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Navigating Truths, Traditions and Taboos: A Group Show of Contemporary Artists in Southeast Asia

Navigating Truths, Traditions and Taboos: A Group Show of Contemporary Artists in Southeast Asia

From abstraction, figuration, hyperrealism to contemporary sculpture, six established artists from Indonesia, Singapore and the United States employ various artistic approaches to navigate their ever-shifting interior, societal, or cultural landscapes. Going beyond the limits of traditional representations, they offer rich, deeply nuanced perspectives on diverse contemporary realities in Southeast Asia.


Six artists from Indonesia, Singapore and the United States employ unconventional approaches in various practices and traditions, from abstract expressionism, hyperrealist painting to contemporary sculpture, to intimately navigate their ever-shifting interior, societal, or cultural landscapes. Whether they’re making visible otherwise invisible emotions, satirically critiquing stereotypes about their locales, or questioning dominant representations of larger beliefs and worldviews, the six artists immerse themselves in their contexts to go beyond the limits of traditional representations and offer instead rich, deeply nuanced perspectives on diverse contemporary realities in Southeast Asia.

West Sumatra-born artist Ibrahim is known for his evocative abstract paintings that masterfully juxtapose colour; capture quick, spontaneous movements on canvas; and portray a visceral beauty free of ideological encumbrance. While he employs abstract expressionism to explore the truths of his interiority, he is still heavily influenced by his surroundings. In particular, he draws inspiration from the colours and textures of West Sumatra’s natural landscapes to translate his evolving, honest moods and feelings, ranging from calm to turbulent. Similarly born in West Sumatra, Yunizar, on the other hand, depicts recognisable objects and figures in his raw, childlike paintings and sculptures: flora, fantastic creatures, illegible texts akin to vandalisms on street corners. Yet, like Ibrahim, he imbues an expressive, affective approach in his work—determined to articulate the true feeling and essence, or rasa, of subjects that animate his immediate surroundings.

Challenging specific cultural and societal values, Bali-based artists Ashley Bickerton and the late I Gusti Ayu Kadek Murniasih employ figuration and familiar imagery to reflect critical reflections of their contexts in Bali. A westerner who has lived on the island for almost 30 years, Bickerton is hypercritical of its intoxicating tourist culture, depicting silver-skinned Balinese women against idyllic tropical backgrounds to parody the western ideal of ‘paradise’. The Balinese woman was similarly a constant subject of I (GAK) Murniasih, who subverted taboos in the local art world through her bold depictions of women’s fantasies and desires. Her pioneering works that reclaimed her sexuality and body ultimately paint a striking picture of an artist breaking free—from social convention, from the demands of the art world, and from the stereotypes of what a woman, a Balinese, and an artist could create.

In their meticulously rendered conceptual works, Indonesian artist Rudi Mantofani and Singaporean artist Suzann Victor provoke audiences to shift and broaden their perspectives of long-held systems of belief and knowledge. Victor’s haunting, ethereal sculptures of Christian icons and hearts coated in shattered stained glass boldly invite viewers to reflect on the ideologies that sustain them, whether religious or scientific, in a fresh light. A spirit of challenge similarly permeates Mantofani’s highly refined, hyperrealist paintings often described as ‘visual parables’. Manipulating everyday objects and ubiquitous symbols, such as globes and the Garuda, a mythical bird used to represent Indonesia, Mantofani literally turns our world on its head–suggesting that what we hold as capital-T Truths may actually be subjective, culturally influenced beliefs of a specific time and place.

Time & Location

Gajah Gallery

23 Mar to 1 Apr 2022

39 Keppel Road, Tanjong Pagar Distripark #03-04, Singapore, Singapore 089065