Paintings by Nyoman Wijaya
At Kendra Gallery of Contemporary Art, Jl. Drupadi
No. 88B, Basangkasa, Seminyak. Tel: 736628
Nyoman Wijaya studied art at the Sanggar Senin Kamis in Sanur, from 1998 to 2003. He was born in 1971 in Tabanan, into a Balinese family who made their living as cattle breeders. “From the time I was small, I learned how to take care of cows, so that I could stay in school by selling cows”, Wijaya says. “At first, I saw it as something that was just ordinary. Until one day, after I had already grown up, my father got cheated and failed in running his cattle trading business. From that point on, I started thinking about cows as an important and special subject in my life journey”.
Many of us have probably never been to a noisy, dusty cattle trading market or abattoir. Many of us, although we may like to eat beef, have never really considered where beef comes from and how it comes to be. For his exhibition, ‘as.sent’, Nyoman Wijaya is trying to comprehend the ‘journey’ or ‘fate’ of cows, and to place it in an artistic context. As the paintings ‘Berbagi Ruang’ and ‘M.150 Bisa!’ demonstrate, to find ideas for his artworks Wijaya went to the place where cows are sold in a village near his home. He has known this site since childhood. Wijaya then portrayed the cows he observed. They were tied up, lined up, or sometimes alone. Once the traders agreed on a sale, the cows were branded to give them an identifying mark to distinguish their new owners. Wijaya understands this act as: “These are signs for living creatures that are seen as commodities. That is something that happens not only to cows, but to other creatures, by other marks and means”. The Indonesian art critic Rizki A. Zaelani feels: “Wijaya is trying to remember the critical meaning of a culturally validated living event, as if to say it is something we can no longer avoid”.
There is an unnatural calm and an uncanny stillness in these paintings. A sense of silence, despair, pathos, cruelty and death. There are little or no background or external elements in these paintings; consequently we are forced to confront the image of the cow. The cow is exposed and vulnerable and appears to accept its fate. But, what is Wijaya saying in these images?
In the critical essay found in the accompanying catalogue, Rizki A. Zaelani stresses that to fully understand the meanings of Wijaya’s works, it is essential to understand his painting techniques. Zaelani points out that his paintings are aided by photographic technology. Wijaya doesn’t directly face his model, the cow, but instead recalls it through photographic detail. This is a critical point, for a photograph is not just significant as visual data alone. A photograph can also carry auxiliary memories of sensations, emotions and experiences. If we look closely at Wijaya’s paintings, we can see that the realistic method of painting he employs is not just intended to accurately ‘emulate’ the photographic representation of the cow, but, by enhancing, reducing, and even altering parts of his photographic sources, Wijaya wishes to imbue his paintings with an enduring capacity for strong emotional and reflective reaction. We become aware of the paint as a physical part of the painting, so that the cow is not merely a representation of a cow but a vehicle of expression. On the surface of his canvases, Wijaya leaves thick, textural brushstrokes. At other times they are thin, or seem to be almost transparent and in motion. By emphasizing the expressive application of the paint to his canvases, Wijaya is stressing the expressive dimensions of his images. Consequently, Wijaya’s expressive depictions of cows move our reactions to the canvases from impressions of ‘cows as powerless victims’ into subjects of deeper reflection and response.
Once we realize that Wijaya is intentionally inviting us to ‘free associate’ with his paintings, we are able to observe a variety of alternative meanings within his work. It is possible to interpret within the paintings ‘Exodus’, ‘Melewati Sisa Waktu’, ‘Percakapan Terakhir’ and ‘Bersama Kita Bisa Terikat’ the terrible plight of the Jews under the Nazi regime. Naked and branded these ‘powerless victims’ were led to their horrific slaughter. Similarly, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, the Kurds in Iraq, and other moments of senseless genocide, are found reflected in Wijaya’s powerful paintings. However, being Balinese, it is also possible to find another meaning in his work. For many Balinese, the cow is an animal that holds more cultural than natural significance. The cow has ties with the cultural attitudes and beliefs of the Balinese, especially for those who follow the Hindu-Balinese faith. Wijaya is not protesting that no more cows should be slaughtered. Rather, he is saying that the cow fits into the scheme of things. The cow has Karma. It does, in fact, go happily to its death. The slaughter of the cow becomes an ‘unrewarded sacrifice’ for the well being of mankind.
Finally, then, in the paintings ‘Meregang’ and ‘Terikat di Kaki’ we are able to appreciate the deeper meaning of Nyoman Wijaya’s work. His paintings are not about cows at all. They are about instilling values concerning the meaning of cruelty and sacrifice, and the sublime beauty and glory of death. Ultimately, Art is subversive when it pensive and makes you think.
Copyright © 2009 Dr. Rob
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