“In making negative drawings that reference political press photos,” Widjaja notes, “I wanted to address memories where the personal and political intertwined.”
Boedi Widjaja: Declaration Of is the first solo presentation in New York of Indonesia-born, Singapore-based artist Boedi Widjaja’s works. The exhibition presents recent and latest works from the artist’s Imaginary Homeland series (2015–ongoing), encompassing drawings, photographs, and installations. Widjaja’s works re-examine press photographs of Indonesia’s founding president Sukarno (1945–1967), and his successor Suharto (1967–1998). Having left Indonesia at the age of nine due to rising ethnic tensions, the artist’s perception of his former country is constructed mostly through images and the imagined. Connecting them with ideas of embodiment, gaze, and memory, Widjaja integrates drawing and analogue studio photography methods within his processual approach, reflecting on the power of images in the formation of his own personal narrative.
Declaration of will be accompanied by a catalogue, with an essay by Shona Mei Findlay, who currently serves as curator for Asia Programs at KADIST, and an interview with Annie Jael Kwan, an independent curator and researcher based in London.
October 1, 2019
Combined with the appropriation of popular culture—borrowing from popular Mandarin songs and familiar press material—Widjaja launders these images through his memories as well as anxieties of displacement. At a new juncture in history, where notions of national and cultural identity are being renegotiated across the globe, Widjaja’s processual practice can be seen as quiet acts of reflection and recuperation, personally metabolizing global narratives, and examining the transformative possibilities that a single image holds.
— Shona Mei Findlay, curator of Asia Programs, KADIST. In "Specters of History," in Boedi Widjaja: Declaration of
Widjaja's process begins with examining archival press images of Indonesia's founding leader, Sukarno and Suharto. During the years of the cold war, the first President of independent Indonesia, Sukarno, visited the leaders of the three power blocs of the Cold War: the Western, Eastern, and non-aligned movement. Widjaja appropriates these images, reconstructing them as a series of negative drawings that shift between the modalities of photography and drawing.
A new commission for the exhibition, the installation Nine Hundred and Ninety Nine Roses demonstrates the artist’s engagement with camera obscura techniques. Widjaja modified 9 peci (traditional Indonesian headgear, which, under Sukarno, became a symbol of Indonesian nationalism) into pinhole cameras; using these, he created a series of pinhole negatives by exposing photo-sensitive paper to light passing through a small hole made on top of each peci. This series of small pinhole negatives depict images captured during Sukarno’s respective meetings with the leaders of both Eastern and Western power blocs, as well as the non-aligned countries.
This series of archival prints were produced by putting other negative drawings of Sukarno and Suharto through analogue studio photography processes. Through this process, Widjaja produces a body of images that have been removed from their original contexts, existing separately as abstract and nebulous compositions. These manipulations of his own negative drawings are the result of the artist’s visceral reflections on his relationship with his homeland, which was largely mediated through photography.
Installed on the terrace of the gallery, this work is the artist’s latest iteration of his outdoor photographic installation, Art is only a continuation of war by other means (2016) that was presented at the 1st Yinchuan Biennale. On each flag is a distinct composition of red and blue graphics which represent an encoding of words. Together, the flags read “Art is only a continuation of war by other means,” a reference to “Diplomacy is only a continuation of war by other means”—a famous Clausewitzian quote credited to Premier Zhou, as reported by American journalist Edgar Snow in 1954. The short and long clicks of the Morse Code are transposed into red and blue wavelengths, forming abstract compositions.
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