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White Lotus

The title of "White Lotus" which also serves as the underlying theme of this solo exhibition. From the theme, it is obvious that Diputra is talking about highly "ascetic" symbolism that uses as its basis the lotus flower. For Diputra, the white lotus is representative of his views about a lot of things. Naturally, those things are related to the ways he views life. "Purity and kindness are invaluable things in our soul. Acts of kindness are performed out of sincere hearts, because sincerity comes from purity. Purify can make us feel at peace, like the Lotus flower, which always bloom in calm water. It is a symbol of silence and peace".

Participating Artists

I Made Widya Diputra

Aminudin TH Siregar Curator

The latest works by I Made Widya Diputra present the idioms of paintings and installation works. The works were created in series, each given the title of “White Lotus”—which also serves as the underlying theme of this solo exhibition. From the theme, it is obvious that Diputra is talking about highly “ascetic” symbolism that uses as its basis the lotus flower. For Diputra, the white lotus is representative of his views about a lot of things. Naturally, those things are related to the ways he views life.

Diputra explains his reasons for his choice of the white lotus: “Purity and kindness are invaluable things in our soul. Acts of kindness are performed out of sincere hearts, because sincerity comes from purity. Purity can make us feel at peace, like the Lotus flower, which always blooms in calm water. It is a symbol of silence and peace.”

Diputra's interest in plants is a bit out of ordinary if we compare it with the general tendency in the themes of the contemporary art works by young artists who tend to present issues of identity, social and societal problems, and issues pertaining to the contemporary culture. Themes based on the world of flora and fauna are immediately conceived of as out of date.

But there are artists such as Yunizar who could perhaps best represent the contemporary artists dealing with such themes. With the dearth of themes about the natural life today, we can sense how the interest among young artists in such “simple themes” (in this case the theme of the floral world) has been in decline. I wonder them: Does this mean that the simple themes are considered “less contemporary”? I think not.

It is precisely the themes that one tends to see as trivial, presenting issues of small narratives, which I think often mark the development of contemporary art. I thus think it is understandable if art observers subsequently subscribe to the old adage of contemporary art: “It is not the theme that is important; rather, it is how the theme is presented as an issue in the art.”

S. Sudjojono—who often painted flowers—once theorized: “It is not about prettiness, but about the truth.” In this case, the “truth” is about the thoroughness in “questioning something” and not about the thoroughness in “embellishing something”. It is in such process of “questioning something” that an artist actually faces issues of “contemporariness”. At the same time, the artist might be easily misled, trapped in romanticism: when the flower is painted merely to “celebrate” the beauty of nature. In this case, the artist's interest in exploring plant lives is generally related to the aspect of creation, of shapes and colors, and sometimes related with their sense of awe about God's creations on Earth.

It is rare for a true modern artist to envision certain “symbolic meaning” behind the depiction of plants (as evidenced in the works by Vincent van Gogh or Claude Monet). In the case of the development of ‘modern art' in Indonesia, however, one can detect a different tendency in the flower paintings by S. Sudjojono. S. Sudjojono's flower paintings still contain symbolic intentions. We can observe such tendency in his “notes” of short aphorism on his canvases.

Sometimes, as obvious in Diputra's works White Lotus #3 and White Lotus #4, the layers of texts (some of which are almost illegible due to the overlapping texts) remind us of S. Sudjojono's flower bouquets. I am not sure whether Diputra has “studied S. Sudjojono”. However, Diputra admits that his passion of writing has been satisfied enough as he creates his artworks. The “notes” often (or may) have nothing to do with the content or message of the painting. In general, such “scribbling” often hint at certain meanings hidden by the artist. At this point, one can detect the similarities between Diputra and S. Sudjojono, and the artist that I have previously mentioned: Yunizar. Naturally, each of these artists has different objectives.

We will subsequently say this: It is in the traditional forms of art that the flower's symbolic meaning appears more strongly. What the Western modernists have left behind are the “contents” that the canvases might contain. They thoroughly liberate the plane of the canvas from the narratives. Meanwhile, for us in Indonesia, such matters are not entirely relevant, as our “modernist artists” still leave some space for meaning. They did not entirely discard the “treasury of the traditional art” that still prized symbolism, viewing it as an important issue in art. Although we find formalist works in the development of our modern art, these proponents of formalism had not thoroughly done away with meaning. This is unique in our modern art. In the contemporary development today, symbolism is even further strengthened in the works by our artists.

The Paradox

And thus we see how in the long history of our civilization, the Lotus has been used as a symbol related with several issues about our life. The flower is linked with meanings that are “spiritual” and “philosophical” in nature. In its more secular use, stylized forms of the flower are often used as insignias for different organizations, be it religious, educational, provincial, and civil institutions, or those of the state or the military.

I think, however, that Diputra does not merely assign meanings to his works as alternatives to the symbolic meanings of the Lotus. It seems that he moves further away from the “official” meanings by proposing other symbolic contents that are not only in harmony with the existing meanings but also present opposite alternatives.

We see, for example, how the use of industrial materials in the making of the Lotus calyces or paintings seems to be contradictory to the natural theme that I Made Widya Diputra—also known as Lampung—wishes to present.

In the beginning we can sense how Lampung invites us to enter into a space of “meditation”, to reflect on a “philosophy” of purity. Such an invitation, however, seems to conflict with the materials used. The entire “White Lotus” series in this exhibition have been made using silicon, a non-organic polymer, which can be found in liquid, gel, rubber, or hard plastic forms. To create his works, Lampung uses silicone glass sealant, which is generally used as adhesive for glass materials. There is thus a paradox in the use of the nonorganic material and the image of nature that the Lotus presents. The paradox hints at certain meanings in Lampung's works.

Many people understand how the Lotus, in various cultures, but especially in the Eastern religions, is understood to symbolize purity, enlightenment, self-regeneration, and rebirth. The flower is seen to represent perfectly the human condition. The flower blooms even in filthy water. The Mahayana Buddhists as well as Hindus perceive the similarity between the Lotus flower and the task of an avatar, the creature that, having attained perfection, decides to return to the cycle of rebirth (the samsara), to help humanity to evolve. In another perception, the term 'avatar' (from Sanskrit 'Avatāra') is understood as to mean “descend”. In Hindu mythology, the gods manifest themselves by “descending” to the world to return it to the condition of balance after having been through the stage of evil. It is these “gods” that are seen to be “the Avatars”.

In Hindu tradition, the Lotus is used in ceremonies/the yadnya, because it contains many religious meanings. The Lotus lives in three natures (the soil/land, water, and air), representing three realms (the bhur, bhuah, and swah). Although residing in muddy water, Lotus leaves and flowers rise over the water surface, and as it blooms, the flower is fragrant. The sweet-smelling flower is seen to symbolize the abode of Hyang Widhi, or God. Its conical bud is seen to resemble an altar for meditation or semadhi. As it blooms, the flower seems to point to all directions, representing the compass points (asta dala). The fragrance, meanwhile, is believed to enhance the quality of our meditation. The narratives of the Lotus, therefore, are not expository in nature.

I think Lampung's background as a Hindu is strongly related to his interest in the Lotus, although the relationship might be quite tangled and complex. By this I mean that I do not intend to convince you that the relationship might reside in Lampung's subconsciousness. Of course, one can perceive it as such, but there are other contexts that can be examined as supporting elements. These aspects also play a role, but one that is secular in nature. The use of silicone glass sealant, for example, can perhaps point us to another direction.

We are aware that the synthetic Lotus that appears in Lampung's works contains something that is inherently paradoxical. In itself, the way the flower lives and blooms in the nature is also distinctively paradoxical. I think such paradoxes might well serve as the basis for Lampung's ideas—not only about human as individuals, but also about everything pertaining to life processes.

Lately we can see how in his artistic journey a distinctive feature emerges out of Lampung's works: the use of silicon. To him, the material takes the role of paints. Lampung freely arranges how the material is driven out of its tube. Sometimes he inserts it into a plastic bag that has been punched with a hole. The artist then shapes and piles up the material “drip by drip”, creating a kind of line according to the pattern that he wants to make. As it dries, the texture formed by the silicon feels very supple and soft. Such texture presents endless exploration possibilities for Lampung. At first he was amazed at the result, and then he became aware that the material deserves further explorations. He has spent tubes upon tubes of silicone glass sealant. He does not only use it to create distinct textures, but also to create the lotus calyces. Although it is not a common material for molds, thanks to Lampung's exploration, it has become something that is quite “authentic” and “original”, in the midst of the frequent usage of resins as the main material to create object art in Indonesia.

The use of silicone is not limited only in the White Lotus series. In the previous series of works, Lampung has explored forms that I call “organic”. The work titled Fetish#1 (2010), for example, is representative of such organic forms. In this series, Lampung mostly combines two or more materials. In Fetish#1, he adds metal to the process. The contrast between “the soft” and “the hard” can be perceived as the formal strength of Lampung's works, in the sense that the contradiction arises out of the two different materials often appears as a distinctive feature in his works. Lampung, however, does not emphasize on the contradiction, but instead tends to bridge the two contradictory characteristics in order to create a sense of harmony.

Such an approach is, I think, owes to his intensive explorations in the formal aspects of art. He studies the aspect of “harmony”, “balance”, “composition”, and the “surface quality” in an artistic journey. Although formalism in art tends to avoid meaning, I think in this case Lampung is dealing with the meaning of “balance” and “harmony”, in relation to his personal reflections. Such an experience gives rise to a distinct sensitivity within him.

Lampung shows similar tendency in the White Lotus series today. In some cases, Lampung adds more “natural elements” such as stones and gravel. In one installation, tall, curved stem is added to the white calyces, giving rise to an impression of a dynamic and flexible garden of lotuses.

To a certain point, Lampung does not wish to create distinct meanings apart from the perception about the peace found in a garden of Lotus according to his vision. The artificial appearance in the “garden installation” and the “silicone painting”, however, hint at another critical issue: that of the contemporary culture.

Banality, dishonesty, insincerity, deceptiveness masquerading as truth are prevalent among us (we are reminded of the garden made of plastic plants in an indoor space, in an airport or in malls). The factory-made, mass-produced “artificial plants” reflect our fear—or make a parody out of it—about the environmental pathology. The boundary between “the natural” and “the artificial” has been blurred further.

I think with his works Lampung is presenting ambiguous and paradoxical realities. His works of installation contains the idea of a nature-related catastrophe. In themselves, the works succeed in presenting an irony. Perhaps it is the idea that Lampung is offering us, behind the personal reflection that is initially directed merely for himself.

Bandung, November 2010
Aminudin TH Siregar