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Indonesians in Focus: F. Widayanto

Username By Barrie | July 21st, 2007 | Comments No Comments

Fransiscus Widayanto is one of Indonesia’s top ceramic artists. Since he decided to work in ceramics many years ago he has remained faithful to that medium, using clay, water and fire to express himself and his philosophies.

Widayanto well understands that a ceramic artist, like himself, has to appreciate and relate to the many types of clay that are available, the different methods of creating pots and other ceramics, and the numerous ways that can be used to fire the work.

And above all a craftworker has to have a high degree of patience.

“Sometimes the clay breaks down. Then there’s nothing that can be done except to start all over again,” said Widayanto, 54 and single, at his gallery in Setiabudi, South Jakarta, two weeks ago.

“Making ceramics isn’t easy — that’s one reason why it’s called art. We shouldn’t expect creativity to be straight forward.”

Why ceramics? Widayanto confessed that when he was young he preferred manual crafts to the study of subjects like mathematics. “In my mind I only wanted to work in the creative arts.”

“Both my parents were surprised and confused with my choice. They said their son would only achieve a `mortar degree.’”

Widayanto soon realized that the road he’d chosen wasn’t going to be easy. But through the application of hard work, talent and a strong sense of purpose he believes that he’s now achieved success.

Indeed so. Today his art attracts widespread admiration. His first solo exhibition titled Water Container was held at Erasmus Huis, the Dutch cultural center in Jakarta, in 1987. Since then he has had 11 solo exhibitions.

One was an exhibition of masks staged for the 16th National Craft Acquisition Award held at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory in Darwin, Australia.

Another event was titled Mask Product. His work has been shown in Singapore (1986), New York (1987), Macedonia (1991) and many other places.

Arts journalist and Jesuit priest Dr. GP Sindhunata has written that Widayanto is an artist who is always concerned with traditional art shapes.

“That’s where his roots lie. By going back to his country he finds his artistic identity,” wrote the editor of the cultural magazine BASIS. His comments appeared in the catalog for Widayanto’s solo exhibition titled Doll at Bentara Budaya, held in Jakarta in October 1997.

Sindhunata’s comments have been proved correct in the case of the fine arts graduate from the Bandung Institute of Technology, whose creative ideas stay evergreen.

“He’s an imaginative explorer who tries to break through the barricades,” wrote Sindhunata. “But like the egret that always returns to the same mud hole, Widayanto always bases his art on local culture.”

In his current exhibition at the National Gallery, Widayanto explores the theme of narcissism, the abnormal love of self.

(In Greek mythology Narcissus was a beautiful youth who was condemned to fall in love with his own reflection after rejecting the advances of the nymph Echo. Narcissus is also a genus of bulbous plants, including the daffodil and jonquil.)

In the exhibition Widayanto does not present the story in the Greek style. Instead he imposes his own cultural interpretations.

Among his artworks currently on display at the National Gallery is a large pole featuring a flower from the narcissus family. The statues visualize and represent the emotions of self-love and excessive self-satisfaction.

Others are Gadis Bercermin, Besar Wibawa, Melirik, Bayangan Wajah Air, Siap Tampil, Menopang Sebuah Dada, Melirik Sambil Mendongak, Pantulan Dari Atas and Buruk Rupa Cermin Dibelah.

All Widayanto’s works show the figure of a man with a mirror in his hand, looking in the mirror, and at parts of his body. The character that he presents could be considered an import from Greece, or an ornament used to make the body beautiful using the riches of Javanese culture.

In traditional Greek culture the story of Narcissus is one of the most popular myths. Others are the story of Prometheus (who stole fire from heaven to give to humanity), and Sisyphus (condemned to the underworld where he was forced to forever push a rock uphill, which always rolled down again).

These may be strange stories to many people, but narcissistic behavior is well known in modern psychology. A narcissist loves himself; he uses makeup and fine clothes. He tends to love himself to excess and is indifferent to the feelings of others.

So why was Widayanto attracted to the Narcissus legend? It has taken him a long time to get to this point because his work normally features images of women.

His past exhibitions have all focused on the female form, like Loro Blonyo (1990), Mask (1990), Ukelan (1995), Mother and Child (2000), Kendi-kendi (2000) and Dewi Sri (2003).

“Someone once said that I was incapable of making statues of men,” Widayanto said. “So I thought I had to make male statues that were equally beautiful to those of women.”

But when he started making statues of men people said they were turned off. Typical was the comment: ‘Who’s interested, or wants to buy a statue of a man? Women are beautiful and much nicer to look at.’

“But for me, no problem,” the Jakarta-born artist said. “I don’t make these statues just for sale. I make them because I want to achieve something.”

In Widayanto’s view narcissism is the twin brother of consumerism and hedonism, behaviors that, he says, have become widespread in modern society. Both men and women can be narcissistic.

Widayanto presents his work as a free artist reflecting certain characteristics of human behavior, in this case male narcissism. In Europe statues displaying narcissism tend to be very similar. But in his creations Widayanto seeks to present modern aspects of the myth.

“I try to show different facial expressions and a good body with striking looks. I want to show those parts of the body that aren’t normally displayed, and are usually covered by a loincloth.

“One of my more controversial works shows a figure with a flirtatious facial expression and full of his own self-belief. This is typical of the modern era.”

Through this exhibition Widayanto said he neither wants to oppose, nor to push society toward narcissism. He only wants to show that this behavior is alive and well, and still developing in society.

So what’s Widayanto’s opinion of the narcissistic lifestyle?

“Anything that’s done to excess isn’t good,” he said. “Of course many people love themselves, but there have to be limitations. When that behavior becomes excessive and selfish, as in the story of Narcissus, well, that’s different.

“But no problem as long as a narcissist doesn’t harm himself or herself or, of course, other people. This is very close to consumerism and hedonism — and the direction that society is going, as you can see through the media. Many advertisements promote narcissism — and I think that’s wrong.”

Emanuel Dapa Loka

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