Articles on Enrico

Articles Concerning Enrico Soekarno

Drawings And Testimony

Drawings and Testimony

“…Whereas the document is at best waiting for the interpretative use that will give it a meaning, if not ‘its’ meaning, the testimony wants to be seen or heard immediately, even if the most significant (or most disturbing) testimonies have often, too often, been received with much delay. A sense of urgency, usually prompted by situations of crisis or of change, such as the one that we are living today – of which I have mentioned a few obvious features – almost necessarily leads to favouring the immediacy and warmth (or emotionalism) of the testimony over the distance and comparative coldness of the document”. - Jean-Francois Chevrier 1)

Do these drawings entirely rely on their documentary potency? Or do they tend to be the products of the artist’s construction, fiction or imagination? Such questions are perhaps most provoking when applied to Enrico Soekarno’s works shown in this “Out of Tibet” exhibition.

His works carefully ‘record’ the faces of both common people and famous figures, particular corners of landscapes, distinctive sites, assorted forms and ornaments of buildings, and events of thick political nuances. All these have connection with (the atmosphere of) Tibet.

Yet his meticulous and detailed drawings do not offer photographic precision. Enrico’s works are drawings produced by the artist’s careful and skillful manual work. As pictures, these works keep their distance from documentary works we call photographs. The distance is made apparent by the picturesque2) quality and effect of the works and by the different ‘objective principles’ on which the two practices rest. Photographic documentation is known as a process of ‘recording’ by means of mechanical tools and so it is not taken as the product of imagination. Shall we, however, necessarily regard pictures that are carefully made on the basis of photographs – like these ones by Enrico on exhibition here – as imaginative works? Today, can we not so compose even photographs that they look like hand-made, fictionalized pictures? What we know is that these black-and-white works by Enrico use as their references photos that were already there prior to the works.

In Enrico’s works, pictures get their denotative character. This is what we take as the “original” meaning that the artist seemingly wants to stress. Again, doesn’t such denotation derive from its reference photos? It seems that the interaction, intertwining, and even ambiguity between the denotative nature and the documentary image of his works are among the more interesting points to note.

Pictures and documents About one decade we’ve been surrounded by the thriving notion of “the originality of drawings” in our art scene. The art of drawing prevails, it looks as an “original” art, just when the critical view of contemporary art refuses, whole- or half-heartedly, the notion of “ingenuity” in art making. Is this the paradox of acceptance? I ask myself somewhat doubtfully.

Although picture makers, in both the acknowledged “art” and “non-art” circles (think, for instance, the developments around “comics”), cannot be taken as altogether dominating the entire field of drawing – with respect to both the making and the interpretation of their works – they are those who remain self-confident to launch the “original” drawings of their own. I use the term “original” in the sense we have been familiar, which particularly refers to the aspect of the creation instead of reception and interpretation of pictures. The term refers to the most expressive autographic trace, a sort of “subjective” stamp that marks the creation of given pictures.

However, the resistance of the notion of “original”, the deconstruction of the gap separating “art” and “reality” (“de-differentiation”) that contemporary artists are loudly voicing, also means the crumbling of hierarchy at the same time. This has opened the way for the flourishing of drawings. Now we are witnessing the booming of all kinds of drawings as works of “art”. Drawings include casual scratches coupled with peculiar messages (ranging from “Daging Tumbuh” photo-copied comics through Eko Nugroho’s works) as well as works by diligent and sophisticated drawing masters (Satyagraha (1948-2007), Sekar Jatiningrum, Eddie haRA and through S.Teddy D). The plurality of drawings doesn’t feel artificial, and that is why perhaps there is never a sort of mainstream in the “art” of drawing.

Actually, we have recently been captured more by the products of drawing artists than by those of painters or photographers, for instance. Think of the black-and-white pictures in which the world around us is presented as a kind of hellish swamp, filled with shabby and dandy people – but with the manubilis souls – as offered solemnly – but also violently as well – by Semsar Siahaan (1952 - 2005). Or “room of mine”, those colored pictures that are the products of Agus Suwage’s cleverness and cunning in manipulating attributes and celebrating signs, which crowd around the false identities of the artist’s social self-portraits. Again, however, we shall not regard Siahaan’s or Suwage’s as works that have social or historical “facts” as their strong point, although we may take their works as among the references for doing an actual social analysis through art. Maybe such works that are “products of imagination” can provide valuable documentation. Yet, “facts” are not the main point in the representations these artists offer.

Tibet, the immanence of symbol? Enrico’s statement on certain aspects of his drawings reveals the connection between pictures and social realities ever present:

“…I began drawing pictures because while I was adventurously traveling around I needed tools and media that fitted to my knapsack and didn’t trouble me when I had to jump on and off a train or ferry. That’s the first and practical reason. The second reason came when I was in East Timor at the time of the Santa Cruz massacre; out of a most terrible shock, I lost my ability to think of and imagine colors and to make beautiful works. It came that in East Timor I made a pledge: not until Soeharto’s death would I use colors again!”

Doesn’t it mean his black-and-white works have a political and immanent quality? The tendency to slyly insert immanent symbols into his pictures is also observable in the drawings on exhibition here.

These “Out of Tibet” pictures come into being through a context of traveling and personal memories of the maker. They involve Tintin comic books and through Bertolucci’s films, from the meeting with Dalai Lama through his sympathy for Tibet and its condition ever since the Chinese military invasion in March 1949. Having such spirit and empathy, Enrico took part in several activities to support the efforts toward an independent Tibet through the Roof of The World Foundation established in Jakarta in 2006. To Enrico, Tibet is like a deja vu…

“I will try every way to help people whose goal in life is helping others. Besides, my activities with the the Roof of The World Foundation are also meant to educate my own people. The foundation is recognized as a Tibet Support Group that works in the cultural field, not in the political field as others do. Our parliament here will not support other nations, why, they don’t pay attention even to their own people. All of us are artists, so we want to launch an awareness campaign only through our works...” Enrico said.

It is said that a good picture can show precisely the position of the artist making it. This is the position of the picture maker with respect to the object(s) being pictured. Anyway, we still need a supplement for the completion of such position. It is perhaps a message or even the sublimation of a message that will add to the weight of a work. We know that a picture is a narrative-subject, necessarily connected with a story or narration. Narration connects units of space and time that imply the context. In turn, a “narrative-subject” is a subject that also gives space and plausibility to the viewers’ imagination concerning stories-in-space-and-time.

Enrico has perhaps made a kind of artist-ambassador regarding the acute socio-political problems of Tibet today. However, such involvement and empathy are very close to political siding; that is why he seems to feel the need for data and facts but without decreasing his gravity in doing his picture making. His background “ideology” or even “religious belief” is implied through his testimony on Tibet; it doesn’t abandon, betray or harm his pictorial field that feels as something sincere. It appears that art (and artistic talent) doesn’t end even when a certain ideology and belief are budding. Enrico’s works drive our attention to details, fine networks of the lines piled and drawn. Those details perhaps provide the light of “being” that makes his works exist as an entity of hope, more than just an image. In my opinion, it is this tendency that gives cultural value to his drawings.

The “setting” or “ground”, which supports a certain impression of a given subject, is absent in all the works. The blank white ground in all of his works seems to serve as the immanent symbol of the pictures and the artist’s belief. “…I deliberately don’t draw the sky and clouds, I leave it white to symbolize height and emptiness. And just to imply that blackness is already decreasing in me thanks to Tibet and Buddhism”, he said. So, it seems to be the imaginative testimony in Enrico’s works.

Claiming to be half-Buddhist and half-Marxist, there is not even any slashing of the analytical scalpel leaving any trace in Enrico’s works. This is perhaps because he believes that in our heads there is always a sort of “Tibet in the Brain” already, a symbol of a place beyond reach, so distant. Such a place is not contaminated, its quiet is pacifistic, and it means personal enlightenment. 3)

In other words, Tibet has become a kind of symbol; it has become immanence in his works. Something that we wish could experience without necessitating explanation. Like the lines of old age on Mother Teresa’s face that are only too familiar to us or the expression of hopelessness of a migrant mother in a famous photograph piece by Dorothea Lange.

Perhaps it is just the immanent symbol that Enrico sought on the face of a poor mother pilgrim in Yambulakhang Gompa, the oldest monastery in Tibet. Or the pacifist spirit of an aged monk sitting in a lotus position by the edge of a cave, and with the rotating cosmos in his hand.

These pictures have their signification and they represent Tibet in the same way Steve Lehman’s photos that contain historical “facts” do. Two of Enrico’s works here were based on two such photos. One is the picture of a scene where monks and a mother, who are angry, are throwing things to a police headquarter to protest their arrest in 1987. The other is the picture of a child with a Chinese military cap, grinning while having the photo of Dalai Lama that has been an object of condemnation in Tibet since 1996.

Enrico seems aware not to push his works to the direction of representing democracy in the newspaper style that we have to set on its mechanism every morning. ”Actualizing” through the mass-media culture has dominated all “facts” thanks to our trust in documentary photos and their captions. Enrico’s works do not reproduce news or let the visual nature of his drawings fall easy victim to the information industry besieging us.

These drawings seem to ask us to watch them longer. Their “messages” will come to us through the magic of the medium itself. Because of that we don’t feel his works competing with the verbal testimony of the artist as found in this catalog. Such belief and self-confidence perhaps also test our sensibility with respect to the hidden message of a picture.

Hendro Wiyanto, exhibition curator.

Notes: 1. Jean-Francois Chevrier, “Documentary, document, testimony…”, in ‘Documentary Now! Contemporary strategies in photography, film and the visual arts’, Reflect # 4, NAi Publishers, Rotterdam, 2005. 2. I use the term ‘picturesque’ in its neutral meaning, to refer to a certain effect of the practice of making pictures (drawing) and painting manually by artists. Not in the ideological-mannerist sense, namely the way of viewing and working ‘after the manner of painters’, see, for example, Andrew Ballantyne, “The Picturesque and its Development”, in A Companion to Art Theory, Blackwell Publishing, 2002. 3.From Enrico Soekarno, “Tibet di Otak”, in Tibet di Otak, Yori Antar, Raudia Kepper, Enrico Soekarno, Jay Subiyakto, Krish Suharnoko, Ella Ubaidi, PT Gramedia Pustaka Utama, Jakarta, 2005.

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