The Flaneur Exhibition: Nadi Gallery, Jakarta, West Java

Jakarta is a city that loves painting but has had a somewhat distant relationship with sculpture. It is only in the last decade or so that galleries here have promoted an understanding and appreciation of sculpture, with Edwin’s being the first.

Nadi Gallery is continuing with that mission with its display of the edgy sculptures of Abdi Setiawan, or Zet. On view are roughly textured figures in materials ranging from teak and acrylic paint to fiberglass and aluminum. They are grouped in clusters to represent aspects of real life in the city of Yogyakarta. Zet’s subjects are not Javanese priyayis or nobility but ordinary people met on the street. There are sex workers, workmen, street vendors, a tattooed man and a student.

Ignoring President Yudhoyono’s personal request to women to dress modestly, Zet’s young women wear sleeveless shirts that leave their bellies uncovered, exposing their navels.

The figures are embedded with working-class innocence, like children playing grownups, revealing the artist’s ability to blend craftsmanship with genuine human interest.

Does he specialize in particular subjects? “No I don’t look for a special character, I will just be struck in passing, it could be a person’s movements, a smile, a dress, the way a bag is slung over a shoulder, or just anything at all,” Zet said.

Early on in his career, before graduating from the Institute of Arts in Yogyakarta (ISI), many of Zet’s subjects were drawn from brothels. One such work was sent to the CP Biennale Urban/Culture in 2005. The Brothel features life-sized wooden sculptures of sex workers, their clients, a pimp and a becak driver in a dimly lit setting with cheap furniture, loud music, plastic flowers, pornographic magazines and the scent of cheap perfume.

At the Jogja Biennale VIII in the same year, Zet presented another city scene, Transit, featuring four life-sized figures with suitcases at a bus terminal.

Zet’s childhood fascination with puppets has been the impetus for making his sculptures. As a boy, he would lie in bed staring for hours at the puppets of heroes that hung above him.

He went to art school in Yogyakarta, where he “learned the basics”, but deviated from the prescribed norms of representing the figure after watching a video of a circus performance, which was augmented with music and artistic visual aspects. “I wanted to differ from the prevalent academic style of the time. I wanted to make communicative art,” Zet said.

The Flaneur
A Sculpture Project by Abdi Setiawan
Sept. 27-Oct. 8
Nadi Gallery
Jl. Kembang Indah III, Blok G3 no 4-5, Puri Indah, Jakarta 11610
Phone: 62 21 5818129

Carla Bianpoen