“Old and broken photographs and prints inspire me greatly. It just so happens that these materials contain a lot of intriguing elements. And after I explored these contents, it turns out it contains of historical elements, which led me to dig deeper into my country’s history. Like stumbling upon a jigsaw puzzle and assembling it.
Although it’s incomplete, at least those photographs are capable of building my imagination that I pour onto my works. My works are not a copy of the photographs I found, rather photographs that have been modified according to my aesthetic and imaginative needs in order to reinterpret history itself.”
(b. 1963, INDONESIA)
WORKS BY THIS ARTIST
2014, Oil and Acrylic on Canvas, 200 x 200 cm
Bali-based Mangu Putra, on the other hand, chooses not to replace or conceal, but rather, fully reveal the faces of the subjects in his chosen historical pictures—as a form of resistance to the way they had long been kept hidden and forgotten in Indonesia’s official narrative. His work in the show, Vickers Carden, belongs to Putra’s decade-long investigation into lost archival images in Balinese history. While the photographs he finds are far from forming the complete picture, he sees every image as part of a puzzle—perpetually intriguing him to dig deeper in search for the missing pieces in his country’s history; pieces erased from monuments and textbooks.
The subjects in these images are veterans who fought to uphold the country’s independence from Dutch forces in the mid 20th century, known as the Balinese Puputan War. While he employs his distinct hyperrealist approach in his recreations of these images, Putra does not entirely copy them—choosing instead to assert carefully placed artistic details and imbue the paintings with his own reinterpretation of these histories. The original photograph of Vickers Carden, for instance, was taken during daytime, showing a bright background of luscious trees. Without any accompanying description, the subjects in photograph remain elusive, containing minimal clues towards their specific place and agency in history.
In Putra’s painting of the same image, however, the background is dark, placing vivid focus on the soldiers. Moreover, at the centre of the image, Putra inserts the Indonesian flag—as if to say that it is they who are responsible for Indonesia’s liberation from colonial forces, for it is they who risked their lives to fight rather than be once again subjugated. Perhaps most crucially, there is a strong sense of empathy and intimacy in Putra’s portrayal of these subjects, for he knows their stories well—having interviewed veterans in the past, and being himself related by blood to some of them.
2020, Oil on Linen, 150 x 200 cm
Putra’s other work in this show is an intricately detailed, hyperrealist picture of one of Bali’s sacred mountains, Mount Batur. While it depicts an entirely different subject matter from Vickers Carden and was drawn from a contemporary rather than historical image, Mount Batur holds a profound, unseen connection to Putra’s depictions of the Puputan War in the sense that, like the majestic mountain, these Balinese wars were also seen as holy—rooted in the teachings of Balinese Hinduism to protect their hometown. Putra thus similarly captures this sacred longing to defend one’s land in Mount Batur—this time, from the contaminations of modern society.
The Balinese believe that the mountain and the lake surrounding it are sites to the Goddess of the Lake, Dewi Danu, who is believed to provide vital irrigation water from the natural springs that flow through the lower slopes of Mt. Batur. While rich in color and texture, Putra’s depiction of Mt. Batur subtly reveals the tensions between these two realities: Mt. Batur as a life-giving natural source, and a popular tourist attraction vulnerable to exploitation. The trees are dry and thin, the lake is barely seen, and any sign of life is hauntingly absent. Contrary to the luscious and pure nature scene ubiquitous in colonial postcards and contemporary tourist promotions, Putra paints a landscape truer to reality—thus inciting in viewers a similar empathy, like with the memory of the Puputan War veterans, to save this deeply nourishing and spiritual site from neglect.