Gajah Gallery is proud to launch a landmark solo exhibition and the first comprehensive publication encompassing the two-decade oeuvre of renowned Indonesian artist, Yunizar. Edited by eminent art historian T.K. Sabapathy, the book contains essays by renowned scholars: T.K. Sabapathy, Aminudin T.H. Siregar, Ahmad Mashadi and Katherine Bruhn.
Yunizar remains a singular voice in Indonesia’s contemporary art history. His artistic career took off in the late 1990s, when the fall of Suharto triggered an art world heated with the socio-political issues of the time. Yunizar’s haunting early work, however, resisted the noise and didacticism of political art. He chose instead to focus not on grand, heroic narratives, but on the richness of the everyday. From falling fruits to mad dogs to anonymous, alienated people, his subjects may have been mundane—but his paintings were filled with emotional tension and a plethora of meaning. Radically subverting conventional notions of beauty, Yunizar imbued his canvases with smudges; muted earthy colours; and raw, crude lines and figures. The deceptive simplicity of this visceral style, paired with the psychological depths and elusiveness of his subjects, is ultimately what persists to make his works powerful.
The works on display capture the unique trajectory and milestones of Yunizar’s career: from his paintings of enigmatic figures in dark, archaic colours from the late 1990s; his Coretan works that infuse rhythmic, ‘unreadable’ scribbles and draw our attention to the expressive power of texts; to his bold, eccentric bronze sculptures that developed in the 2010s. Yet, they also reveal how Yunizar’s evolution is far from linear. Traces of Yunizar’s Coretan series have emerged since the 1990s, and continue to surface in his work today. Curators and writers praise these impressionistic writings as resisting fixed, conventional meanings; rather, they capture more profound kinds of communication. The complexities of these works are thus testament to how there is still much to unpack in the works of Yunizar—prompting the need for ‘new perspectives’.
The seminal book is a rigorous examination of the deeper and broader implications of Yunizar’s work: Aminudin T.H. Siregar contextualises Yunizar within the pioneering art collective KSR Jendela, tracing his connections with its members whose rich synergies buttressed his confidence as a young artist. He highlights nuances in Yunizar’s evolution over the years, and situates his oeuvre within the broader contexts of Indonesian art history. Katherine Bruhn’s interview with Yunizar, recalling his childhood in Tawali, West Sumatra, offers a particularly revealing account of his youth and how he emerged as an artist from his unique artistic heritage in West Sumatra.
Spotlighting a vital moment in his career, T.K. Sabapathy traces the artist’s unexpected, yet steady expansion into three-dimensional art practice—unpacking the fluid impact of his paintings which dominates his oeuvre on producing sculptural forms and compositions, and analyzing his distinct figural sculptures. Finally, Ahmad Mashadi presents a fascinating historiographical account of debates surrounding KSR Jendela’s significance—ultimately launching a critical discussion on how the emergence of the group opens up dynamic entry points into deeper understandings of Indonesian modern and contemporary art.
The book ultimately marks 15 years’ worth of critical and institutional acclaim for Yunizar, both within Southeast Asia and across the globe. In 2007, he held a solo show at the National University of Singapore Museum (NUS), Singapore. His works are currently found in the collections of major art institutions, such as the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), the Long Museum in Shanghai, and the Benesse Art Collection in Japan. Most recently, in 2021, he was the only Southeast Asian artist selected to participate in Frieze Sculpture, London.
YUNIZAR: New Perspectives is now available for purchase on our webstore!
About the Artist
Born in Tawali, West Sumatra, Yunizar earned his fine arts degree at the Indonesian Institute of Arts in Yogyakarta – a school of national pride in the heart of Indonesia’s artistic and cultural capital. Yunizar’s training reveals itself in his intuitive, expressive style, balanced with sophisticated compositions and subtle palettes. In his early work, he deliberately dirtied and smudged a palette of earthy colours—yellows, browns and greens—as he thoughtfully reworked and layered his canvases with pencil and acrylic.
During his studies, Yunizar co-founded an art group called the Kelompok Seni Rupa Jendela together with five other Minang students. Amid the socio-political art that flooded the Indonesian art world after the 1998 Reformation, which saw the fall of the Suharto regime, the KSR Jendela crucially avoided overtly political themes. Instead, the group acted as a sanctuary for the artists to exchange ideas, experiment with form and material, and hone their distinct artistic sensibilities. By the late 1990s, the works that Yunizar produced were a breath of fresh air. Resisting grand, heroic narratives of political art, Yunizar set his gaze instead on the everyday—determined to articulate the feeling and essence, or rasa, of subjects that animated his immediate surroundings.
Yunizar’s crude, childlike style, composed of raw lines and fantastical imagery, may appear naive at first glance, but in fact radiates deep mystery and elegance. Over the years, Yunizar has carefully transformed his practice, exploring motifs that increasingly collapse boundaries between the real and the imaginary—from homes and dwellings, to mythical creatures such as the symbolically charged Garuda, enshrined on Indonesia’s national emblem. Amid these dynamic changes in his oeuvre, what persists to fuel Yunizar’s practice is a deep-seated trust in his intuition, and a singular ability to see power in the ordinary.