Permadi Exhibition: Jakarta, West Java

Buru island is associated with Indonesia’s shady human rights record following the foiled coup de etat attributed to the now-defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). Many people deemed to have links with PKI and associated organizations were incarcerated on the island without ever being tried in court.

It was a bitter experience and a real challenge for survival for inmates, as artist Permadi Liosta has recounted.

Permadi, who was released from the island in 1980 after being exiled for more than a decade, has depicted his experience on canvas, although he has restrained himself from injecting emotion into his works.

The Buru theme makes up about one-third of 40 oil-on-canvas paintings on display at Galeri Milenium, South Jakarta, which will run through Aug. 6.

However, an expectation that there will be images of torture, repression or starvation will not materialize. Instead, viewers will see seemingly “untwisted” lives of local people or inmates.

One painting that comes close to a negative description may be Jalan setapak (footpath), which depicts several people shouldering sacks of rice under the watchful eye of an armed guard.

However, Permadi turned out to have his own intentions, which are different to what people might think.

“We would usually transport the rice from the port to units,” he said about the message in the painting. Units were the places where inmates were accommodated. There were 22, each with 500 inmates, according to Permadi.

“No, I’m not,” he replied when asked whether he was looking to incorporate images of repression in his works.

Other Buru paintings are about indigenous people’s activities: a youth standing with spears and hunting dogs, a cigarette between his lips, in Potret orang Buru (Portrait of Buru people); three siblings procuring water, the eldest shouldering the bamboo water container in Ngambil air (taking water); a family returning from a day’s hunting in Kehidupan pulau buru (the life of Buru island).

The latter is one that Permadi, now 77, worked on when he was still in the island.

“That’s one of the few I managed to bring home,” he said.
Art critic Vukar Lodak said that Permadi presented the object on the canvas plainly, ” … in stark contrast to his personal experience, which was bitter.”

“Permadi checks his emotion in his paintings,” Vukar added. The exhibition is titled True Artist — Unrecognized, which, says Vukar, touches on the content of a letter sent by then-president Soeharto to some Buru prisoners — including Permadi and well-known writer Pramudya Ananta Toer.

Vukar said the letter lauded Permadi’s true potential as an artist but added he was not welcome because of his links with Lekra, a PKI-affiliated art and cultural organization.

Generally, Permadi, who hails from Gayo, Aceh province, brings everyday lives onto his canvas with settings — apart from Buru — of the sea, markets, rice fields or cultural activities.

His search for inspiration took him to Bali where he lived for eight years from 1958. Penari Bali (Bali dancer) and Bermain di depan pura (Playing by the temple) are among the paintings on display.

His vivid memories of childhood in Gayo are represented in his works: Alam Gayo (Gayo landscape), Pemuda Gayo (Gayo youth), Laut tawar Gayo (Gayo lake). He said he illustrated all corners of Gayo people’s lives, from a social, economic and cultural viewpoint.

“His paintings have a magical attraction, using deep colors. Having stayed in Buru for such a long time, his paintings also carry messages of perseverance,” art lover Dedi Panigoro said.

True Artist — Unrecognized
Solo painting exhibition
by Permadi Liosta

Galeria Milenium
D’Best shopping mall
Jl. Fatmawati
South Jakarta
tel. 7507828
July 11 to Aug. 6 (10 a.m. to 8 p.m.)