‘The Theater of Me’ takes you on a 3-decade journey of Indonesian artist Agus Suwage’s works at Museum MACAN

‘The Theater of Me’ is a survey exhibition curated by Museum MACAN’s director Aaron Seeto, in which you will take an artistic journey through Agus Suwage’s works over the last 30 years. Photo courtesy of Museum MACAN
‘The Theater of Me’ is a survey exhibition curated by Museum MACAN’s director Aaron Seeto, in which you will take an artistic journey through Agus Suwage’s works over the last 30 years. Photo courtesy of Museum MACAN

You might have to spend a whole day at Museum MACAN to see the works of leading Indonesian contemporary artist Agus Suwage at The Theater of Me exhibition, which runs until Oct. 15.

Suwage, born in the Purworejo regency of Central Java in 1959, is a self-taught painter who studied to be a graphic designer at Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB). Living in Jakarta until 1999, he directly witnessed the tumultuous political and social upheaval leading to the May 1998 riots — an experience that proved pivotal in his development as an artist.

The Theater of Me is a survey exhibition curated by Museum MACAN’s director Aaron Seeto, in which you will take an artistic journey through Agus Suwage’s works over the last 30 years. There are around 80 of his historically important works including major installations, sculptures, paintings, and drawings spanning a period from the mid-‘90s to present, through which you can see him addressing cultural and political phenomenon — particularly the Orde Baru (New Order) and Reformasi (democratic reform) era — through intimate and personal narratives.

This exhibition looks at the relationships between art, politics, and society intertwined with the artist’s dreams and sense of social responsibilities. You will notice that many of Suwage’s works feature his own portrait, because he believes that he must be able to criticize himself before criticizing others. 

Agus Suwage in front of his painting, ‘Circus of Democracy I’ (1997). Photo: Nadia Vetta Hamid for Coconuts Media

During the press tour Coconuts attended recently, we saw a number of Suwage’s pivotal works over the years. Among them was Daughter of Democracy (1996) in the early works section, which was painted after the birth of his daughter during the turbulent time in Jakarta with demonstrations against the New Order regime regularly taking place. 

This painting is a homage to the student movement and signifies his hope for the future, with the element of fire that would then appear in Suwage’s later works as he believes that the flame is both dangerous and spiritually cleansing.

We saw several installations such as Monument That Guards Hankamnas (2012), featuring a golden-winged angel wearing a turban and holding a sword sitting on top of a thousand beer bottles. In this work, beer represents social lubricant and an antagonism of religious conservatism, and the figure of the guardian angel is represented by a skeleton.

Installations at ‘The Theater of Me’ exhibition, with ‘Monument That Guards Hankamnas’ (2012) seen at the back. Photo courtesy of Museum MACAN

In a statement, Agus Suwage said that during the past three decades, he realized that he kept recycling existing works and developing them into new and different forms of expression throughout the journey.

“Through the process of reflection and exploration since my early days as an artist, I saw a close relationship between art, politics, and society. You will see my works from important stages such as the self-portrait and also the exploration of memory, fear, alienation, dreams, human identity, and humor,” Suwage said.

In this exhibition, you can also see the works that are inspired by existing works of artists in the past generation. As we recently visited Museum MACAN for their press tour of Pose, we were intrigued by Suwage’s rework of S. Sudjojono’s Maka Lahirlah Angkatan 66 (1966), titled Maka Lahirlah Angkatan ‘90-an or Hence was Born the ‘90s Generation (2001). There’s also Fragmen Pustaka — After Raden Saleh (2016), which referenced Raden Saleh’s Between Life and Death (1870).

The museum’s director Aaron Seeto said that as one of Indonesia’s leading artists, Suwage’s works are known and loved in Indonesia, and that they have been widely exhibited and collected around the world.

“His impact as an artist can be seen in his painterly technique and also in the ways in which he has been able to channel the hopes and fears of a generation that was swept up into the momentous political and social change in the lead up to Reformasi,” Seeto said.

Throughout the exhibition, there will also be extensive education and public programs with integrated activities for children. These include the Seek-a-Lyric Solo Orchestra, a songwriting project where children are encouraged to write lyrics to music composed by Suwage, as well as creating toys from materials readily available at home, with tutorials inspired by the artist’s series of works called Toys ‘S’ US.

There will also be an anthology of writing responding to Suwage’s works by leading Indonesian writers such as Eka Kurniawan, Goenawan Mohamad, Laksmi Pamuntjak, and Ziggy Zezsyazeoviennazabrizkie, among others, to be published during the exhibition run.

More details on events throughout The Theater of Me can be found on Museum MACAN’s website and social media channels, including an upcoming discussion by Suwage on the influence of S. Sudjojono on June 25.

You can purchase your tickets ahead of your visit through Museum MACAN’s official website. Do not forget to observe strict health protocols and precautionary measures throughout your visit!

Also Read — Experience Indonesia’s political and societal changes in the ‘70s through Museum MACAN’s ‘Pose’ exhibition

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