Looking at Art - October

<strong>Dadang Christanto</strong><br/><i>Untitled</i> 2001<br/>Etching edn 20 (workshop proof)<br/>21 x 16.5cm [image] 39.5 x 35.5cm [paper]<br/>Collaborator: Basil Hall<br/>Printer: Monique Auricchio<br/>Charles Darwin University Art Collection – NTU969<br/>Gifted by the artist & Northern Editions Printmaking Workshop, 2001 <br/>Image © the artist

Dadang Christanto

Dadang Christanto was born in Tegal, Central Java, Indonesia in 1957. He is a significant international artist who has participated in major biennales and exhibitions around the world. He has been artist-in-residence at the Universities of South Australia, Magdeburg and Berlin, at Monash University, The Australian National University, the Ecole cantonale de l’Art du Valais in Switzerland and the Manukau School of Arts, Auckland, New Zealand.

A “radical student” and human rights activist, Christanto graduated from the Indonesian College of Art, Yogyakarta in 1978. He was part of a community of artists and intellectuals committed to social justice, formed by the famous Indonesian poet and activist, the late W.S Rendra. In the 1980s, Christanto was also associated with the Indonesian "new art movement" formed by young anti-establishment radical artists.

Christanto's work operates on two levels of experience: as a personal and critical response to institutionalised violence and as a philosophical meditation on the nature of the human condition.

The 1965-66 army-sanctioned massacres in Indonesia – known as the “killing times” or “forgotten years” – are a major theme in Christanto's work. During this period, the artist's father was "taken away" by night when Christanto (then only eight years’ old) and his siblings slept. His father’s fate and the reasons behind his “disappearing”, like that of countless others, remains unexplained and unrecorded - consigned to the past by officialdom, but kept intensely alive by personal and collective memory.

Christanto's oeuvre embraces painting, drawing, performance, sculpture and installation. His art is a means of recovering and memorialising lives that have been lost, at the same time offering a message of liberation from the burdens of history. Hailed internationally as an "artist of conscience”, Christanto's mission is as much a moral as a creative one. In his words: "What is certain is that we have a responsibility to expose a history of lies. Refuse a life of hypocrisy and injustices."

Arriving in Darwin in 1999 to lecture in Painting at the Northern Territory University (now Charles Darwin University), Christanto began a body of work that reflected the trauma of his own life journey, as a personal narrative shared by countless individuals, families and communities on a global scale at the end of the millennium. His exhibition The Count Project opened at the NTU Gallery in May 2003. It consisted of large ink works on rice paper: new materials that symbolised his transition from East to West when relocating to Australia. As Christanto described it: "In this ongoing project I have been counting the number of victims of violence. The images of different sized heads or even the small dots in my drawings represent the victims. Each head of the victims has scratches of red and black in the brain as a record of the darkness and violence of the memories of these events. Human beings are not objects."

In collaboration with Basil Hall (Editioning Manager at Northern Editions Printmaking Workshop and Lecturer in Printmaking at NTU's School of Art, 1996-2002), Christanto made several prints, including Untitled 2001. Adapting his fluid, signature drawing technique to a new medium resulted in a simple yet evocative etching - possibly a self-portrait. Its calligraphic lines and marks are reminiscent of the fine art of batik, a form he has been familiar with since childhood.

The human head, where impressions are created and memories stored, is rendered here in a single stroke of black ink, almost overpowered by an intense blood-red streak streaming from the Third Eye. On one level, the limited palette of red and black makes specific symbolic reference to bloodshed and dark memories. It may also symbolise the colours of the former Indonesian "New Order" regime. Like much of Christanto’s work, this etching nevertheless has a peaceful, meditative quality – a stark contrast to the message it conveys.

Today, Dadang Christanto practises as an independent artist based in Brisbane and is an adjunct academic at Griffith University. His work is represented in all major public collections in Australia and abroad.

[Selected references: A. Gray, Dadang Christanto, contemporary territory2004: four artists: the territory years, exhibition catalogue, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin, 21 February-3 May 2004; A. Stretton, ‘Reading Dadang Christanto’, Art and Australia, 42.2 (Summer 2004): p271-273; D. Christanto, Reconciliation, exhibition catalogue, 24Hr Art, Darwin, 2-24 June 2000; C. Clarke, Dadang Christanto: Heads and Trees, exhibition catalogue, Sherman Galleries, Sydney, 5-28 May 2005; N. Sever & C. Turner (eds), Recovering Lives, exhibition catalogue, ANU Drill Hall Gallery, Canberra, 7 August – 21 September 2008.]

Elly Baldwin, CDU Art Collection & Art Gallery Assistant
Anita Angel, Curator CDU Art Collection & Art Gallery

27 September 2010

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