This essay reflects on the
practice of the Indonesian artist Heri Dono, whose exhibition in Tokyo in 2000
is the anchor. It probes the cultural
contexts in which the contemporary art of Dono plays out, identifying key
trajectories that help clarify the concerns of this particular articulation:
the locale of Yogyakarta, the mentality of the Javanese, and the device of the
puppet presentation or the wayang, which derives from the ancient epics. All this is located within the scheme of an
exhibition of contemporary art and rendered in such a way that it conveys a
certain aesthetic of hybridity and bricolage.
contemporary art, fantasy, Indonesia, modernity, social
reality, Southeast Asia,
theater, tradition, wayang
Semar is a symbol of the
guardian spirit of all Javanese and perhaps the most important figure in the
shadow puppet play (wayang kulit). Semar, Petruk, and Gareng are the three great
low clowns who are constant companions of the Pendawas (Skt: Pandava), the five
famous hero brothers adapted from the Indian epic Mahabharata and placed in a Javanese setting. Semar is actually a god and the brother of
Siva, king of all gods. Many opposing
traits meet in the character of Semar, who is both god and clown, inwardly
refined but clumsy and Falstaffian in appearance. Semar has been compared to Sir John Falstaff,
the gross and funny character in William Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor and
Henry IV. Both
figures remind us that no completely adequate and comprehensive understanding
of the world is possible because of the irrationality of human life. In a wayang
story, Siva makes an attempt to bring peace between the Pendawas and the
Korawas (Skt: Kuru) but is opposed by Semar.
Arjuna, one of the five Pendawa hero brothers, is instructed by Siva to
kill Semar, whom he loves. When Semar
finds out, Arjuna is ashamed but persists in the task assigned to him in order
to end the eternal struggle between the Pendawas and the Korawas. Realizing Arjuna’s commitment, Semar burns
himself, but instead of dying is transformed into his godly form and defeats
his brother, Siva. Consequently, the war
between the two sides of human begins again.
The wayang kulit is
not simply a form of entertainment of flat, painted leather cutouts, or shadow
puppets, casting large shadows on a white screen. These celebrated shadow puppets of Java have their
origins in the ancient belief that shadows are the manifestations of ancestral
spirits. Their rich cultural and
literary heritage, together with the different forms of music, dance, and drama
used in wayang have created bonds of
mutual appreciation among Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists for centuries. As a deeply rooted and highly sophisticated
art form, the wayang expresses the
Javanese etiquette, which is focused on the depths of the self as pure rasa.
Rasa is the inward-looking
world view, borrowed from the Indian concept, with emphasis on “feeling” and
“meaning.” It is believed that the enlightened person
must keep psychological equilibrium and maintain placid stability. As part of Javanese ethics, it is not
important to strive for happiness but to reach the psychological state of inner
stillness, to become like a limpid pool of clear water in which one can easily
see to the bottom. Not surprisingly, the
mystical and ethical ideology of the wayang
is still widely appreciated among Indonesians. Stories represent the connection between man
and the universe, the micro- and the macro-cosmos, the eternal struggle of
nature against time, and the never-ending battles between good and evil.
The wayang has been seen as a historical and
moral code by which comparisons and judgments can be made of the present. The stories in the wayang, with their polite speeches and violent wars, have been
compared to modern international relations where talks by diplomats prevail and
bring peace but fighting erupts when the talks break down. Popular among the Javanese people, the wayang has been used as means for
indirect and allusive suggestion, which is important in Javanese communication
and social intercourse. The adaptation
of wayang for educating people has rendered
traditional values and concepts in a new form.
For example, the wayang pantjasila,
based on the five principles laid down for the foundation of the republic, was
devised to educate the masses in the modern concepts of democracy and
nationhood. Conversely, different kinds
of wayang were used as allegorical
vehicles to praise or criticize leading figures in the community. In wayang
revolusi, events of the Indonesian struggle of independence (1945-49) are
depicted using Sukarno and his followers as revolutionary heroes with the Dutch
invaders presented as evil forces.
Social criticism related to contemporary events,
political gossip, and local rumors are commonly inserted into a wayang performance. As the audience views this sophisticated
traditional art form, they are reminded by the puppeteer (dalang) of common events like party elections, economic crises,
natural disasters, and village gossip. The
dalang makes an astonishing virtuoso
performance as he manipulates the wayang,
directs the gamelan orchestra, and
narrates the story.
2. Yogya: The Art Mecca of Java
Yogyakarta (Yogya) is
situated at the very core of the ancient region where the first great Javanese
Mataram empires flourished. The area
contains a formidable legacy of Indonesian cultural heritage. It embraces several stunning Buddhist
monuments and Hindu temples from the eighth to tenth centuries, such as
Borobudur and Prambanan. Despite its
rapid transformation, Yogyakarta’s attractions are the ancient sites, the royal
palace complex (kraton), the court
dances, and the wayang and batik
workshops. Visitors appreciate both the
serenity and austerity of the royal courtyards (pendopo) trapped in a timeless era.
At the sasana inggil
performance pavilion, the full eight-hour presentation of wayang kulit can still be experienced. Yet Yogyakarta, with its sprawling
village-like neighborhoods, is not just about the ancient past. Tourism has increased the exploitation of
traditional and indigenous Javanese culture but has also boosted the income and
livelihood of the Yogyakartans. On Jalan
Malioboro (Garland-Bering Street), the bustling avenue is lined by houses with
Dutch-décor facades advertising products like Lucky Strike and Marlboro. Shops and vendors sell batik, woven goods,
bronzes, tee-shirts, and wooden wayang
masks. On the busy pavements, one can
find all kinds of goods, ranging from fake Rolexes and cheap cell phones to
dried crocodile penises used as aphrodisiacs and medicinal herbs to cure
In Yogyakarta, the forces of modernization and
globalization are noticeably not as intense as in Jakarta or Bali. Strong links with the traditions of
pre-modern times are still evident, as sultanate and Islamic ceremonies mingle. As the center of the nationalist movement in the
late 1940s, Yogyakarta has remained a symbolic and traditional place of
activism and independence.
When President Sukarno came to
power, several important artists, including Soedjojono, Affandi, and Hendra
Gunawan, became active as members of the Young Painters of Indonesia (Seniman
Indonesia Muda) in Yogyakarta. They
believed that an art-for-the-people approach could serve Sukarno’s philosophy
of combining the elements of nationalism, communism, and Islam. For example, Hendra Gunawan became a member
of LEKRA (Institute of People’s Culture), a leftist organization affiliated
with the Communist Party.
The ASRI (Academi Seni Rupa
Indonesia) art academy founded in 1950 (later known as the Indonesia Institute
of the Arts in Yogyakarta) resulted in artist oppression and socioeconomic
inequality. After Sukarno’s fall from
power in 1965, socially active artists were suppressed, imprisoned, or changed
their style. Instead of themes of
everyday life, artists preferred depicting traditional subjects inspired by
temple and epic scenes.
It was during the 1970s that
the Indonesian New Art Movement (Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru), formed by artists
from Yogyakarta, Jakarta, and Bandung, called for an art that reflected the
entire spectrum of society. Many
happenings and performances in Yogyakarta aimed political satire and cynical
commentary at the government. Authorities
began to suspect many artists of involvement in leftist groups and feared a
revival of “Sukarnoism.” Artists such as Semsar, Siahaan, Hardi, and Munni Ardi
overtly expressed themselves against President Suharto and his policies. Known as an inspiring place for art,
Yogyakarta has long been a residence for renowned artists including Affandi
(deceased), Djoko Pekik, Dadang Christanto (recently moved to Darwin), Lucia
Hartini, Ivan Sagito, and Nindityo Adipurnomo.
During 1997-1998, Yogyokarta was among the explosive places where
political rallies and student demonstration against Suharto took place. Art students burned effigies of Suharto,
while banners and posters of the late Sukarno appeared on the Jalan Malioboro.
3. Into Heri Dono’s “Savage” Mind and “Ha-Ha”
I have encountered works by
Heri Dono from Jakarta, Bangkok, Tokyo, Fukuoka, Brisbane, Kwangju, and Taipei
to Vancouver, New York, Bordeaux, and Vienna.
Dono’s works never fail to stimulate, arouse, and provoke the viewers to
share his vision of a world full of humor and irony. Yet it is in his tiny studio tucked away
among the rows of houses on Ronodigdayan Street behind the cinema and former
military barracks in Yogyakarta that one can fully appreciate Dono’s complex
and exhilarating imagination.
The cramped, dimly lit rooms are in disarray, with objects strewn all over the
place. Cartoon-like paintings depict
gods and animals in garish colors; mannequins are scattered, with arms missing,
breasts exposed, and penises erect; fiberglass heads with bulging glass eyes
wear helmets and gas masks; old television sets lie broken on the floor;
newspaper clips of Sukarno and Megawati Sukarnoputri are stuck on the walls;
flying angels with electronic circuit hearts hover from the ceiling; a toy
monkey rides a vehicle on the ladder with his head turned upside down. The atmosphere inside Dono’s home vacillates
between junk shop, second-hand toy store, and mechanical inventor’s laboratory.
Eccentricity and the bizarre seem to be synonymous with
Dono’s character. Hilarity and absurdity
also come to mind. Conversation with
Dono is full of word play, mimicry, parody, and double entendre. These elements appear everywhere in his works. For Dono, laughter is not the means to
deflect social embarrassment but a healing agent. Not surprisingly, numerous images of laughter
can be experienced through his works, He wrote that laughter “includes ugliness
around within us, the absurdity of ourselves and others, and the beasts with
which we populate our internal and external worlds.” Dono seems to communicate freely with his
objects as if they have spirits and can talk back to him. They become his friends, cousins, and
compatriots. By entering Dono’s personal
world, common sense perspectives break down.
Instead, logical fallacies, obsessive playfulness, a pluralism of styles
and eclectic mixture of related and unrelated concepts are freely explored.
Dono’s interest in mythical thought can be seen as an
intellectual form of bricolage. Claude Levi-Strauss introduced the notion of bricolage in his work, The Savage Mind (1962), indicating that
it has the quality of improvisation and a level of contingency. A bricoleur
utilizes residual elements the same way as myths operate.
Through bricolage new signs are created, but these signs do not relate
exclusively to themselves. The term bricolage can be traced back to the
French word bricole (meaning “putting
things together in a manner of improvisation”) and the Italian word bricolla (meaning “one who breaks”).
Therefore, it is essential to appreciate that the milieu of the bricoleur’s choice of his bricolage can imply the creation of new
signs and the breaking open of already existing signs. If Dono is seen as a bricoleur, then his creativity and subversion of Indonesian
traditions must simultaneously be appreciated.
Heri Dono’s work implies a number of kinds of
interpretation, hence, it would be a mistake to view Dono and his art only as
modes of expression and reflections of savage and primitive thought. Caution should be taken not to project Dono’s
work simplistically as functional, ceremonial, and ritualistic in a
primitive/exotic setting. Having the
influence of wayang, Batak folk
tales, and the cultures of Sumatra and Irian
Jaya does not mean that Dono’s work simply falls in the category of
primitive and tribal art. Assuming that
his work is raw, untamed, and threatening, and therefore should be designated
to art inspired by the savage mind, would be a misconception.
In a context of primitivism, Dono’s art may allude to
tribal objects, but it is not “primitivist.” His interest in the subaltern, the
homeless, and underprivileged children allows his work to be enriching and
reciprocal with the public. Conversely,
some of Dono’s paintings reveal affinities with works by European masters such
as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, and Paul Klee. Dono freely appropriates and mixes his
appropriations with indigenous and local contents. This does not mean that these inspirations
need be compartmentalized into direct influences, coincidental resemblance, and
basic shared characteristics.
The method used by Western scholars like Kirk Varnedoe of juxtaposing images to
determine affinities between modern art and primitivism, such as Paul Gauguin’s
We Hail Thee Mary (1891) and reliefs
at Borobudur that depict the meeting of an Ajivaka monk, can be limiting.
In the case of European masters,
the affinities of their work to tribal and primitive art from Papua New Guinea,
Tahiti, the Congo, Zaire, and Irian Jaya are highly praised. The fact that these scholars perceive the
idea that the primitive “looks like” the modern is ironic. In the case of contemporary artists from
non-Western civilizations like Dono, frequently the preconception by critics
and art historians of the direct influence of and derivation from modern
Western masters tends to override the fact that these artists are free to
choose and select from countless sources.
Dono’s curious hybrids fall in the zone of intersection,
mediation, and cross-pollination between cultures. His Spraying
Mosquitoes and Smoking (1985) appears to be inspired by Miro, with its
strange comical monsters, spiky claws, and twisted bodies. Primitivism of the subconscious in Miro’s
paintings has been linked to the cult of the child, free drawing, sign
language, and graffiti. In discussing
Picasso’s work, Dono said that he particularly admires Guenica (1937). Dono could have
mixed and combined all these elements in addition to his interest in wayang and Batak’s tribal woodcarvings
of mystical patterns and mythical creatures.
The open, gnawing mouths and snapping fangs in numerous works, such as The Suppressor (1989, cat. no.1) and Where is My Head? (1994, cat. no.2)
indicate something sinister and frightening.
Aside from his biting satire about society’s hypocrisy and absurdity,
some might connect signs of violence and death to animism and cannibalism of
the Bataks. Myths and stories like the
three megalithic complexes in Ambarita, Sumatra, including a cannibal’s
breakfast table for which prisoner’s decapitated heads were chopped up, cooked
with buffalo meat, and drunk with blood by rajas, are sources that are far
removed from the “primitive” works of Picasso, Miro, and Klee.
Dono’s syncretism of indigenous contents may result in making his works appear
sinister, but their humor and hilarity evoke drama and tragic comedy on stage.
Benedict Anderson observed that in Indonesia political
communication through direct speech by means of discussion, rumors, gossip, and
arguments is essential.
Its fluid and ephemeral nature
contrasts against the symbolic speech expressed through cartoons, films, and
advertisements. For example, Anderson
discusses political cartoons by Sibarani, whose sharply humorous and eerie
characters hark back to his Batak ancestors, with their reputation for being
sinister and frightening (serem). The powerful and rough-hewn style of
Sibarani’s cartoons is accessible to the mass public. Iconographic density and caricatures of
former vice-president Mohammad Hatta and the Masyumi leader Mohammad Natsir can
be deciphered by Indonesian readers. Although
Dono is not directly inspired by Sibarani’s work, he recognizes the potential
of cartoons and comic art as methods that can be employed to penetrate the
opacity of sociopolitical order. In his
statement, “Life is Cartoon,” Dono expressed the view that rationality and
logic are very limited, and the need to listen to nonsense has gained much
irony and humor, critical messages are implied under a layering of symbolic
elements. Critiques of political figures
and sensitive issues are disguised behind shadows and masks. As in wayang
stories, the world of cartoons, through its distortion and elaboration, can
demonstrate the “really real” in Indonesian society.
By looking for contact and direct relationship with the
viewer through laughter, humor, and indigenous references, Dono avoids traces of
modernity, which relegates certain kinds of creativity to minor arts and
curiosities. In this context, Dono
attempts to overlap art and anthropology, which are seen as reciprocal but not
always in equilibrium. Here, Dono shares
concepts of intermixtures of art, rituals, rites of passage, and spiritualism
as a “language” of communication. It is
worthwhile to draw similar ideas found in recent art projects that strongly
link with anthropology. With an
awareness of the major pitfalls in discussing non-Western cultures and arts,
Jean-Hubert Martin reminds us, in the exhibition Sharing of Exoticisms (Partage
d’ Exotismes) at the 5th Biennale of Contemporary Art of Lyon
(2000), that old hierarchies and the prejudices of “other’s people’s art” tend
to die hard. As Martin wrote, “For a long time, it was
accepted that artists, through their works, give an account of these marginal,
popular, or exotic aesthetics. Today,
when all the necessary means exist for acceding directly to the authors of
these registers, one cannot continue to accept the idea of translations,
appropriations, and borrowings based on them without also giving a hearing to
the original representatives of these territories. From then on, one can talk about a ‘sharing
of exoticism’ in the free circulation of signs, avoiding exploitation.”
Indirectly, Martini’s warning against schematic
binaries can be applied to how Dono’s work is perceived. “On the one side,” wrote Martini, “there is
the West and its cultures which, while highly diverse, also represent, when it
comes down to it, certain unity; and then there are the others, which are
lumped together in what we regularly condense into a single entity. But these others are, in fact, innumerable in
their diversity, and can never be reduced to generalities.”
Dono’s Scary Monsters and Super Freaks
was born and brought up among the six siblings in Jakarta, where his father
served in the military. Since he was a
child, he wanted to be an artist. After
spending seven years at the Indonesia Institute of the Arts in Yogyakarta, Dono
dropped out because he felt writing an art thesis was not part of becoming an
artist. Frustrated with the academic
system, Dono became aware of the possibilities of the wayang kulit hen, in
1987, he met the local puppet maker Sigit Sukasman. Sukasman founded the Wayang Ukur Group, which used traditional forms and stage effects
to tell stories about heroism, devotion, and honor, alongside those of human
rights and the distribution of power. Dono realized wayang’s potential as the key paradigm for communication with the
masses through rich narratives. Fascinated
by the exaggerations of facial expressions and the forward-stretched necks,
large eyes, and gaping mouths of Sukasman’s shadow puppets, Dono began to
experiment in multiple disciplines, including painting, sculpture, music,
dance, literature, and performance. Furthermore,
he was willing to explore the possibilities of the wayang by making comparisons with Picasso’s concepts of distortion
and abstraction, and by introducing folktales in place of the classical wayang repertoire.
Dono fused various disciplines without questioning the
problem of high art and low art. Realizing
the potential flexibility in many art fields, Dono easily crossed over
boundaries that often restrain creativity and expression. In most of his work, there are traces of
puppetry and masquerade containing both comedy and tragedy. By inventing his own style of wayang performance, Dono allowed
traditional Indonesian epic stories to co-exist with folklore and legends from
the provinces in Indonesia. By believing
that wayang belongs to the people, he
felt that folktales, oral history, rumor, and gossip are parts of mass
entertainment. Dono wrote, “Life is a
fragment of the drama for human beings, such as puppets. It may be the strength of the system and the
untouchable institutions creating the human beings to become puppetry on this
is an important work inspired by Batakese folktale and legend. Dono performed as dalang as he orchestrated and produced the wayang performance. He
created grotesque, freakish, and comical shadow-puppet characters related to
the Batakese story of marriage between different castes and clans. He felt that stories and tales from provincial
places were as rich and imaginative as those from traditional Indonesian epics,
which he did not altogether exclude. In
The Drunkenness of Semar (1995), Dono reinterpreted the deity in the Mhabharata epic, transforming Semar into
Supersemar (a parody of Superman and
a local sweet-cake called semar mendem. The tipsy and jovial god-clown in a state of
drunken stupor is symbolic of rulers and politicians whose sweet talk, oozing
with charm and insincerity, often reflects their greed. Supersemar’s wisdom/stupidity was intended as
a critique of authority’s abuse of power.
Dono’s double meaning of Supersemar is found in its acronym for the
Decree of 11 March 1966, in which Sukarno signed a document bestowing wide
powers on General Suharto (Su, surat
= letter; Per, perintah = order,
affirmation; Se, selebas = eleven;
Mar, Maret = March).
In Phartysemar (1998), Dono referred to Semar’s power in the exhibition of
sound art by selling jars of Semar’s farts as weapons to fight evil forces. By taking the comical character of Semar a
step further, Dono made the god’s farts part of art.
There are affinities between Dono’s play of surreal and
macabre shadows with works by European artists such as Christian Boltanski’s Theatre d’Ombres (Theatre of Shadows) (1984) and Annette Messager’s Eux et Nous, Nous et Eux (Them and Us, Us and Them) (2000) in their exaggerations
of monstrous forms projected on the surrounding walls. Yet it is clear that Dono’s references to
Indonesian symbolism require contextual explanation, just as installations by
Boltanski (sixteenth-century ivory carvings of death and the armor of Albert of
Brandenbourg, Duke of Prussia ca. 1526)
and Messager (Palace of the Popes, Avignon) require comprehension of referential
works and site specificity, respectively.
In Watching the
Marginal People 2000 (2000, cat. no.4), ten terrifying monstrous masks/faces
with vicious teeth and bulging eyes move noisily from side to side. Through Javanese animism, Dono infused the
belief that all things in the world have a soul. In this case, the monster’s shifting eyes,
which are electronically operated, are metaphors of dark spirits, manipulation,
and alienation resulting from rapid social transformation and globalization. Like Burisrawa, the greedy giant wayang character, these monsters watch
and wait with hunger. Their victims are
the underclass and the underprivileged from peripheral places. In Kuda
Binal (Wild Horse) (1992),
volunteers, including children and gravediggers from Kleben, Yogyakarta,
replaced puppets in Dono’s performance, which took place near the Sultan’s
palace complex. Inspired by traditional
horse-trance dance (jaran kepeng)
with a bamboo dummy horse, Dono’s version consisted of common people in gas
masks and underwear worn outside their trousers performing a fire dance. The scenes contained contemporary events as
well as mythology. The theme of the
systematic destruction of nature by human greed and arrogance was shown through
scenes of fighting battalions for the sake of peace. In the end, the dragon and Tok tok (representative of slaughtered
creatures) eventually destroyed the entire universe.
Mind (1994, cat. no.5) is a provocative work that comments on the tendencies
of Indonesian authorities to use propaganda and censorship to implement
national policies and to control the minds of the masses. Set in the gloomy space of a classroom or
interrogating cell, nodding fiberglass heads (Dono’s self-portraits) bend
rhythmically behind school desks to the repetitive grainy sound emerging from
broken speakers. These bald heads with
closed eyes are propped up by metal rods and manipulated not by puppet strings
but electronic circuits. Like some
decapitated heads from war trophies on display, they are both sad and
frightening. All things should have a
soul, but because of propaganda and mass media these heads are empty of brains
and are filled with selective information, dogmatic teaching, and chanting (mantra).
In contrast, Ceremony
of the Soul (1995, cat. no.6) consists of nine fiberglass heads (also
portraits) on stone torsos, whose frontal posture, similar to sculptures made
of stone found near Borobodur sites, suggests links with traditional Buddhist
icons. When these stones were carved by
grave diggers at the house of Dono’s assistant, whose father was a soothsayer (dukum), Dono was informed that many
spirits gathered there to meet. This led
Dono to entitle this work Ceremony of the
Soul. The robotic and wide-eyed
stares of these military-decorated figures also show order, routine, and power. Wooden artificial limbs without hands lit by
tiny light bulbs, and a hissing sound from tape recorders placed inside the
carved torsos, evoke a combination of supernatural, military, and electronic
forces. The hum of shaking yellow fans
also adds to the dramatic effect. Yellow
has a significant meaning. In this case,
it is not symbolic of Buddhism but signifies the color of the Golkar (Golongan
Karya) Party. When Dono created this
work for the “Unity in Diversity: Contemporary Art of the Non-Aligned
Countries” exhibition held in Jakarta in 1995, he risked getting into trouble
with the authorities for its political implications. President Suharto and members of the Golkar
Party who attended the opening of this international art event must have been
informed about Dono’s provocative installation.
In Gamelan of Rumor
(1992-93, cat. no.7), emphasis is placed
on sound installation, an integral part of a wayang performance. The
concepts of gamelan as musical
instruments providing harmonious balance between different worlds and paleness
for invisible guests are explored by Dono, whose orchestra plays magically
without musicians. The human and the
supernatural are connected by sound created by Dono’s ingenious invention of
electronically operated musical instruments.
His experimental sound is intended to create notes that differ from
those of the traditional gamelan. His low-tech engineering often breaks down,
like the balance between humans and gods, who are sometimes on different
wave-lengths. Commenting on high-tech
communication systems, Dono wrote, “They often do not make sense, and also
there is no meaning. The truth and
falsities altogether become rumors and relatives.” Dono described Gamelan of Rumor thus: “This work is the separation of truth from
gossip, or fact from fiction. A
discordant rhythm is set up which is like the soul of electricity within the
machine.” Dono’s concern about gossip and rumors is
similar to Benedict Anderson’s description of direct speech as a mode of
political communication playing “low” (ngoko)
against “high” (krama) types of
speech. Ngoko communication is direct,
ephemeral, and hard to decipher, and is therefore appropriate for gossip and
hearsay. The sounds that form Dono’s gamelan are analogous to the political
rumors that are part of Indonesian life.
The diversity in Dono’s work allows him to criticize the
socio-political situation in Indonesia through metaphor and parody. Flying
Angels (1996, cat. no.8) symbolizes hope and freedom in the Indonesian
current political climate. Wayang puppet features are combined with
found objects and the rural sounds of crickets and other insects. Ironically, these angels with mechanical
hearts seem to be floating aimlessly with no destination. Political
Clowns (1999, cat.no.9) consists of rows of fiberglass heads (Dono’s
self-portraits) similar to masked dramas (wayang
topeng), linked to one another with electric circuits. These wires are connected to glass jars on
the floor filled with urine energy. Like
politicians, these clown’s pales faces and permanent smiles cover the true
personalities behind them. From tin
speakers, a recorded male voice utters his love for money and desire to own the
Dono’s performances also reflect Indonesia’s
socio-political milieu. In The Chair (1993), masked performers
pretending to be puppets dance with shadows on both sides of the screen. The puppeteer who orchestrates and pulls the
strings finds out that he too is a puppet.
In Double M (1997), half-naked
performers with masks made of crackers and painted faces stun viewers with
their fake breasts and erect penises. Through
parody and satire, the performers criticize the monopolization of automobile
manufacturing by the Suharto family and Habibie’s utopian dream of exporting
airplanes and building nuclear plants in Java.
Transmission (Transmisi) (1999) consisted of an
installation, video, and performance that took place at the Tennyson power
station in Queensland, Australia. It was
at a time of immense anxiety, as foreign relations between Indonesia and
Australia became extremely strained. Violence
and massacre in East Timor reached an uncontrollable stage, as Australian
troops as part of the UN peacekeeping force were about to be sent to the
5. From Eating
Shit to Interrogation
Although Dono declared that
he was not interested in politics, many of his works indicate otherwise. It would be difficult to imagine that in
1995, when confronted by Ceremony of the
Soul, President Suharto did not see
the explicit political implications of the work. In Dono’s Blooming
in Arms (19996), frightening figures with artificial limbs, wearing helmets
and khaki uniforms, are clearly related to the military abuse of power in
Indonesia. Dono’s writings and
interviews also indicate clearly that his art stands for the suppressed and the
surprisingly, some noises of discontent were heard from Indonesian authorities
when Dono’s works were shown abroad. Dono
stressed that if his art is a critique on politics, then it is about ideology,
not individuals. Recently, Dono admitted
that with state-induced terror and turmoil in Indonesia, it is necessary for
his art and message to communicate more directly with the audience.
Like many Indonesian artists, including Dadang Christanto, Moelyono, FX
Harsono, Tisna Sanjaya, Eddy Hara, and Arahmaiani, Dono feels that
it is no longer taboo to state explicit political contents in their oeuvre.
In retrospect, Dono’s 1980s
paintings already revealed social and political problems through parody and
mythology. In the
guise of gods, men, and monsters, often in conflict, fighting with weapons and
gnawing teeth, the threatening forces of megalomania, greed, and corruption are
shown. Eating Shit (1983, cat.no.10) is one of Dono’s student works, and
it evinces early signs of the discontent with authority and the restriction of freedom
of expression. Forced to consume
excretion with hands had tied and a cobra coming out of his anus, the main
figure evokes a sense of degradation and frustration. This work is referring to prisoners who had
been forced to eat shit as punishment, and comparing them to art students in Yogyakarta
and Bandung, who were trained to paint in the styles of the art institutions. In reaction to stylist reaction, Dono painted
his work in flat mint colors. In Episode 25 (1983), fantastic animals and
monsters in candy colors battle as they tear apart and devour each other. In The
Suppressor (1989, cat. no.1, a monster restrains a helpless victim with its
claws as it urinates in the victim’s gaping mouth. Dono’s use of parody is not in any way blind,
blank, or empty. On the contrary, the
iconography and symbols related to mythology and wayang are meant to deflect or camouflage his direct comments on
Dono’s paintings are like
stage arenas or wayang screens, where
characters are displayed in a confined claustrophobic space. Disguised gods and demons, active
conspirators, crusaders, villains, and victims intermingle in the process of
metamorphosis or dismemberment. Like
creatures with multiple organs, such as the morphs and mutants in comic books
and sci-fi films like Total Recall
and X-men, their anomalies and
hybrids are feigned and simulated. Humorous
and horrific, these characters contain a phantasmal parody and double-coding
similar to the dubiousness and ephemerality found in ngoko messages. This kind
of eclectic mixture becomes a signification of myth that can be seen as
de-politicized speech. Within this
space, Dono’s myth is a conjuring trick where reality is turned inside out. The function of myth is to empty reality. This empty arena is then filled with
super-bad and super-good characters, linking them to the fantasy world of
dancing shadows. Another way of viewing
Dono’s work is to compare it with how writers such as Pramoedya Ananta Toer
adapted wayang plots to feature the
struggle of good to survive evil spirits. Whereas in literary works such as Pramoedya Toer’s
Awakenings it is clear who are the
devils, Dono’s characters are sometimes mixed, as good deities are turned into
(Makan Pelor) (1992, cat. no.11), Three Pistols in the Back (1992,
cat. no.12), and Campaign of the Three
Parties (1992, cat. no.13) were executed at a time of relative political
stability in Indonesia. The scenes show
war-mongering parties fighting in frenzy and confusion. In contrast, in Dialog with a Pistol (1998, cat. no.14), painted towards the end
Suharto’s troubled regime, the characters are easily decipherable. A soldier in a red helmet with dark glasses
and Badman badge is blasting two bullets into the forehead of a man holding his
hands in surrender. The background
reveals a riot scene in Jakarta behind raised curtains. Dono described this work: “How can honor be
found through holding a dialogue via the force of weapons?”
Hindu myths feature strongly
in The Bearer of the Peace Discus (1994, cat. no.15). Battle among grotesque beasts is disrupted as
a flying goddess with a Vishnu’s cakra
(wheel) comes between them. The burly
three-headed monster in military regalia and boots pissing in a glass
symbolizes authoritative power against determined opponents. Dono’s mythological signification anticipated
the terror and turmoil that awaited the Indonesian people in the late 1990s. The resignation of Suharto as President on
May 21, 1998 brought an abrupt end to Indonesia’s thirty-two years of New Order
regime. Four years earlier, the cover of
Far Eastern Economic Review
(September 1994) featured a caricature of a smiling Suharto balancing on a
The nepotistic culture seemed
to be impossible to dismiss. Since his
resignation, demonstrators have demanded that Suharto be placed trial for
treason and corruption. Students wore
smiling masks of Suharto at the Semanggi traffic rotary in Jakarta in protest
against his crimes. Posters and cartoons
depicted him as a demon with fangs.
During the topsy-turvy events as power changed hands from Suharto to
Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie to Abdurrahman Wahid, Dono captured the rapid
transitions, as politicians, cronies, bankers, religious leaders, military
generals, civilians, and students performed like human puppets on stage.
In A Magician Who Never
Killed (2000, cat. no.16), the laughing magician with a decapitated head
rides the Reform Order vehicle. Meanwhile,
the opposing political power in the guise of a urinating demon tries to capture
the magician in a mirror reflection, shooting at him through a telescope at
close range, but misses. The King Who is Afraid of Approaching Barong
(2000, cat. no.17) is a tale of a greedy king who is thrown out of power. Habibie is seen ejecting from his seat as the
volcano erupts. He is attacked by a
flying Superwoman, who is symbolic of Megawati Sukarnoputri, whose grandmother
was a Hindu from Bali. Barong, the Lord
of the Forest, a fantastic tiger-dragon who is the protector of mankind, is
pulling the chariot to expel evil forces with white magic. The figure of an opportunist rides the
chariot as the dragon and Garuda fly away from the leader of the puppet regime. Compared with The Barong’s Imagination of the Drunkard (1991, cat.no.18), which
relates to mythology and the puppet world, The
King Who is Afraid of Approaching Barong is clearly more direct and
political. The painting depicts Habibie
as a pawn under high pressure due to a crisis stemming from ethnic riots, the
East Timor bloodbath, and the Bank Bali scandal.
With the ngoko
mode of speech, Dono explores the playful language of the street and slang (plesetan) that tease and taunt (ngeledek).
These puns and verbal games are
turned into paintings that tease out some sensational incidents in Indonesia. The
Guard Who is Keeping the Bank’s Key
(2000, cat. no.19) captures the scene of Suharto’s allegedly ill-begotten
fortune (some US $15 billion), which a Time
article (May 1999) claimed the President and his family acquired during his
Masked puppets confront one
another. One, as symbol of the people,
holds the banner of a smoking Suharto. The
other is Suharto’s bodyguard, who has been holding the bank’s key for three
decades. According to Dono, the
bodyguard is ordered to blow up the dynamite in his hand if anybody finds the
bank key. In Flower Diplomacy (2000, cat. no.20), two figures talk sweetly to
each other behind smiling masks. Like
puppets on a stage with the curtains raised, they act out their roles but are
ready to harm the other when sweetness becomes sour and bitter. Here, Dono is referring to the incident more
than 30 years ago when Sukarno had to bestow power on Suharto, who went on to
rule Indonesia under his own dictatorship.
Dono offers a cheeky and playful comment on
larger-than-life icons that in reality are frivolous and pathetic figures. Superman
Still Learning How to Wear Underwear (2000,
cat. no.21), depicting the American superhero learning how to put on underwear
the right way instead of over his tights, is a direct satire. Dono observes that it is not just Superman
who makes this ridiculous display in public but also Batman and Robin.
(1998, cat. no.22) is one of Dono’s most critical and dramatic works addressing
the violence and suppression carried out during Suharto’s dictatorship.
This video installation consists of five monitors with suspended fiberglass
rifles pointing at the faces of five victims under interrogation. One scene is about the raids ordered by
Jakarta military leaders on opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri’s
headquarters on July 27 1996. (As a
result, more than 40 members of Megawati’s supporters went missing, and Suryadi
replaced Megawati as puppet head of the party.) Dono’s message in this work is
hard and direct, like a gun pointing at one’s head. The viewer hears the heavy-breathing sound of
fear as distressed victims are interrogated, and becomes witness as well as
interrogator as the prisoners reveal fear and despair, flinching at the sound
of bullets. In the background, recorded
scenes of riots and demonstrations in East Timor, Jakarta, Yogyakarta, and
Santa Cruz flow by in slow motion.
In contrast, Inner City (1999, cat. no.23) deals with
political issues through humor and absurdity.
A mannequin with a fiberglass head (Dono’s self-portrait) stands in a contrapposto position, displaying his
anatomical features like a classical statue.
A closer look reveals that the figure is made of different parts of
borrowed objects. The handsome figure
has no arms; his hands are protruding from his shoulders. Like a mutant or human-robot, a small monitor
inside his chest reveals scenes of riots in Jakarta. The sign, “Please look inside,” written above
his sexual organ invites the viewers to peep inside his red penis to witness a
recording of the televised broadcast of Suharto’s resignation.
6. Exhibiting Dono: Demons and Deities Dancing
and Drinking in Edo
As guest curator of Heri
Dono’s solo show at the Japan Foundation Asian Center in Tokyo held in 2000, I was given
the challenging task of selecting and curating this exhibition in a relatively
short span of time. Taking into consideration the exhibition space
and selected art works, I had to conceptualize how viewers of Dono’s show in
Tokyo could fully appreciate his creative force. The idea came during a research residency at
the Bellagio Study and Conference Center in Italy in March 2000, when
discussing international art exhibitions and how context plays a part in
appreciation and understanding of artworks with my research colleague.
I felt that Dono’s work should be exhibited in relation to the theme of
shadows and realms. Viewers should have
a sense of entering into another realm in which the boundaries of logic and
absurdity are easily crossed over.
Dono has explained that screens and shadows are important
in life. At times, they help to cover
and conceal what cannot be displayed or heard directly. For Dono, truth cannot always run a straight
course but is more like the Javanese knife (kris)
with its wavering edge. To understand a
lot of things in Indonesia, one needs to look at the world upside down. His comment reminded me of the toy monkey in
his studio that rides viewers up to look at Dono’s exhibition with their heads
turned upside down. Such an approach,
however, would result in dizziness, headache, and low attendance of the
The architectural setting and the exhibition space
determine the viewer’s perception, so the idea that they should feel like
entering courtyards or pavilions became the starting point for the exhibition
design. The idea of indoor/outdoor led
me to think of open courtyards in Indonesia. Pendopo derives from the Sanskrit word mandapa, meaning a pillared hall. These pillared, open-sided halls can be found
in many temples of the Singasari-Kediri-Majapahit period of the thirteenth to
fifteenth centuries in Java, and later temples in Bali have mainly adopted this
form. Pendopos were adapted for the courtly architecture, as seen in the
Javanese courts in Yogyakarta and Surakarta.
Construction is often on raised plinths linked by staircases and
surrounded by a moat and a wall. Spatial
relationships can be separated between pendopo
agung, the main pendopo for court
ceremonies, and the pringgitan, a
shallow hall in a similar form where dancing and wayang kulit performances sometimes take place.
In adapting the concept of a pendopo-pringgitan complex, a series of discussion between Dono,
myself, the organizers, and the designers of the exhibition at the Japan
Foundation were made. Meetings in Tokyo,
Bangkok, New York, Amsterdam, and Yogyakarta were held to determine how this
concept could be fully realized. As the
exhibition design was established, the stairs and parts of the floors were
raised to create a specific space that becomes Dono’s realm. In fact, three realms have been loosely
invented, belonging to gods, humans, and demons. These realms are in the care of three
brothers, Batara Guru (who reigns the gods’ realm), Semar (who protects humankind),
and Togog (who advises the demons).
As viewers enter the exhibition space, they walk up and
down these levels, which reveal creatures, human, gods, and angels. The sounds, smells, and moving images of wayang kulit arouse their senses. Soon they find out that these realms are
interchangeable, as these characters overflow and overlap. Humorous, devious, and frightening, their
behaviors seem unpredictable. Dancing
and drunk, monsters become human as deities turn to demons. They are in a realm where down is up and
logic is turned upside down.
The baby toad mascots designed by Dono for this
exhibition somersault in the air. They
look at the world from a strange perspective.
But at times, seeing life from an upside down position can be refreshing
and make a lot more sense. Dono’s
tongue-in-cheek creation of these tiny toads is meant to tease as well as
remind us that often fact and logic are not as they seem to be. In fact, these teasing toads with bulging
hearts might not be mascots but monsters.
They could even be related to Venusaur (Fushigibana) or Poliwrath
(Nyorobon), the Pokemon (Poket Monsters) monsters that await to be caught and
manipulated like puppets by Pokemon trainers such as Ash (Satoshi).
After all in the realms of Dono, demons and deities often look alike.
When Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) became president in
1999, he inherited mounting internal problems as Indonesia faced uncertainties
in political, economic, social, religious, and ethnic transitions. For instance, ethnic violence aimed at the
Chinese community exploded even before Suharto left office in May 1998. Chinese women were gang-raped. Fear felt by other ethnic minorities erupted
as the military massacred inhabitants in East Timor in 1999. In 2000, hundreds of people were killed in
Aceh due to fighting for independence. Fighting
between Muslims and Christians on the Maluku Islands has claimed thousands of
When he began his presidency, Wahid had to withstand some
larger-than-life icons. As the blind
Muslim cleric mounted the presidential steps, the voice of a Javanese
soothsayer (dukun) called the
proceedings to a halt. The warning was
that the “big man,” the spirit of Suharto, was standing at the doorway. Wahid and his family waited as the soothsayer
carried out a prayer ritual. Later,
Wahid’s daughter Yenny said that it was the black power of Suharto, trying to
hurt them. There are all kinds of
Supermen, but in Indonesia many of them are seen as belongings to puppetry.
Wahid was asked by a
puppeteer at a wayang performance how
becoming the president had affected him.
He replied, “I am afraid I am also a player in a larger story that I
don’t control. I am a puppet that will
be put back in the box when I am no longer needed.”
But as president, Wahid still pulls many of the strings that control the
marionettes of wayang characters on
the political stage. When he came under
the fire at the People’s Consultative Assembly (MRP) in August 2000 for his
handling of religious violence in Maluku Islands and the vulnerability of the
economy and the currency, he humbly apologized for the malaise of Indonesia. He promised special autonomy to Aceh and
Irian Jaya, separatist provinces at opposite ends of the vast archipelago. Also, he promised to give more power to
Vice-President Megawati. But Wahid could
not dispel the impression of an ailing man who is leading a nation that is in
danger of tearing itself apart. As one
writer in The Indonesian Observer
wrote, “Waiting on Wahid is not easy.”
Despite creating some confrontational works on recent
upheaval in Indonesia, Dono found the wayang
to be the best medium for capturing the topsy-turvy events that have often been
complex and opaque. In Wayang Legenda: Indonesia Baru,
cartography has been incorporated as part of a wayang story of islands and provinces in the archipelago. Represented as strange and morbid creatures,
the volcanic islands of Krakatau and Anak Krakatau erupt while Sumatra,
Sulawesi, Kalimantan, Bali, Lombok, Flores, Sumbawa, the Maluku Islands, Java,
Irian Jaya, Papua, and Timor seem to be dancing like drunkards. It is the map and story of the new Indonesia,
in which Timor is like an independent bird ready to fly to freedom-except that
it has no wings. In Lobi Lobi (2000), Dono created superheroes, monsters, and gods to
perform in the theater of shadows and puppets.
It is a world where down is up and nothing is as it seems to be,
analogous to political arenas, where lobbyists talk in a sweet, flowery
language, but the speeches behind the façade can turn out to be like sour
fruits (lobi). As dalang,
Dono does not offer a path for a new national awakening but a critique on the
players in a larger story that he does not control. They are like deities and demons who seem to
quarrel and fight in never-ending battles.
Prof. Dr. Apinan Poshyananda is the author of books
on art in Thailand and has curated exhibitions of contemporary art in Asia, Australia,
Europe, and the USA. He became the first
Director-General of Office of Contemporary Art and Culture and Department of
Cultural Promotion, Ministry of Culture.
For his contribution to international art, he has been recognized by the
governments of Sweden, Italy, and France.
Published on November 17, 2011.
Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of
Cultures (Harper Collins, 1973), pp. 132-140. Geertz gives useful insight on the Indonesian
shadow-puppet play as a deeply rooted art form as well as a religious rite. He makes direct comparison between the
characters of Semar and Falstaff. In his
section on “Ritual and Social Change: A Javanese Example,” Geertz refers to B. Malinowski’s Magic, Science and Religion
(1948) on how religion satisfies the individual’s demand for a stable,
comprehensible, and coercible world. The
wayang kulit has been applied to
promote stability through education, faith, and government control.
 Rasa refers to the traditional Javanese
five senses: seeing, hearing, talking, smelling, and feeling. Feeling is further elaborated into taste on
the tongue, touch on the body, and emotional feeling within the heart, such as
sadness and happiness.
Tilakasiri, The Asian Shadow Play (Ratamalana:
Vishva Lekha Publication, 1999), pp. 62-127.
 In wayang revolusi and wayang suluh portraits of political leaders in modern attire are
depicted and displayed in shadow-puppet theatre. The Tropen Museum in Amsterdam contains some
fine examples of these works. See
Museumgids, “Wayang Revolusi”
(Amsterdam: Koninkljk Instituut voor de Tropen, 1995), pp. 40-41.
Wright, “Drinking from the Cup of Tradition: Modern Art in Yogyakarta,” Indonesian Modern Art: Indonesian Painting since 1945
(Amsterdam: The Gate Foundation, 1993), pp. 39-56.
Wright, Soul, Spirit and Mountain:
Preoccupations of Contemporary Indonesian Painters (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford
University Press, 1994), pp. 169-170.
Miklouho-Maklai, Exposing Society’s Wounds: Some Aspects of Contemporary
Indonesian Art since 1966 (Adelaide: Flinders University, 1991), pp. 23-77. Apinan Poshyananda, “‘Con Art’ seen from the
Edge: The Meaning of Conceptual Art in South and Southeast Asia,” Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin,
1950s-1980s (New York: Queens Museum of Art, 1999), pp.142-148.
1994-2000, I visited Dono’s studio and interviewed him in Yogyakarta on several
by Dono in Mythical Monsters in
Contemporary Society (Singapore: Gajah Gallery, 1998), p. 2.
the French word bricole, which
roughly translates as putting things together in a manner of
improvisation. Some dictionaries define
it as pottering about, doing odd jobs.
This word has often been used in the context the readymade art. Bricoleur
can be translated as handyman, to be good around the house, or to be good
craftsman. See Charles Merewether, “Fabricating Mythologies: The Art of
Bricolage,” The Boundary Rider, 9th
Biennale of Sydney (Sydney: Biennale of Sydney, 1992), pp. 20-24.
Supangkat, “Heri Dono,” The First
Asia-Pacific Triennial (Brisbane: Queensland Art gallery, 1993), p. 13.
McEvilley, “Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief,” Art
& Otherness: Crisis in Cultural Identity (New York: McPherson
Publishers, 1992), pp. 27-56. McEvilley
criticizes methods of art history and curatorship, in which non-Western art and
primitive art are interpreted as validating the universal values of Western
Varnedoe, “Gauguin,” in William Rubin (ed.), “Primitivism” in 20th Modern Art: Affinity of the tribal
and the Modern (New York: Museum of
Modern Art, 1984), pp. 186-187.
Ewington, “Between the Cracks: Art and Method in Southeast Asia,” ART AsiaPacific, 3:4 (1996), 57-63. Ewington gives insightful observations on the
interpretation and methods of Southeast Asian visual arts, using example of wayang kulit and works by Dono in her
Goldwater, Primitivism in Modern Art
(Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1966), pp. 192-214.
Anderson, Language and Power: Exploring
Political Cultures in Indonesia (Ithaca and London: Cornell University
Press, 1990), pp. 152-173.
“Life is a Cartoon,” New Art from
Southeast Asia 1992 (Tokyo: The Japan Foundation, 1992), pp. 117-119.
 Jean-Hubert Martin, 5th Biennale d’Art Contemporarain de Lyon: Partage
d’Exoticismes (Lyon: Biennale de Lyon, 2000), pp. 41-52.
with Sigit Sukasman, 10 August 2000, Yogyokarta. Sukasman gave an elaborate explanation on his
method of making wayang kulit. He stressed that exaggeration of physiognomy
and facial expression of his shadow puppets allow them to communicate more
directly with viewers. However,
traditional puppet makers might regard this work as too experimental. Sukasman discussed the wayang characters
Arjuna, Semar, and Togog, and demonstrated his experiments with colored lights
and shadow puppets on stage. See the
pamphlet, Wayang Ukur Sukasman
(Yogyakarta: Pondok Seni Sukasman, 2000).
statement, 4th Asian Art Show
Fukuoka (Fukuoka: Fukuoka Art Museum, 1994), pp. 82-83.
For Dono’s discussion on his inspiration by wayang kulit, see David Elliott and Gilane Tawadros (eds.), Heri Dono, pp. 36-37.
was inspired by the Batakese tale of the magic wands, in which the outcome of
incestuous love between a twin brother and sister was that their living souls
were confined in petrified wooden forms.
The magic wand was carved from these woods. A kidnapped boy was buried up to his neck and
fed with food and later with molten lead.
His brain was taken to prepare a magical substance, pupuk, which was then placed inside the wand. Such stories differ enormously from
traditional wayang kulit.
with Dono, 22 April 2000, New York.
 Jean de Loisy, “La Baute in
Fabula,” La Baute (Avignon: La
Mission 2000 en France, 2000).
Dono, Kuda Binal (Yogyokarta: Alun
Alun Utara, 29 July 1992).
 Apinan Poshyanada,
“Roaring Tigers, Desperate Dragons,” Traditions/Tensions:
Contemporary Art in Asia (New York: The Asia Society, 1996), pp. 30-31. Like the theatre for the dead, Fermentation of Mind and Ceremony of the Soul can be compared to
the Toraja effigies of the deceased in cliff graves in Sulawesi.
with Dono, 28 April 1995, Jakarta. Dono
said that during the installation of his work he was frequently questioned by
the official organizers of the exhibition regarding the meaning and use of
military decorations on the stone sculptures.
He was not allowed to enter the galleries while Suharto and other
dignitaries were viewing the exhibition.
further discussion on Gamelan of Rumor, see Martinus Dwi Marianto, “The
Experimental Artist Heri Dono from Yogyokarta and His ‘Visual Art’ Religion,” Art Monthly Australia, no. 64, (October 1993), 21-24.
Language and Power: Exploring Political
Cultures in Indonesia, pp. 152-153.
with Dono, 10 August 2000, Yogyokarta. Dono
explained that the sound from the speakers is by his friend, whose voice sounds
like Suharto speaking.
September 1999, at the time of opening events of the Third Asia-Pacific
Triennial and Transmission performance
in Queensland, an Australian army was leading a strong peacekeeping force of
7,000 troops to East Timor. One
Indonesian magazine published a cover with a picture of an Australian bayonet
buried in East Timor and a map labeled “Kangaroo Domino Game.”
Dono’s statements and captions in Mythical
Monsters in Contemporary Society.
with Dono, 10 August 2000.
example, Tisna Sanajaya’s Thirty Two
Years of Think with the Knees (1999) depicts Habibie ecstatically licking
the hand of Suharto. Surrounding the
painting are tee shirts of Aceh and East Timor for sale and bamboo sculptures
of men with erect torsos/pointed guns standing on their head.See catalogues AWAS! Recent Art from Indonesia (Yogyakarta:
Cemeti Art Foundation, 1999), and The
Third Asia - Pacific Triennial of
Contemporary Art (Brisbane: Queensland Art Gallery, 1999).
catalogues AWAS! Recent Art from
Indonesia (Yogyakarta: Cemeti Art Foundation, 1999), and The Third Asia - Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (Brisbane: Queensland
Art Gallery, 1999).
discussion of Dono’s paintings, see Marianto, “The Experimental Artist Heri
Dono from Yogyokarta and His ‘Visual Art’ Religion,” Art Monthly Australia, 21-24; Wright, Soul, Spirit and Mountain,
pp. 233-239; Jim Supangat, “Heri Dono,” Southeast Asian Art Today (Singapore:
Roeder Publications, 1996), pp. 17-26;
and Esmeralda and Marc Bollansee, Masterpieces
of Contemporary Indonesian Painters (Singapore: Times Edition, 1997).
Myers, “Politics and Intellectual Artists in Contemporary Indonesia: The World
of Pramoedya Ananta Toer and Mochtar Lubis,” in David Myers (ed.), The Politics of Multiculturalism in the Asia-Pacific (Darwin: Northern Territory
Dono’s statements and captions in Mythical
Monsters in Contemporary Society.
Jose Manuel Tesoro, “Open But Not Shut,”
Asiaweek (2 June 2000), 36-37. For writing on Indonesian culture of fear and
the post-Suharto era, see Asian Forum for
Human Rights and Development,
Stability and Unity: On a Culture of Fear (Bangkok: Forum Asia, 1995) and
Adam Schwarz and Jonathan Paris (eds.), The
Politics of Post-Suharto Indonesia
(Singapore: The Council of Foreign Relations, 1999), respectively.
discussion on ngeledek in recent
Indonesian art, see Martinus Dwi Marianto, “Teasing Through Art,” AWAS! Recent Art from Indonesia (Yogyakarta:
Cemeti Art Foundation, 1999), pp. 42-43.
denied this accusation, stating that he hardly has any money. On 8 August 2000, the Head of the State
Prosecutor’s Office Barman Zahir put forward a file and indictment to charge
Suharto with violations of the law related to corruption and abuse of power. If proven guilty, he could face life
imprisonment. See Anthony Spaeth, “Don’t
Cry for Suharto," The Time (19 June 2000), 18-19.
shortly before Suharto’s resignation, Dono informed that in this work he wanted
to be most direct, as there was no room for humor.
 I take
this opportunity to thank the Japan Foundation for this kind invitation. I would like to express my deep gratitude to
Ms. Yasuko Furuichi and her assistants
for their tireless efforts in realizing this project.
 I would
like to thank Dr. Vishakha Desai,
vice-president of the Asia Society, New York, for her kind advice on Indian and
Indonesian religious and court architecture.
Discussion on this topic at Villa Serbelloni by Lake Como was most
exhilarating. I also wish to extend my
thanks to Mr. David Elliott, director of
Moderna Museet, Stockholm, for his stimulating contribution on Dono’s work
during our discussion in Amsterdam on 15 July 2000.
Ibbitson Jessup, Court Arts of Indonesia
(New York: The Asia Society Galleries, 1990), pp. 105-123.
 I would
like to thank my son, Pirawuth Poshyananda, for introducing me to hundreds of
Pokemon monsters. Logic and reality have
never been the same since.
McCarthy, “Democrat…or Boss?” The Time (17 July 2000), 34-35; and Jose Manuel Tesoro, “Defiant Under
Fire,” Asiaweek (4 August 2000), 32-33. This article quoted Indonesian
political analyst Soedjati Djiwandono as saying that, “In the land of the
blind, the one-eyed man is still king.”
Abdulgani, “Waiting on Wahid Is Not Easy,” The
Indonesian Observer (11 August 2000), 5.
 Wayang Legenda: Indonesia Baru (2000), see