Articles on Enrico

Articles Concerning Enrico Soekarno

Drawing attention to Tibet

Enrico Soekarno: Drawing attention to Tibet

Enrico Soekarno is an artist, of principle, who says he has been working almost entirely in black-and-white since witnessing the Santa Cruz massacre in East Timor in 1991.

"I guess I was so shocked that I could not use color anymore. So, I said *I will not use color anymore, until Soeharto dies' . And, so, now people are saying, hey, he's dead. So after this one (exhibition) I might combine. Color and black and white."

"You can't use words to describe it," says Enrico of his meeting with the Dalai Lama in 2006, "I have never seen a person actually glowing. He was literally glowing."

"He was reading our introductory letter and he knew everything about President Sukarno -- and he knows the Pancasila. He is very well read. And the people in his government, the parliament -their choice of words -- they are intelligent, they are amazing* I wish my DPR (the Indonesian House of Representatives) was as smart and as caring. And they were so humble. The prime minister met us, the ministers; they opened the parliament to us. We were just a bunch of artists."

Yet Enrico, born in 1966, believes that artists, even humble ones, can inspire change.

His exhibition "Out of Tibet", which runs until the end of the month at Langgeng Icon Gallery in Kemang, is his way of drawing attention to China's occupation of Tibet.

The show opened on March 10 -- Tibetan National Uprising Day -and comprises images of Tibet, from starting in Nepal, going then to Tibet, then of meeting the Dalai Lama and then on to Lhasa.

Last Friday, violence erupted in the Tibetan capital as Buddhist monks and other ethnic Tibetans clashed with Chinese armed police. An eyewitness account on the BBC website described monks being "beaten and pulled and kicked" as they streamed down toward the main entrance of a monastery.

The protests have spread from Lhasa to all over Tibet in both intensity and scale.

Enrico contacted The Jakarta Post by email Saturday morning with this message: "Since March 10, both inside and outside Tibet, a popular nationwide demonstration against Chinese rule has being taking place. It is high time Chinese leaders settle the issue of Tibet peacefully through the Middle Way Policy, whereby Tibetans are willing to accept and live under Chinese rule if genuine autonomy is given to them to preserve and practice their religion."

Enrico is a political artist, of this there is no doubt, for he is also the chairman of the Roof of the World Foundation that seeks to raise awareness of the plight of the Tibetans among the people of Indonesia. But his works are not explicitly political.

"I don't really hang out with artists. I guess Semsar Sirait. He had the same kind of outlook -- political without being political -- but he's dead now. Djoko Pekik. He is also very allegorical and critical of Soeharto. I was never jailed. I did Pramoedya book covers, but they (Indonesian military) never came, even though my name was written there. Sometimes if the works don't do enough, I go into the street," Enrico said Wednesday.

Wearing a brown linen shirt, and with a trio of silver rings in one ear, Enrico looked extremely debonair when The Jakarta Post met him on the rooftop of the Icon building on Wednesday -- his appearance, his style has something to do with his mixed parentage, perhaps, for his mother is Latvian, his father Indonesian.

He attended high school in Sydney and remembers his art teacher giving him a book on Vincent Van Gogh and the startling effect that it had on his life. "After high school, the first thing I had to do was to travel to Amsterdam to see the real thing. I made it to Rome also and took the test for the art school in Rome. But I didn't get anything out of it, except an introduction to other artists," he said scratching the stubble on his chin.

"If needs be, I say I went to the Accademia de Belle Arti, but I didn't actually learn anything."

In fact, Enrico hooked up with a girl a year into art school and quit.

His first exhibition was in oils and he has also tried his hand at ceramics, etching, engraving, stained glass, photography and cinematography.

The works in his exhibition at Icon are sketch book size at 20 cm by 20 cm."I like to do it small," he says, " because I like people to approach the work person by person. With small works, viewers tend to go back and forth and inside the work and they might discover something."

"It is also practical as I need the drawings to fit in my backpack, when I take ferries, jump trains."

Enrico has the spirit of adventure and the empathy for humanity that makes one recall Conrad's The Heart of Darkness.

When he met the Dalai Lama he was traveling with an architect, an interior designer and a film director.

"We were the first artists (to come to Tibet) from Indonesia -- the biggest Muslim country. He sent his representative to open the exhibition -- a small exhibition like this."

So it is through art that Enrico is documenting his own journey, but also trying to draw attention to issues. His is a softly, softly approach.

"I try to take the middle road. I don't want to be too preachy. I still want to maintain the beauty, yes. And if someone looks at my work for long enough, they might find something ... I do hate art to be too political."

He says, "The Tibetan community wants me to show this kind of thing (the drawings at Lanngeng) overseas. Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the uprising. Imagine that. You know, the Dalai Lama gave me a foreword (to the 'Out of Tibet' catalog)". I was so happy. When it arrived in the post, so happy" Enrico says with a grin.

I spoke to him (the Dalai Lama) for a long time, longer than most according to his assistant. "You bow to him, and he bows even lower."

Enrico Soekarno produces Eden-like landscapes which are scattered with hidden Tibetan symbols that emerge, surreptitiously, gracefully, over days of viewing, like deep, resolved meditations on their subjects.

In works such as The Self Created, Gyantse Dzong and Drepung Prayer, Enrico draws holy sites, landscapes redolent with spiritual meaning. The pen etches. He creates with perfect gestural control, with driven patience.

The Self Created shows a corner of the Swayambhunath Temple in Nepal, the location of the biggest community of Tibetans in exile. Of Gyantse Dzong, Enrico says "As you go down, you go through an area called Gyantse. The architecture is Nepali, in the shape of the mandala. There are 100,000 images of Buddha inside."

He adds: "This is where the British attacked in 1904; they massacred all the monks."

Enrico makes portraits, with a raw intensity, which explore and chart the lines of the face.

There is a haunting beauty in these portraits though never in a smile, sometimes not even in the lines, but in the essential surface of the face, in the cheeks or the brow and in the subtle tilt of the head.

The portrait of the Dalai Lama, titled Ocean of Wisdom is a favorite for many, many people. "They can see the complexity of the deep expression lines in his forehead," the mapping of thoughts, Enrico said.

In The Wheel of Law Enrico draws the golden rooftops, the hallowed cloisters of Lhasa's Jokhang Temple, which is the spiritual center of Tibet, all glistening and crafted with bells, a jewel set amid the green folds of mountains and the pristine sky.

"This one I gave to the Dalai Lama," Enrico said. "We had a meeting about what we were going to give him when we saw him. Everybody was saying 'You give him his portrait, it's amazing', and I said that a Buddhist wouldn't like a portrait.

"But I was voted out, three to one. And sure enough, when we got there, he didn't really look at it.

"So I sent this one (The Wheel of Law) afterward. It is a place he misses. The very place where he sat for his final examination.

"Now they install hidden cameras in the temple because it was the site of the rock-throwing".

Enrico also like drawing old women, as in Ladakh Lady and Yambu Pilgrim, because of the creases in their faces.

He maintains they have reached the apex of beauty. Each wrinkle is in the right place as it traces a history, with the roots of a tree burrowing down, being more beautiful than the new foliage above.

There is also stark evidence of age in the harrowed and harrowing faces of the Tingri Urchins, depicting two girls, one wrapping her arm around the other. A protection that is more solid and warm than any literal garments they may wear are the symbols on the garments. They are grubby, these girls, they are without food, yet they are protected by symbols, by belonging to Tibet.

Rise Up is based on a famous photograph of robed figures hurling chunks of concrete, or stones. Enrico said: "He (the photographer) managed to be in the right place and the right time to take the picture. With it I took some compositional liberties. It is my favorite and went on to the cover (of the catalog). As with some of my big works previously, you will look into them and you will see something new every day, that has been deliberately hidden."

Enrico's works are somehow like the bookplates for those traditional books of fairytales that grow out of childhood memory, channeling the brothers Grimm in the realm of deep, dark fairytale.

Vivid, rooted in a precise reality are the many scenes and characters made from those hatched and cross-hatched lines.

Driven and fearless, Enrico Soekarno works with a 0.1 felt-tip pen, etching the surface of the paper, working it over and over again, over and over at the risk that it will reach saturation point, become soggy with ink and tear from the middle.

Eilish Kidd The Jakarta Post, Jakarta Sun, 03/16/2008 Arts & Design

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