Updated: Nov 17, 2021
August 12, 2021, was the day that artist Awang Behartawan had been waiting for. His solo exhibition, titled "Round in Circles" is launched at Davis Gallery, Copenhagen, Denmark and was opened by the Indonesian Ambassador of the Kingdom of Denmark, Dewi Savitri Wahab. In her written release, Dewi commented on the figure of this Palembang-born artist,
“This year, Indonesia and Denmark celebrate the 71st anniversary of the two countries' diplomatic relations. Strengthening the culture through arts has been continuously the key to our bilateral relations. Many individuals have played important parts, and among others is Awang Behartawan. Awang Behartawan has been working tirelessly in building a better understanding between the people of Indonesia and Denmark.
Through his works, he introduces Indonesia in so much more than the “traditional exotic” culture as often portrayed in western countries. His art is a combination of his eastern life philosophy and mathematical science; in life, he considers both Indonesia and Denmark as his homes. He uses fractal pattern – an endlessly repeating visual pattern that he draws inspiration from to explain the endless repetitive cycle of life- “
“Fractal” becomes the main concept of this exhibition which he prepared for the last two years. Fractal is a language used in mathematics to refer to a geometric object that can be torn down into several parts and still creates the same shape as before repetitively.
Awang adapts the repetition concept of fractals as he reflects at the way of life that keeps turning. According to him, whether we realize it or not, humans only repeat various phenomena, whether it's monotonous activities from Monday to Friday, the blooming flowers, and the growth of animals that go through a cycle that may repetitively repeat themselves. The circle itself is said by Awang as a symbol of social boundaries in humans and if the person wants to expand his reach, they will create a new social circle.
“We create a social inner circle, we have space in our circle, but we want it to be bigger. So, we take another big one, this is a very positive and natural and is a reasonable human nature. We always want more and make bigger circles, but remember, all of this present, because of the impact from the previous circles or bubbles.”
Awang continued to explain, "This exhibition revolves in a circle, thus the title, Round in Circles, because we as humans are faced with the same problems repeatedly. For example, I now have a problem to solve, later the same problem will become someone else’s, and maybe it will eventually affect me. As life goes on, whether it's happy or sad, whether it's up or down, it's all the same and is repeated over and over."
Quoting curator Yaksa Agus' statement regarding this exhibition,
“Awang’s works seem to be full of multi-layered signs and surprises. It is as if we were invited to nunggu trubuse pupus thukulan manggis (waiting for the mangosteen tree to grow), slowly-but-surely, all passed with patience. Subconsciously, he seems to be presenting a space of consciousness through repeated lines and fields - such as the neat elements of batik, weaving, and songket, which all strongly portray the Indonesian taste.
In his paintings, Awang invites us to look into the clouds, where he is telling the changes of urban civilization. Just like the absurd urban life, the fast-paced fragmentation turns into a stereotype. If we take a closer look, what Awang does through his works is not merely mburu seneng (seeks pleasure), but more than that, he mburu antenge pikir lan urip (pursues peace of mind and life).”
In this exhibition, the artist will present a total of 35 works which he composed in the span of two years since 2019. The exhibition is also accessible at awangart.dk.
This exhibition was originally intended to be held in January 2021, but due to the emergency regulations of the COVID-19 pandemic, the exhibition was postponed to August 12, 2021. We have already through around eight paragraphs above and; we already know a little about how his work speaks to the public. However, who is Awang Behartawan actually? No, you don't need to leave this page and typing his name on Google, because the next story will talk a lot about his career in the art world.
Awang and His Never endless Cycle of Circles
Awang obtained his bachelor’s degree in graphic design in 1992-93. During that time, there was a growing stereotype among artists that there is an unwritten statement that said an artist is only recognized if they graduated from the faculty of fine arts. Awang, who was not one of them, faced challenges in building his artistic career in Indonesia.
“I'm not from ISI (Indonesian Art Institute in Yogyakarta), but I often went to ISI and studied sculpting there. In the past, artists were not considered artists if they did not graduate from the faculty of fine arts, so it was quite difficult and long time for me to be recognized.”
He built his name slowly by holding an overseas exhibition in Sweden, 1996. One year later, the man who was born in Palembang, 1970 tried his fortune by sending his works to a gallery in Copenhagen, Denmark even though this attempt failed at that time.
“At first, I was not accepted (in Indonesia), and in Denmark I was accepted first, and later in Indonesia, my artistic career finally gained its recognition. I want to show in Denmark that Indonesia is not only traditional but we also have contemporary art as well. Gradually the artists in Jogja slowly accepted me, and now we often to do some collaborations between Denmark-Indonesia. I always explain (where I live now), the artist doesn't have to be from an art school like in Indonesia. In Denmark conceptual comes at first.”
This story can be validated from the exhibitions he had conducted since 1996 which exhibited in many European countries such as Sweden, Germany, and Denmark. Awang himself started settling in Denmark since 1997. From there, he also carried out various art diplomacy activities to introduce Indonesian artists in Denmark and vice versa and became a bridge between the encounter of western and eastern arts which also became one of the foundations in his artistic philosophy.
Understanding the Fractals Repetition
Awang also discussed the works that are being offered at L Project.
The first work presented is “Return” which is a work he composed in 2019. Return tells about a landscape that he usually sees from behind his studio in Jogjakarta. In Awang's view, through the fractal decorations in the painting, the majestic Mount Merapi is described as a giver of life but can also be a source of destruction. On the other hand, if there is destruction then humans can quickly rise to build a new civilization. Likewise with forests, forests that were initially destroyed due to being hit by lava and hot clouds can also thrive. Over time, everything is still coiled in its own cycle.
The second work we discussed was a work made in 2017 namely “Heritage Credence”. This work tells about the cultural heritage inherent in Awang, namely Indonesian cultural heritage symbolized by leaf motifs which become the main spotlight in the center of the canvas.
Awang explained that historically every culture has always had the same roots, where he made an analogy, motifs in Indonesia were also found in Greece thousands of years ago. Again, the fractal philosophy comes in, that everything will repeat itself. Awang thinks that cultural heritage does not even have to be present in form, it can also be present in memory, or even a legacy.
“Beautiful Conflex” (2020) tells the story of beauty that has many mazes in it. It describes the human heart that is complex, manifested in a depiction of a building. A form of self-introspection about social relations between people that is beautiful when viewed, but will be difficult to comprehend if it is dug deeper.
This last painting which is Awang's newest paintings in 2020 titled "There's Space for Anyone”, reflects his personal view on humanitarian problems that occur in several countries in Europe, motivated by domestic political problems. This painting voices that all living things have the same value and will always be accepted wherever they are. The issue of immigrants is the inspiration in this work, where many asylum are rejected or abandoned. Awang believes that there are still many places that can provide a decent and safe life, far from terror of war and oppression.
It is one of L Project’s pleasure to get to know Awang and represent alongside hundreds of other Indonesian artists in our platform. Together, we aim to present the rich variety of Indonesian Contemporary Art that will not be considered as merely exotic traditional art, but are compatible with those of worldwide maestros.
Writer: Cliff Moller
Editor: Jeanette Natasha
Keywords: Awang Behartawan, L Project, Indonesia Art Expo 2021, Round in Circles, Denmark, Indonesia.