Retrospective exhibition celebrates Indonesia & Australia cultural relations

‘Culture and Nature’ 2012 – Gede Gunada. Image courtesy of George Fragopoulos

The popularity of art has risen during the COVID19 pandemic. Not only is art providing practical and therapuetical benefits to isolated people due to the lockdown measures, art is also creating opportunities to foster positive international cultural and political relations.

The ‘Artists’ Camp Retrospective’, an exhibition of artworks and photographs made during two unique intercultural events held in 2011-16 in the Northern Territory of Australia by the Indonesian and Aboriginal contemporary artists, opened at the Northern Center for Contemporary Art (NCCA) Darwin Friday 24th July. The exhibition is open to the public in Darwin and continues until 23rd August, 2020.

The exhibition’s significance was underlined by the attendance of both Indonesian and Australian dignatories. The opening was officiated by the newly appointed Indonesian Consul to the Northern Territory, Gulfan Afero and the Australian Ambassador to Indonesia Gary Quinlan. Other audience members included Anthea Griffin the Australian Consul General to Bali, Sandra Henderson the Director of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) Darwin,  the Director International Engagement of the Northern Territory Department of Trade, Business and Innovation Kate Walker, and the local Federal Australian Parliament Member for Solomon Luke Gosling, MHR, who has been a strong supporter of the Artists’ Camp art and cultural engagement project with Indonesia.

Indonesian Consul General to the Northern Territory of Australia Gulfan Afero during his opening speech at the NCCA. Image courtesy of George Fragopoulos

The opening was live-streamed, distinguishing it as a virtual and actual experience, to people unable to attend due to the COVID19 travel restrictions, or otherwise. Online attendees included the exhibiting Indonesian artists Made Budhiana, Made Sudibia, Made Dalbo Suarimbawa, Wayan Wirawan, Dewa Rata Yoga, Gede Gunada and Ni Nyoman Sani from Bali, and Suryani born in East Java. Others present via the Zoom linkup were the former long-term Ambassador to Australia Excellency Najib Riphat Kesoema and personnel from The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia in Jakarta.

More than fifty paintings celebrate the dynamic character of the rugged and unforgiving Australian landscape, along with distinctions of the Aboriginal culture, specific to regions of the Northern Territory (NT).  The retrospective of the Artists Camps, held in 2011-2012 and in 2015-2016, includes photographs taken by the artists, highlighting distinctions of the natural environment, events and meetings as a part of the Camp’s programs.  

‘Tiwi Landscape’ 2016, Ni Nyoman Sani. Image courtesy of George Fragopoulos

“The ‘Artists’ Camp Retrospective’ is a positive initiative  bringing the cultures of the two nations closer together,” said Indonesian Consul to the Northern Territory Gulfan Afero, who strongly supports the project and urged all relevant parties to ensure that the event continues into the future. “The eight Indonesian artists have travelled through several regions of the Northern Territory, familiarizing themselves with the foreign environment and interpreting the landscape and Aboriginal ethnicity producing excellent works. This collaborative project has succeeded in connecting Indonesia – Australia in an outstanding art and cultural engagement.”

The Artists Camp has a long and unique tradition of engagement, initially the concept of the original director of Museums and Art Galleries in the Northern Territory (MAGNT), Colin Jack- Hinton. Jack-Hinton realized that as of 1978, the north of Australia had been interpreted in art and carvings by aboriginal people for thousands of years, however, not by non-aboriginal Australian artists.

The participating Indonesian artists attend the exhibition opening via Zoom. Image courtesy of George Fragopoulos

With the intention to create a body of works to expand the collections of the museums and galleries in the NT to increase the understanding of this largely wild part of northern Australia, in 1978 Hinton invited a range of Australian artists to visit the beautiful and culturally rich Top End of the NT to interpret aboriginal culture and the landscape.

The Artists Camp then evolved into a broader initiative in 1990 through the vision of long-time collector of Indonesian and Aboriginal art, and former chairman of the Board of MAGNT Colin McDonald.  McDonald took Indonesian artist Made Budhiana to the NT to participate in the first international Artists Camp, along with Australian and Malaysian artists. In 2011 the concept was resurrected by McDonald and the NCCA inviting Budhiana and three other Balinese artists to spend six weeks in the Top End, and some of these works are on display in the retrospective.

Paintings by Made Sudibia, Made Budhiana, Suryani, Gede Gunada & Wayan Wirawan. Images courtesy of Maurice O’Riordan & George Fragopoulos.

“The Artists’ Camps intend to develop and grow a deeper sense of cultural understanding and appreciation between different peoples,” states McDonald in his curatorial essay about the‘Artists’ Camp Retrospective’. “Indonesia is a culturally and artistically rich nation.  Art is everywhere in Indonesia from the beautiful ceremonial offerings laid out each day in Bali, to the strong emerging contemporary art which is impressing the world and attracting international collectors.”

“I discovered many strange and surprising things that were vastly different to anything I had experienced in Indonesia,” said Made Budhiana who participated in both of the Artist’s Camp. “I was amazed by the vastness and scorched natural setting that stretched on for kilometers without any inhabitants. There was no food or water, yet also other dangers such as the constant threat of wild animals and cold weather. It was then a challenge to absorb and express these influences into new works that were different to any of my previous paintings.”

Members of the Indonesian consulate and VIPs pictured during the preview of the ‘Artists’ Camp Retrospective’ at the NCCA Darwin. Image courtesy of George Fragopoulos

Ni Nyoman Sani, one of Bali’s leading woman artists attended the 2015 event and commented,“I am grateful to have been a participant in such an enriching experience with the powerful NT landscape and aboriginal culture. I learned to connect with nature, yet outside what I am familiar with in Bali. It’s important to celebrate and share the uniqueness of the ‘Artist’s Camp’. When creating art in nature we enrich our mind, body and spirit.” 

“This virtual exhibition will keep cultural communities in both countries connected in the middle of this COVID-19 pandemic,” said Australia’s Ambassador to Indonesia, Gary Quinlan. “Australia and Indonesia first connected four hundred years ago when traders from Makassar visited northern Australia. Those visits left an imprint in both countries’ language, ritual and memory. As two such close neighbours with distinctive cultural traditions we need to share more of these perspectives to learn more about each other. This exhibition helps us do so.”

‘In the Darkness of Night’ – Made Budhiana. Image M. O’Riordan

‘Artists Camp Retrospective’
Friday 24th July – Saturday 22nd August 2020
Northern Center of Contemporary Arts,

Vimy Lane Parap, Darwin, NT, Australia.

Words: Richard Horstman

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