“Art and life are inseperable. What I want to express is the importance of history. We couldn’t forget about it, because it shapes our nation’s identity.” The speaker is Arahmaiani, an Indonesian artist who has been renowned for her experimental approach and social activism, and for the strong political underpinnings in her works since the 1980s. Her exhibition, “The Past Has Not Passed (Masa Lalu Belumlah Berlalu)”, is one of three presentations Museum MACAN in Kebon Jeruk is hosting until March 10.
The three shows – the other two are Taiwanese-American Lee Mingwei’s “Seven Stories” and a reading of the late Japanese artist On Kawara’s installation “One Million Years” – celebrate the first anniversary, and significant expansion, of a private art museum that continues to present major exhibitions by revolutionary conceptual artists from Southeast Asia and the wider region.
“The Past Has Not Passed” is a major survey by Arahmaiani. Featuring works from the 1980s until today, this exhibition includes over 70 pieces of extensive artist archive and major works of paintings, installations, and re-enactments of iconic performances presented alongside some of her most recent projects and earlier works such as the painting “Lingga-Yoni” (1994), which depicts the artist’s fascination with symbolism.
“History has become my worry, as people nowadays are not aware of its effects on today,” says the artist. “The education system has not properly taught students about what happened in the past, which is really important. There are a lot of things from the past that we can learn from or refer to solve today’s problems, such as religious and cultural intolerance.
“We can see all around us how harmoniously people can live in diversity. Some things change and some don’t. For me, it’s interesting how we have reached a noble level in diversity matters. That’s what inspires me and my works. If I may have an ambition, it is to reintroduce non-violence teaching in Indonesia.”
Lee Mingwei’s “Seven Stories” features seven projects by this internationally acclaimed Paris and New York-based Taiwanese-American artist. His oeuvre revolves around concepts of community and exchange, with his works often relying on the audience’s active participation. Exploring ideas such as trust, intimacy, and self-awareness, his installations and performances can invoke profound experiences.
“Guernica in Sand” (2006 – ongoing), a large-scale installation based on Picasso’s painting “Guernica” (1937) and made of locally sourced coloured sands, is one of the highlights of this exhibition.
“Each project has its own story,” says the artist. “For ‘The Letter Writing Project’, the inspiration came when my maternal grandmother passed away, I still had many things to say to her, but it was too late. For a year and a half, I wrote letters to her as if she were still alive, in order to share my thoughts and feelings with her.
“I invite visitors to write the letters they had always meant to write but have never taken the time to, expressing unexpressed feelings, gratitude, forgiveness, apologies. They could seal and send them, or leave them unsealed in the booth so that later visitors could read them.
“These projects are interactive. The only way to feel it is to experience it by yourself, do it on your own and walk away with your own story. I want people to leave with questions about any of the work here or even about their own life and their relationships. Thinking about things you thought you knew already and, hopefully, if my work can be that -questions or keys to open up the ‘Pandora’s Box’ – I’ll be really happy.”
For nearly five decades, On Kawara (1932-2014) created paintings, drawings, books and recordings that examined chronological time and its function as a measure of human existence. His artistic practice was characterised by a meditative approach to concepts of time, space and consciousness. His work has been included in many conceptual art surveys at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum.
Says Aaron Seeto, Director of Museum MACAN: “With this curated presentation of the three exhibitions and live performances, we continue to push the boundaries of standard museum shows through our programming and aim to offer insights into works by the key names of the contemporary and conceptual art scene, all the while enforcing our vision of art education at Museum MACAN.”