Seven Years Without a Hitch
With a master’s degree in politics from the University of Indonesia under her belt, Amalia Ahmad had worked in corporate communications for 11 years before she decided to leave that world behind to focus on her passion: art.
“I was tired of having a 9-to-5 office job,” she said. “I wanted to be a free person and manage my own time.”
Together with her then-boyfriend and now-husband Tommy F. Awuy, who shared her interest and passion for art, Amalia opened Philo Art Space in Kemang, South Jakarta.
The gallery this year celebrates its seventh anniversary, but unlike the old saying, Philo Art Space doesn’t look likely to fall victim to the “seven-year itch.” Instead, Amalia and Tommy are growing strong, and keeping busy showcasing local talent in their exhibition space.
In honor of the gallery’s milestone, the two-story Philo Art Space is hosting a new exhibition titled “Anniversary Expressions,” which will run until late this month.
“The years have been a meaningful period for us in our journey walking through the world of Indonesia’s arts,” said Tommy, a philosophy degree holder who is not only the co-founder, but also the curator of the gallery. “Philo Art Space does not play in vast areas like other galleries. We focus on only the contemporary arts specializing in urban themes and issues.
“The spotlight on ‘urban culture’ is for contextual reasons only,” he added. “Urban themes have given artists a lot of issues that are challenging and need to be responded to. It is a general understanding that the changes in society are coming from the changes in the urban space.
“Artists are challenged to take a stance about all those changes: either they have to go with the sweep of the flow, or they gather their resolve and stand against it no matter how impossible it may seem.”
Focusing on urban culture has given Amalia and Tommy a clear direction. They have also made it their mission to nurture Indonesia’s young and fresh talents by giving them the opportunity to exhibit their works at Philo Art Space.
“[When we started in 2005], thousands of artists — either students or graduates — had difficulties taking part in exhibitions because the number of galleries were not enough to cater to them,” Amalia said. “That’s why, in our art space, we target young contemporary artists.
“It does not really matter whether the artist’s CV is still empty or they have not participated in many exhibitions before, as long as they technically pass the standard and meet Philo Art Space’s criteria — the urban culture theme — they can exhibit with us,” she added.
The gallery’s focus may sound like it’s catering to a niche group, but in reality, there’s plenty to show.
“Urban culture is a representation of many faces of expressions,” Tommy said. “Every time we are offered myriad displays, presented with various motives, intentions, methods and other habits by people with different education and cultural backgrounds.”
When asked if she had a favorite from the many artists that have exhibited at Philo Art Space over the years, Amalia insisted that they all remain special to her, as they were all carefully and deliberately chosen by herself and Tommy.
This time, instead of highlighting one artist in a solo show, Philo Art Space has invited several Indonesians to showcase their works in a group exhibition.
“We intentionally do not carry special themes,” Tommy said. “Some of the artists for ‘Anniversary Expressions’ have had their works exhibited in Philo Art Space before, some are new names, but all, of course, have their own unique styles.”
Nine artists from throughout Indonesia are taking part in “Anniversary Expressions,” and their diverse works bring a lot of color to the exhibition space.
The exhibition opened on Sunday night with a party that not only featured the usual speeches by the artists, curator and gallery owners, but also saw live dance and musical performances to celebrate Philo Art Space ’s milestone.
Doel AB’s charcoal portraits hang next to Edo Pop’s vibrant and Farid Shikumbang’s mystically-tinted paintings. Samy Zimah’s work, titled “He He He,” brings a social commentary by showing a brightly smiling figure — the rest of the face remains unseen — whose hand reaches out to a stack of Rp 100,000 bills.
Nur Milisani’s series of flower paintings with red, pink and white blooms brings a sense of the Orient to the exhibition, while Bambang Wibawarta has contributed several works that depict seemingly lifeless bodies embedded in natural surroundings.
Tommy said that he and his wife couldn’t have made it this far without the support of art enthusiasts throughout Jakarta who have become loyal visitors to Philo Art Space.
“We have been very happy with the enthusiasm and the great appreciation that society has paid to the artists,” he said.
It’s a noteworthy achievement for a gallery to survive this long, especially as competition has grown fierce in recent years. “The art scene in Indonesia has changed much in the last seven years,” Amalia said. “Look at the mushrooming galleries, or how many more art magazines or auction houses have been established.”
Despite the changes, the course for Philo Art Space is set.
Looking to the future, Amalia said she and Tommy will simply continue what they have been doing successfully ever since they first opened the doors to their Kemang art space.
In the next seven years and beyond, Amalia said she can still see herself doing exactly what she does today: promoting young, promising and emerging Indonesian artists.