“For me, fine art, or rather painting, it’s not just capturing objects and then moving them raw as what they appear. Painting is a representation of the artist’s thoughts. Even if we use photo tools as a step to facilitate technical execution in capturing images, still when it is a painting there must be different values to offer. 

Jim Supangkat, a senior curator from Indonesia once said, 90% of the works of Indonesian artist have a spiritual content, because they do not start with the work of the brain or the mind but at the beginning of the work of the heart or feeling. After the sense of feeling is touched, then the artist starts to work. After the work is finished then the brain works, then the analysis is thought about. 

I agree with that, although not one hundred percent because in my work pattern it is to implement the feeling (intuitive) work pattern with the mind (cognitive) work pattern in a balanced and collective way. However, as expected by Jim, when we look back at the works of Indonesian artists, it is clear that the spiritual warmth will radiate even with the appearance of cold object or concepts.”

(b. 1973, INDONESIA)


2020, Acrylic on Linen, 145 x 200 cm

Hailing from West Sumatra, Jumaldi Alfi’s Re-Reading Landscape, Colour Guide #01 depicts a hyperrealist representation of a volcano in Indonesia, Mount Bromo. The photograph he references, however, was taken from a postcard during the Dutch colonial era—rather than being vivid with colour, it is cold, faded and monochrome. These enigmatic aesthetic qualities are precisely what enamored Alfi: drawn to its quiet atmosphere, he became deeply curious about the events that took place in the specific area surrounding the volcano at the time, moved to imagine the life and colour that the photograph concealed. 

Such an affective experience with the image may allude to what Alfi shares is a common characteristic among Indonesian artists—how for many of them, an intuitive feeling, rather than a cerebral concept, is what usually sparks their art making and fuels them to start working. Moreover, his strong attraction to such an image may also provide insight into his identity coming from West Sumatra and the Minangkabau culture, in which nature is deeply ingrained into its way of life. In Indonesia’s art history, there exists a rich lineage of Minangkabau artists that hold a profound affinity towards natural landscapes. 

2020, Acrylic on Linen, 190 x 260 cm

Nonetheless, Alfi is conscious and critical of how such nature scenes had been portrayed during the Dutch colonial era, highlighting how this piece is also part of his investigation into rereading the Mooi Indie phase in Indonesia’s art history. Mooi Indie (Beautiful Indies) artists portrayed tropical landscapes in the Dutch East Indies as romantic and picturesque—a genre that has since been contested for continuing the colonial agenda of exoticising the archipelago and whitewashing darker social realities in the country. 

Yet, despite having rooted in the colonial era, these idyllic depictions of Indonesia still emerge in contemporary art today. Alfi thus questions how Indonesia’s art history would have evolved had this genre not existed—what dominant forms and subject matters would have surfaced instead?

In these works, he sticks his black and white, hyperrealist renditions of Indonesia’s landscape taken from a colonial photograph against a dark blue backdrop, in which phrases and questions are handwritten in blue and white. The image at the centre, however, covers most of the words, making their meaning obscure and elusive to the viewer. One is thus left with only vestiges of these raw thoughts and musings, which are permanently masked by the colonial image. 

As he recontextualises the photograph and asserts his artistic hand, Alfi communicates a poignant, difficult reality—that as long as the dominant colonial narrative persists to be centred, there are infinite, invaluable thoughts and voices that will remain hidden and invisible. Nonetheless, in communicating this erasure, Alfi takes a bold step in establishing new ways to express their reality—one that asserts his voice is not lost in history.