The relationships between art, politics, and society from the eyes of Agus Suwage.
Over the past 30 years, Agus Suwage has created a significant body of work using the mediums of painting, installation, sculpture and drawing that has earned him a solid artistic reputation in Indonesia. His great devotion to exploring the subjective individual and their nuanced interactions with society and politics is evident through the inclusion of popular symbols, mythology, iconography and self-portraiture.
Born in Purworejo, Central Java, in 1959, Suwage attended the Institut Teknologi Bandung to study graphic design. After graduating, he took a job as a graphic designer before relocating to Yogyakarta in 1998 to pursue his career as a full-time artist. At the time, he witnessed first-hand the turbulent politics and social upheaval building up to the 1998 May Riots, which greatly influenced Suwage’s development as an artist.
Suwage has participated actively in both national and international art scenes since the 1990s. He had his first solo exhibition at Cemeti Gallery in Yogyakarta in 1995, which led to major presentations in important global exhibitions and biennales, including ‘The 2nd Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art at the Queensland Art Gallery, Australia (1996); ‘The Sixth Havana Biennial,’ Cuba (1997); ‘AWAS! Recent Art from Indonesia,’ which toured Australia, Japan, Germany, and Netherlands (1999-2002); ‘Kwangju Biennale 2000: Man + Space,’ South Korea; ‘Singapore Biennale’ (2006); ‘Prospect.3,’ New Orleans (2014); ‘Sunshower: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now,’ Mori Art Museum, The National Art Center, Tokyo, Japan (2017).
Suwage’s work has been widely displayed and collected throughout the world. Notably, his work appears in the Singapore Art Museum, Fukuoka Art Museum, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and The Museum of Modern Art, Saitama in Japan, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.
In 2009 in Indonesia he held a retrospective exhibition at the Jogja National Museum among others. Also, he had a monograph titled Still Crazy After All These Years that was published a year later. This year Museum MACAN held a special exhibition titled “Agus Suwage: The Theater of Me” highlighting his artistic journey over the last 30 years.
“The Theater of Me is a journey to revisit the works that I’ve been creating for the past 30 years. Throughout the journey, there’s a realisation that I kept recycling existing works and developing them into new and different shapes and dimensions, which led to many interesting findings,” explains Suwage, “Through the process of reflection and exploration since my early days as an artist, I saw a close relationship between art, politics, and society. You will see my work from important stages such as self-portraits, and also the exploration of memory, fear, alienation, dreams, human identity, and humour.”
The exhibition addresses sweeping cultural as well as political themes, which are refracted through intimate and personal narratives. It showcases around 80 works, consisting of major installations, sculptures, paintings, and drawings. Collectively, they explore the development of Suwage’s work in Indonesia’s Reformasi context.
“Far from being simple analogies and observations of the changing world around him, the works of Agus Suwage usually involves constant self-interrogation, probing the myths and symbols that frame the complexity of human relations and national political power, elaborating its brightest ideals and miserable corruptions,” said Aaron Seeto the director of Museum MACAN and curator of the exhibition, who believes that Suwage’s impact as an artist can be seen in how he has been able to channel the hopes and fears of a generation that was swept up into the momentous political and social change in the led up to the Reformasi.
Known for self-portraits that are imbued with social and political commentaries, Suwage allows viewers to connect and find resonance with his work. In this regard, each of his pieces simultaneously depicts the past, present, and future, provoking us to consider how time relates to ourselves, what has changed and what hasn’t, and what is still visible and what is unseen.