For an Indonesian in Paris, Bravo

By webadmin on 09:50 pm Apr 09, 2012
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Lisa Siregar

“I [Heart] Paris in Cheap Way” is one of many embroidery works currently on exhibit at the Musee d’Art Moderne in Paris. With its bright red heart against a white background (and exclamation of love for the City of Light), this piece stands out in an exhibition titled “T’emoin Hybride,” or “Hybrid Witness.”

Created by Yogyakarta-based artist Eko Nugroho, the exhibition is being extended from the end of March to June ­because of popular demand.

Arifi Saiman, the coordinator for social and cultural affairs at the Indonesian Embassy in Paris, said having an Indonesian artist show his work in a museum in Paris was a matter of national pride. Eko’s show, the diplomate added, has attracted tens of thousands of visitors.

“Eko is the first Indonesian artist to be featured in a Paris museum,” he said.

Securing a space to display Eko’s work was no small feat, as Musee d’Art Moderne is inundated with works from numerous ambitious, talented artists, according to Arifi. His office tried to book a space for the Keris Exhibition, featuring ancient Javanese knives, at the museum, but it is fully booked until 2014.

Eko, who studied painting at the Indonesian Institute of the Arts in Yogyakarta, is in Paris thanks to the SAM Art Projects, a private initiative established by Amaury and Sandra Mulliez in 2009. Two contemporary artists from developing countries were selected by SAM Art Projects for a scholarship, a five-month residential stay in Paris and the chance to exhibit their work at museums and public spaces.

Among the curators for the project are Hans-Ulrich Obrist, the co-director of the Serpentine Gallery in London, and Fabrice Hergott, the director of Musee d’Art Moderne in Paris.

The white walls of Musee d’Art Moderne’ Chamber 17 are decorated with Eko’s art installations. The mystical sound of the gamelan fills the room, which Eko has covered (including the ceiling, walls, columns and tiles) with murals in baby-blue and white.

The installations feature human figures in the middle and corner of the room, as well as street art graffiti written in English, Indonesian and French, including the words “La Rue Parle,” which means “a speaking street.”

“The street art statements came from my interaction with people in Paris,” Eko said. “I tried to capture everyday life around here as I rode around on my bicycle.”

Eko snapped pictures, then transformed them into “the language of craftsmanship” by “painting” the images by embroidering rayon thread on fabric. About 34 of the embroidered images hang in one corner of the room.

“I like to experiment in multi-media, from painting, drawing and comic illustration to animation, batik and embroidery,” Eko said.

One human figurine with an embroidered face sits with half his body covered in a box that reads “fragile society.” Eko wrote “Generations are mirrors” on one of his murals in an attempt to express the social and political anxiety he feels, and has translated into art.

Eko presents images of city streets, tourists and Parisians, and incorporates a critique of France’s political fragility, especially in the context of upcoming presidential elections. Messages of political stirring may have a special appeal to young Indonesians. “This is what my street art project is all about,” Eko said.

This is Eko’s seventh residential stay since his first stint at Amsterdam Graphics Atelier in 2004. The 34-year-old artist has since resided in cities across the globe to create and display his art, including in New Orleans, The Hague, Helsinki, Brisbane and Taipei.

Some of Eko’s works are now on display in museums worldwide, including the Tropen Museum in Amsterdam, the Asia Society Museum in New York, the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, Artoteek Den Haag in The Hague, Cemeti Art House in Yogyakarta, Akili Museum of Art in Jakarta, the Singapore Art Museum and the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans.

But this year marks the third time Eko has had his works exhibited in Paris. In 2009, he participated in a show at the Veduta Project as part of the 10th Biennale de Lyon. He also worked with Louis Vuitton in 2010, where he has since been a regular. Last year, Eko was among 11 Indonesian artists to have their work displayed at the Louis Vuitton gallery located above its boutique on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

The gallery holds exhibitions of contemporary artists from around the world every five months. In the exhibition last year, film director Garin Nugroho was among the Indonesian artist taking part. He presented a video about the dramatic changes taking place in Java.

Other Louis Vuitton stores have also displayed Eko’s artwork, including last year in Hong Kong and this year in Singapore.

Arifi said his office at the embassy was working on getting more Indonesian artwork exhibited in French museums. He also wants to see French artists featured in Indonesia.

At the moment, Eko is busy working to prepare his solo exhibition in Berlin, which is scheduled for April 17-29. Titled “Threat With a Flavor,” the exhibition will feature some of the embroidery works from “Hybrid Witness.”

The exhibition at Musee d’Art Moderne in Paris runs through June 10.