When we talk about artists from Bandung, it is impossible to not mention the name of Sunaryo. Sunaryo is one of the most important figures in Indonesian art scene. The prolific artist is the man behind Selasar Sunaryo Art Space (SSAS), a non-profit institution focuses on art and culture that’s celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
Previously known as Selasar Seni Sunaryo, SSAS is a long-time dream of Sunaryo. He made it his life’s purpose to contribute and support the nation’s art scene. It is located on Dago Hills –just minutes away from his limasan-inspired home in Bandung. The 5,000sqm SSAS was designed by Sunaryo along with architect Baskoro Tedjo. It consists of art space, library, coffee shop and amphitheatre.
The venue opened in September 1998 with Sunaryo’s solo exhibition, Titik Nadir (The Lowest Point), which reflected his concern on Indonesian socio-political situation at the time. The exhibition had his artworks and parts of the building covered in black cloths.
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“I intended to create a platform for art school graduates to make an impact within the society,” he says. “As an art school graduate, I don’t think we have to work in a rigid structure of organisation, but we are bound to create a platform for the society to access our field. SSAS is a hub for people to meet and easily access contemporary art.”
Born in Banyumas in 1943, Sunaryo studied sculpture at the Bandung Institute of Technology, before taking an advance course in marble sculpture in Cararra, Italy in 1975. Until 2008, he was a lecturer at Faculty of Art and Design, Bandung Institute of Technology. Sunaryo is a multi-talented maestro who never limits his art practice in one field, with works that include painting, sculpture, graphic print, interior design and installation. His creations reflect human’s relationship with nature and he often uses natural materials, such as stones, wood and water.
In the painting field, he won the Philip Moris Art Award from 1994 – 1996 and Kehati Award in 1999. Last year, he received the Life Achievement Award from Art Stage Jakarta, and Yayasan Biennale Jogja. Akademi Jakarta awarded him for the 20th time for his significant contribution to the Indonesian art scene. The most notable recognition was the Le Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres from French Ministry of Culture.
Sunaryo’s art pieces has been shown in many countries, including Japan, Italy, Belgium, Taipei and the United States. Among his acclaimed masterpieces are Bandung, A Sea of Fire Monument, the Monument of West Javanese People’s Struggle in Bandung, Soekarno-Hatta Sculpture at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport and General Sudirman Sculpture in Jakarta.
His latest artwork will be the cauldron for the Asian Games 2018 torch at Gelora Bung Karno. “The concept is about ‘Bilah Nusantara (The Blade of Nusantara)’,” he explains. “I was referring to the attitude shown by the position of kris –facing upward means to dare and stabbing downward means to surrender –I lay the blade horizontally as a symbol of friendship, peace, fairness, equality and sportsmanship.”
Highlights of an exclusive interview:
How did you discover your passion for art?
When I was in high school, I didn’t like mathematics. I preferred doing artistic activities, like drawing. That’s when I decided to enrol in an art school, Bandung Institute of Technology. I was intrigued by the idea of a creative course offered in a school known for engineering. After I finished my education in the sculpture art studio at the Faculty of Art and Design, I began my career as a lecturer and practitioner, both inside and outside of the campus.
Who and what has influenced you the most and shaped you as an artist?
At the beginning, I was triggered by a Spanish sculptor Eduardo Chillida because of his clean yet imaginative artworks, and Antoni Tapies for his awareness in processing materials and the metaphorical aspect of his works. Also, I have always been fascinated and inspired by the Japanese culture that respects nature. Influences grow organically along with experiences. For example, studying in an art school increased my enthusiasm to comprehend and transform ideas into two or three-dimensional, or installation works.
How would you describe your signature style and how is the creative process?
Signature style is not merely visual, it’s the spirit within. In every artistic creation, I begin with one primary idea then it evolves during the execution, with spontaneous improvisations. I stop only when I feel “surprised” by the process. I suppose the spontaneity itself has become a signature of my artistic style.
You created Wot Batu in 2015, which according to your website is “the most influential project”. How did the story come about and what is your mission for this project?
SSAS is an incubator for young artists. It is proactively growing and developing to keep up with the latest art scenes, thus dynamic with its range of programmes. On the other hand, Wot Batu represents my thoughts and contemplations. I created it with the orientation towards eternity. It is a small note of today’s civilisation for our grandchildren and upcoming generations in hundreds of years from now. Based on that vision, I chose rock as the material because of its durability – it is strong and timeless.
I would say Wot Batu is my proudest project because it is the representation of my whole monumental works –its shape and vision. It is the epitome of my way of life and the accumulation of my thoughts. So when French Ministry of Culture awarded me the Le Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres for this project, I felt so honoured.
Your son, Arin Sunaryo, is also known as an influential young artist. Do you somehow encourage your children to follow your footsteps?
I encouraged Arin to pursue his master in art for his innate talent, which I suppose is enough for him to have a critical foundation as an artist. But no, I let my son build his career–his own way. I didn’t shape him to become the artist that he is today. I was very proud when his work was collected by The Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Based on your experience, what lessons do you think you could share with the young artists?
I believe that art making triggers your intuition and mind to go further and beyond. During the creative process, an artist will be drawn to a certain issue in his/her life. It is much obliged for young artists to proactively go to exhibitions, read books and get involved in art discussion forums, aside from making artworks in the studio.
What do you most hope to achieve in your lifetime?
I do hope the idea that SSAS can be a source of inspiration for many parties, such as institutions, communities or fellow art galleries in Indonesia. I hope it will encourage the government and the decision makers to support Indonesian art workers.
Young generations nowadays can easily access social media and expose themselves with the international art scene. Despite that, there is still a gap between the government and art workers due to the difference in perceiving art.
The government sees the artwork as a commodity, while art is bound to the values of life. There has to be someone in the government that understands the dynamic of art. It is to prevent the tension between needs and concerns of two parties.
For me, art is a representation of non-physical matters, such as our thoughts, imaginations, contemplations and many other questions in our life.
Currently, I am preparing a solo exhibition in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of SSAS. I am creating artworks that I like, so there are no specific statements in them. Twenty years is a long time, indeed. This exhibition is also a moment of celebration and introspection for myself –where do I stand in my artistic journey?