Taken from the Catelogue of “Poem of Wounds”
“SE Dewantoro’s larger, and boldly emblazoned black and red paintings appear to move in the opposite direction to Budi’s. I thought it strange at first when the two artists explained that their work dealt with the similar theme of ‘sadness’. You might be surprised too for a minute or two when you first see the two artists’ work hanging side by side – superficially and stylistically there’s not a lot that ties the work together. But then ‘sadness’ is not a one-dimensional emotion – it might encompass grief, suffering, melancholy and depression.
Powerlessness is a state than can evoke sadness too. The intention behind SE Dewantoro’s work is a response to both big and small talk, big and small tragedy. “As an individual one may lack the power to correct the injustices of the world,” says SE Dewantoro, but the visual language can be a powerful tool in the face of powerlessness.
Black and red dominate the paintings of SE Dewantoro. The black and red bring to mind slogans, political propaganda and revolution, not to mention that red and black bull that adorned every corner of Bali a couple of years ago. The semi-realist, almost cartoon-like style coupled with text such as the caption “Awas mudah terbakar” (careful! It’s easy to catch alight) sitting above an exploding boiling kettle-headed figure – create a poster-like and somewhat aggressive quality to SE Dewantoro’s work. But then to upset this, or rather save the work from being merely graphic, the artist has collaged the odd hippy daisy or coke can image onto the painting surface. Then there are the references to Michelangelo’s “Pieta” – details of the head of Mary and of the feet of Christ, penciled in against a red ground. Romantic ? Erotic ? Red and black being also the colours of lust and passion. Lastly there’s the toilet, the most private of rooms according to SE Dewantoro, the room for introspection and secrecy. But what is it there lurking behind the toilets, the thorns and the bound figures – is it a search for truth and beauty?
And so sitting in SE Dewantoro’s studio, it was only after some time that I stopped feeling confused and confronted. I stopped waiting for the work to fall off the wall and hit me on the head with its apparent messages and content, stopped feeling that I was being asked to make political or ideological affiliations. And I was reminded of early Renaissance frescoes adorning the walls of churches, albeit with their richer palette and less savage imagery – although there are plenty of severed limbs and persecuted martyrs in some of those old frescoes. SE Dewantoro’s work began to take on a very personal narrative. It’s no life of Saint Francis, but of an individual using the best of his artistic means to construct an identity as a person and as an artist in a world where sadness is the flip side to joy.
I lightened up and saw that the humour hadn’t been flushed down that dry and empty toilet with the ‘exit’ sign. It was just beginning to vapourise from the boiling kettle-headed figure warning us to be careful lest we get too hot and catch alight.
Don’t be fooled by appearances, even when dealing with the visual form. It is that Budi’s expression of his anxious and private self in the world leads outwards to a shared and universal empathy, whereas SE Dewantoro’s work backtracks from slogans and heavily loaded symbols to what are essentially self-portraits. Hold a mirror to a mirror and see.
The context is important insofar as the possibilities it offers. For those not born here, Bali as a choice to stay for a while keeps you on your toes. It also has enormous scope for creative exploration. These two artists might miss the hub of Solo, but they talk about a freedom of expression gained by being on the fringes. Their work also demonstrates a courage to follow their own noses.
Victoria Cattoni, November 2001