work in 2005 titled DOM-TAK-TAK-DOM-TAK. This work is a mix between independently performed track with six recording of Shaabi, which is a popular form of street music in Cairo. The hybrid instrumental matters represents the subjective interpretation, spontaneous personal expression, and predetermined cultural moments against one another. 

Another work that was inspired by Shaabi was Jewel (2012). The work was a video made of 35mm film transferred to digital format showing a luminescent fish in the deep waters of the Black sea. The image progressively transforms itself into a speaker, filmed in the midst of a dark space. Suddenly, the complete image of the scene appears when two men are seen dancing around an audio speaker. The soundtrack is an original composition by the artist. This work illustrates the intensity of Cairo’s street with a twist of cultural essences.
One of his notable performance  17 and AUC, was when he spent everyday for two weeks drinking beer and smoking cigarettes in a one-way mirrored and soundproofed glass box in a downtown Cairo flat. This event went without publicity, the viewers went unrecognized and even unseen due to the one-way mirrored wall. A video camera was recording him while Khan was doing his isolated monologue reflecting on memories of his time as a student at the American University of Cairo. The performance was his examination of the individual position against social and political structures; creating an experience of loneliness for both Khan and the audiences

The vernacular style continued in his exhibition ‘Kompressor’ (2006), where he use his dream as the material. The exhibition is described as ‘an exhibition based on translating sets of dreams into different forms by the dreamers’. In this exhibition, he translated the internal unidentified unconsciousness into something formed—yet, the result of this translation is  not actually easy to identify after all  One of the artwork in this exhibition, Alphabet Book, consist of Khan’s dream inspired text without describing the dream specifically. What started as a subjective approach of making the oeuvre has distilled in some way that only a compressed trace of himself remains. 

For Khan, his experience in working with various media are born of the effort to define a theoretical position and the impulse to follow an undefined instinct. Khan’s seemingly universal tales are in fact an attempt to let a story tell itself.   



Jasmina Metwaly (b.1982) is not only an artist but also an activist working in both video art and documentary. She is the co- founder of ‘8784 h project’ and XR Gallery in Lubon, Poland and a collective IntifadatIntifadat. She completed her education in Poland and practiced as a visual artist in London before moving back to Egypt.

Has been growing up both in Warsaw and Cairo, she started a new chapter in her life by relocating back to the country of her roots in 2009; finding the situation had changed both personally and politically. Filled with curiosity, she decided to get more and more involved in the political situation in Egypt before the revolution. Naturally, it changed the habit of her work and artistic process. She started doing research-based projects responding to the political situation at that time and try to provide an adequate response to scrape beneath the surface and to address to wider scope audiences by choosing documentary as the closest genre for her specific purpose. She then started working with Mosireen, a social media collective that archives footage, organised workshops in film production for amateurs, and provides a platform for videographers to share their work. Mossireen tries to open new ways of seeing differences, raising questions, and remind people of something they had forgotten or never seen before in the mass media. 

For Metwaly, it is not art’s role to become a mirror to events. It is the experience that will find a way into the artwork. She believes that even though the memory of trauma, collective experience, and history can always be a subject to many artists, the artwork carrying the weight of history should also leave a space for reflection.  Driven from a constant search for ‘the' image, her recent works are settled somewhere within painting and video.  

One of her notable work was presented in Cairo Documenta 2, titled "The donkey that didn't become a painting", 2011. This work is comprised of two monochrome yellow canvases facing each other and covered by stains and dust, combined with a single channel video of a dead donkey on the road juxtaposed with quotes from Nietzsche. This work voiced her own frustration with her previous films which she believed have not yet created any substantive changes in terms of art on a revolution. The dead donkey represents the form of sketch that attempts to illustrate reality but fails to do so. The dust-covered painting represents an idle phase when nothing really happens and it collects dust and stains from the surrounding reality overtime. This work is flattened with the frozen image of the decomposed donkey and last quote from Nietzsche, ‘Mother I am dumb’; which  leave the spectator with no further explanations before everything start collecting dusts all over again. 

Through her documentary projects, she wish to produce direct applied message to reach as many people as possible while through such art practice, she lets metaphors and the work to provoke different interpretations. She believes that both documentary and art could create a similar response or feeling to image. Yet, she is interested in the different reaction between when one looks at reality and when one looks at its representation. At the end, the videos she makes in the realm of activism are about remembering, taking notes and making observations. Instead of adapting to a certain position of what is right or wrong, she remain truthful to what she belief and that art still need a way to be metaphorical  poetic, and sometimes magical.



Salwa Aleryani (b.1982) aims to speak the truth about the Arab woman stereotype both from the outside and the inside. At first, she finds it hard to reflect one thing and not have to sacrifice another. Thus, she decided to show both side in her works. She feels like when she paint Arab women as women living under pressure, she would not be telling the truth and only encouraging that image in the West. When she paint women as free, she worried to encourage people that do suppress women's freedom to continue doing so. Thus, sometime she would paint women that are covered and some others that are carefree-- depending to her personal moment.Being a young female artist in Yamen who studied abroad, she sees both contradictory stereotype of Arab women. Yet again, who to say it best than the one who actually live the experience. 

Aleryani's recent work explores the intersection of the personal and the public and how the construction and use of public space contributes to the manufacturing of our public self. She believes that her art should be her identity as a part of being a Yameni and a reflection of who she really is. She found inspiration from all the small things that can touch her-- either from personal experience or other beauty she encounter in the daily life.   

Being young and having a lot of emotion inside her, her style is not only affected by how she feels but also affected by the material she use; be it pastels to oil paintings to markers. Leading two balancing lives as an artist and a freelance graphic designer bring an impact to her works in both side. For her, there is no art for the sake of art, or for the sake of beauty. Art is her way to reflects the society which she lives in.



Syagini Ratna Wulan (b.1979) works has been known for her non-linear visual idioms. She often plays with issues of fantasies and human unconsciousness that feels idiosyncratic and sometime absurd. This playful side of her is often used to make commentaries on superficial middle-class behavior. 

Using items that she meets in her daily life, she creates art works that feels somehow feminine and often characterized with criticism of contemporary culture. In one of her work, “Delirium” (2002), she displayed household items inside chemical bottles as a comment on our addiction to consumerism in today’s society. In her installation work titled “Love Affair Pt.1: The Dining Room/ White Lies” (2010) she explored the secrecy of double love-lives using a complete dining room as the centerpiece. In this work she displayed her painting, drawings, embroidery, clothing, and domestic objects that arranged stylishly ironic. From the way she creates her installation works, it can be perceived that her contemporary pop culture and her day job as interior designer as well as fashion stylist plays a big role.

In her previous project, “BiblioTea” (2011), she invite the audience to join in and let them enter the fake bookshop/ tea-house where she displayed fictitious art books and flavored teas. In this project, she leads the audience to believe that the content of the art books has been infused into the teas and one can gain the knowledge drinking the tea. This work portrayed both the Asian scholarly tradition of tea in its relation with philosophical and aesthetic contemplation while at the same time criticizing her view on consumerist culture where people expect instant gratification with minimal effort.  

Using fantastical narrative to react toward banal daily realities, she creates a playful exhibition “100 Years of Tempest” (2012) where (again) audiences are invited to join in, let numbered postcards and lockers to lead their way, and create their own version of the story. The postcard is later serve as the side supplement of the exhibition catalog. The all-white locker displayed different objects and art installations signifying personal moment in the artist’s life. Those personal moments portrayed here are actually familiar with everyone’s daily life that the clues, numbers, and their own finding can create their own story at the end of the journey. Here, Syagini developed further method of playing around with objects and let the audience do the performance.  Her way of inviting audience to play around and interact with her work is how she wants audience to find mutual understanding of her oeuvre.



Tiong Ang (b.1961) is a Chinese descendant Indonesian-born artist who lives and work in the Netherlands  Coming from mix cultural background, different elements about the nature of identity, cultural meaning, and social absorption emerge in Ang's work. For this Biennale, he will be showing "Mijn Naam is Potlood" (2009) with a new homecoming context and delivery.

Tiong Ang works in many medium, from painting, video, photography, installation, to social projects. Whether using complex research-based artwork or a more simple piece; he often mix documentary observation with manipulated imagery creating a blurry line between fact and fiction. Many of Tiong Ang's works plays with concepts such as seeing and being seen, reality and fiction, distance and engagement, recollection, projection, and culture-specific meaning.

In his exhibition in 2003, he shows three short films ("Three Men", "Prisoners" and "Wounded") which two of those are of single scenes whose intensity is heightened by the use of a slow-motion technique and color filters. In this exhibition, Ang is searching his own identity by making contact with the other with works that feels odd and compelling. 
His own contrasting state of belonging and alienation within the global sphere can be found in the edited imagery that evokes alternative state of mind. Sometime in his video, he shows disoriented imagery that at the same time being fluid and dynamic in moving between the zones of knowledge and being. 

Using that kind of shift, the artist use the tendency of combining fiction and reality to express his intrigued feeling of the way the media filters and distorts reality. He questions how we could have become so dependent on our complex technology. 'Information flows in unsightly forms have infiltrated our minds, and have taken over our decisions, with no regard for our youth, our memories,' he says. Nonetheless, his work continually re-examines the question of how we keep our minds open.



Agung Kurniawan (b.1968) is not only a studio artist but also a socio-cultural activist. He was also the founder of Yayasan Seni Cemeti, that now becomes Indonesia Visual Art Achieve (IVAA). Being a busy socio-cultural activist in a city where art scene is no less busy and lively; he manages to lead a role as the owner and founder of Kedai Kebun Forum (KKF). KKF is a space (both in physical and ideological context) that explores performance and visual arts. It becomes one of the most important melting pot for artist, curators, collectors, and art activist from all over the country. Throw a random rock there and chances are, you'll hit an artist.  This space is also well known for its cultural position in the art scene to not only support but also to nurture younger art generation as well as providing space for art events and discussion.

The artist starts out with book illustrations, drawing, and comics offering harsh satirical critique of Indonesian society. His drawing, "Holy Family" (1997) exhibited at Cemeti Art House draw a special attention from the authorities for portraying a family of clown resembling Suharto's family that almost cause the exhibition to be shut down. Grown up with the New Order and formed a movement for change, his early work in the 1990s is heavily imbued with topics of violent and political subtexts-- a subject he later mock in his work "Souvenirs from the Third World" (1998) that reflects his unease with the phenomenon of the world's exotic glasses to see Indonesian political events. After the reformation era that marks the end of the New Order era, his work start focusing on taboo subjects such as sexual politics as a way to see the hypocrite side of the culture, personal guilt and exploration through Christian analogies. It was only around 2006 that he started the trellis series, which he prefers to call "drawing iron". 

In "Family Photo 1974" (2012) he shows a softer side behind the hoarse persona by transferring old and shabby pictures into drawing iron. The solid iron under the light create a fragile reflection in which the shadow it formed created blurry new pictures that he associate with reflecting memories. During that time of personal loss, his work become his pilgrimage to the past through vague lines in old pictures, hoping to be able to recall the memory.   

Working as both artist and an art activist, he often work down to street level all the way up to intervening in bureaucratic structures. Some of his later works involves performance aspect. One of his performance project, "One Minute Mute" where he invites people to lay on the sidewalks at the big intersection of Jogja to give a minute respect an silent for the victims of accidents on the road. His other notable work titled Adidas Tragedy (2012) was a performance by the artist in Gwangju Biennale 2012 utilizing shoes as physical connection to each participants. In this series of work, Kurniawan respond to Adidas' City Series where the shoes actually marked at the back with the city name which is important in sport history. In Agung Kurniawan's version, the Adidas Tragedy is a series of shoes marked and packed in silk-screened box with image, year, and name of a city which is important and closely related to tragic history of mass killing or violent. 
His ongoing project, "Mencari Hariadi" (Searching for Hariadi) is an art festival that take places in several public areas continuously to send the public voice and message to the city mayor, Hariadi, whose decisions was blamed to cause the comfort of this humble city lessen day by day. Of course, as one of the most important figure who work closely to the younger generation of artist as well as those more established figures; he manages to actually become a motor for the progressive art happening and art/activism projects in this city.