Heri Dono is arguably the first contemporary Indonesian artist of his generation to break into the global art scene in the late 1980s. Heri is best known for his installations that adopt, adapt and revitalise the most popular Javanese folk theatre, wayang kulit. A traditional storytelling method that merges visual arts and song in the promotion of mythology, philosophy of life or social criticism, veiled by humour, the wayang is a single performance that transcends all social classes, providing a space for social interaction amongst the audience. Through complex multimedia elements, Heri often yields performative and interactive potencies in the most effective way, involving his viewers in intense dialogues. In both his installations and his paintings, Heri has developed a dark-humoured and satirical style through his cultural roots, creating an ethereal realm of mythological creatures and oblique narratives that explore socio-political, human behaviour and contemporary issues.
The works at STPI recall the humourous satire often associated with his fantastical hybrid characters and pop culture motifs. At the same time, it is a spirited portrayal of ‘madness’ – a theme he addresses through a fluid and colourful interplay of techniques and materials previously unexplored by the artist. Amidst the coherent elements of light and shadow, a paper-pulp installation surrounded by batik-inspired paintings, movable sculptures, etchings and screenprints on canvas against photographs of STPI workshop machinery (considered to be a development in the artist’s practice), viewers will be reacquainted with Heri Dono’s playful visual language that veil familiar social commentaries.
More noticeably, they will also see his shift towards introspection, generating personal considerations about the role of the artist, a questioning of the art market, and the role of art in society. Most telling is the key artwork opening the show titled Ronggowarsito Perspective, with phrases like menjaga kesadaran (preserving consciousness), hati orang (a person’s heart), turut menjadi gila (becoming crazy too) and zaman edan (age of madness) strewn across the perspex box. For Heri Dono, the work marks the beginning of the rest of his narrative at STPI.
Of hybrid creatures, graphic symbolisms, and references to the twisted logic of a topsy-turvy mind, the exhibition conveys “a position of resistance against a hegemonic discourse or perspective” as a whole. According to Singapore Art Museum curator Tan Siuli, his multifaceted characters and narratives effectively destabilize binaries of right and wrong, good and evil, to reflect the truth of human complexities. “In that respect,” says Tan, “madness may be seen not as a negative quality but rather a necessary state of being, a position of resistance which ironically, brings greater clarity and consciousness.”
Beyond aesthetics and beauty, Heri Dono once again provokes this sheer awareness of life’s truths through humour.