A Certain Grace: Photography from Bandung

A Certain Grace: Photography from Bandung is an exhibition that will run from 23 Aug to 30 Sept 2012 at the Esplanade Tunnel Singapore. The show features works by Deden Hendan Durahman, Henrycus Napit Sunargo and Sari Asih.

In conjunction with the exhibition, IPA Gallery hosted a public talk on the evening of 23 Aug 2012 for the featured artists.

This is the original curatorial essay that I have written for the exhibition.

A Certain Grace: Photography from Bandung

Today, grace appears to be in short supply, as instances of intolerance and violence reach us, often unverified and at breakneck speed, via the Internet. And yet, grace is commonplace, like the way our mothers would starch our school uniform. Even in depravity, there is grace, taking the form of sacrifice for the weaker members of society, or the burning desire to live with dignity.

For artists, depravity can mean the lack of opportunities and exposure. However, even under the most restrictive conditions, people around the world continue to create—photographs continue to be taken, songs continue to be sung, poems continue to be written. It is just that, sometimes, artists and dictators do not see these efforts as Art.

It is an exaggeration to claim that the artists working with photography in Bandung, West Java, do so in depravity. They are connected within the ecologies and economies of Indonesian art. And yet, any discussion on Indonesian photography tends to exclude them. Instead, it centres on the photojournalists of Jakarta or the contemporary photographers of MES 56 at Yogyakarta, Central Java.

Maybe some of the works made by Bandung photographers do not fit into the hazy labels of journalism or contemporary photography. But the artists persist. And that requires wit and grace, for it is easier to become nihilistic in this situation.

Instead, there is an inclination among some of them to document or explore the notions of family and belonging in their works. Examples include Dicky Juwono’s Your Home is Where You Are Happy (2003-       ) and Sandi Jaya Saputra’s Where the Magic Happens (2008-            ).

However, the most consummate archivist of domestic life has to be Henrycus Napit Sunargo, with Afterimage (2000-2010) an obvious reference point for the previous photographers. In some pictures, he looks for the dramatic and the surreal at home. In other photographs, Sunargo crosses his documentation with “performance”, placing himself within the same photographic frame as his mother, telling us that he feels closest to her. The way he frames images of his father also evokes his “absence” within the household. Nevertheless, Afterimage is his way of saying grace for the family.

For other artists like Adhya S. Ranadireksa and Deden Hendan Durahman, their photo-based practices have been guided by the desire to imbue the ordinary with wonderment.

In CORPUS; Up & Down (2007), Durahman accentuates the beauty of the human body with a wide-angle lens, urging us to rediscover our intrinsic grace that has become masked by desire and fashion.

Sari Asih’s The Orchestra (2011-            ) straddles the works of Durahman and Sunargo. The colours and sense of motion in her panoramic photographs invite us to re-examine the improvised cityscape of Indonesia. As a woman who struggles to unpack her personal life, photographing the streets is the only way for Asih to find a graceful stance between her roles as a mother, a wife, a graphic designer, an artist and a nomad.

These three bodies of work are characterized by their “small, personal narratives”, a feature of Indonesian art that has surfaced since the millennium when some artists choose to “remove” themselves from the social and political chaos of Indonesia, turning inwards to build their private worlds, says art historian Aminudin TH Siregar (b. 1973). There is historical precedence in this development when painters like S. Sudjojono and Hendra Gunawan, faced with a sense of uselessness, “retreated” into their own worlds during the national revolution (1945-50).[i]

In the present era, what sets Asih, Durahman and Sunargo apart is their belief in personal practices that have not succumbed to cynicism or boredom—attributes common among some of the photo works produced in Indonesia over the last decade. Of course, even in these “personal narratives”, they still have to deal with the realities of society. However, the private worlds that they created have, no doubt, given them the distance to work with poise and grace.

[i] Aminudin TH Siregar, “The Fountain of Lamneth: An Art Project,” in The Fountain of Lamneth, exh. cat. (Singapore: Gajah Gallery, 2012), 18.

A slightly different version has been used in the exhibition leaflet.

A selection of the featured works:

CORPUS; Up & Down (2007) / Deden Hendan Durahman

Afterimage (2000-2010) / Henrycus Napit Sunargo

The Orchestra (2011-          ) / Sari Asih

Photographs of the exhibition at Esplanade Tunnel:


Documentation of the public talk at IPA Gallery


Courtesy of Kevin Lee / IPA


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