Pictures Worth Many Thousand Words

'Renjana' (JG Photo/Tunggul Wirajuda)

‘Renjana’ (JG Photo/Tunggul Wirajuda)

Illustration has been one of the most effective mediums of storytelling throughout history. Whether they be prehistoric wall paintings, Renaissance frescoes or 20th century comics, pictures derive their effectiveness from their power of stimulating senses.

Aside from comics, illustrations also go hand in glove in visualizing short stories, from their inception by writers like Edgar Allan Poe until today.

But this symbiotic relationship is rife with irony, because while readers are likely to notice pictures before they see the written word, they are more likely to be familiar with stories’ writers instead of illustrators.

The Bentara Budaya cultural center seeks to give illustrators their due in an exhibition titled “Pameran Ilustrasi Cerpen Kompas 2013” (“The 2013 Kompas Short Story Illustration Exhibition”), showing 48 illustrations from 48 short stories published in Kompas newspaper last year.

This year’s exhibit, held alongside the paper’s short story awards, had as a highlight artist Amrizal Salayan’s illustration for writer Budi Darma’s work “Laki-Laki Pemanggul Goni” (“The Man Carrying the Gunny Bag”). Published in February 2012, the tale was named best short story by a panel of Kompas editors.

“The outstretched hand [in ‘Laki-Laki Pemanggul Goni’] seems to portray the character’s piety and resignation,” said exhibition curator Putu Fajar Arcana.

“The picture portrays the contrast between the main character’s religious piety and the effects of those beliefs on others. This is reflected by his recurring vision of a man carrying a gunny bag.”

Amrizal’s stark yet striking imagery of the outstretched palm seems to convey the guilt and emotional vacuum of the main character. The grime on his hand, and the deeply etched lines of his palm also seemed to show the toll these feelings took on the character. The story and illustration perhaps capture the pitfalls of using one’s beliefs as a shield against guilt.

In contrast, Amrizal’s other work “Tangan-Tangan Buntung” (“Amputated Hands”), lacks the meditative, contemplative tone of “Laki-Laki Pemanggul Goni.” The work, a satire on the lack of accountability among Indonesia’s leaders, makes its point with the grotesque portrayal of the main character by artist Ipong Purnama Sidhi.

The portrait, which is drawn in bright, garish colors, seemed to convey the corrupting influence of power. The theme resonates in Indonesia due to the culture of impunity enjoyed by many of the country’s politicians today and in other eras of history, including the late President Suharto’s 32-year New Order regime.

“The illustrations can capture the essence of the tale because the writers’ vivid imagination is based on the visual arts,” Putu said.

'Tangan-Tangan Buntung' (Photo courtesy of Tunggul Wirajuda)

‘Tangan-Tangan Buntung’ (Photo courtesy of Tunggul Wirajuda)

In Susilo Budi Purwanto’s painting for “Renjana,” a short story by Dwicipta, the artist uses a surrealist touch worthy of Salvador Dali to flesh out the main character’s struggle.

By turning his back on the viewer, the painting’s subject seems to reflect the main character’s determination to hold on to his youthful idealism, despite his current circumstances. But the grasping hands shooting out of the subject’s back seem to represent his unwillingness to move on from the past.

In contrast, Koxis Verserken’s illustration for Agus Noor’s short story “Requiem Kunang-Kunang” (“Firefly Requiem”) uses simple illustration evoking the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus.

However, the homely image belies the double entendre in the title, namely the use of fireflies as a symbol of destruction left by ambition and sectarian conflict. Agus derived inspiration for the story from the sectarian conflict raging in Ambon, Maluku, in the early 2000s.

The exhibition features short story illustrations primarily from 2012, but also showcases some dating back as far as 2003 — the first year the event was held.
Pameran Ilustrasi Cerpen Kompas 2012

Through Saturday

Bentara Budaya Jakarta

Jl. Palmerah Selatan No. 17

Central Jakarta

Tel. 021 548 3008