Division, Co-Existence, Borderlessness: The Visions of Indonesian Guggenheim Fellow Entang Wiharso

A few months ago, I discovered a painting called “Melt” by renowned US-based Indonesian artist Entang Wiharso (born 1967, Tegal) that made quite an impact on me. It is a triptych featuring three separate heads, each bruised, with multiple eyes, suspended in disoriented and confused states of being. Though violent, the piece somehow manages to glimmer with a kind of humour, even hope. Isolated, the figures do inhabit one space and are touched by what looks like similar flames.

The triptych well illustrates what was the artist’s core subject for a while—his own personal experiences embedded within a strong examination of the predominant socio-political conditions of his home country. To him, creating work has been a way of understanding the human condition, of heightening our ability to perceive, feel and understand human problems like love, hate, fanaticism, religion, and ideology.

“I depict the condition of humans who are often divided by complex, multilayered political, ethnic, racial, and religious systems,” Wiharso said in 2011. “They co-exist yet their communication is limited and indirect. Figures are interconnected by intuitive as well as intellectual linkages, including ornamental vegetation, tongues, tails, intestines, animal skin patterns, fences and detailed landscapes.”




Entang Wiharso

The artist studied painting at the Indonesian Institute of Arts in Yogyakarta, graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. His life and immediate family are bicultural, biracial and the inheritors of diverse religious and spiritual legacies. Recently, his work has thematically expanded to include references to mythologies of a centuries-old animist past, the high-speed, hyper-connected lifestyle of the 21st century, universal issues of power, geopolitical structures, loss and love.

During 2018, Wiharso traveled back and forth between his studios in Yogyakarta and Rhode Island working on an installation for the National Gallery of Australia entitled, Temple of Hope: Door to Nirvana, which is featured in the current exhibition “Contemporary Worlds: Indonesia”.

A Guggenheim Fellow for 2019, Wiharso plans to connect spirituality and transcendence with national narratives about progress, destiny, acceptance and peace—particularly shedding light on the discourse around migration.

He writes: “I want to extend my previous installations of temple structures into the landscape, bring the setting and background into focus. I am developing small scale models that re-create landscape based on the materials I gather and produce during my trips to various sites. These models form the basis for a large temple installation tentatively conceived of as Temple of Hope: Tunnel of Light. Whereas previous works in my Temple of Hope series removed the structure from the landscape bringing it inside, this work will bring the temple back to the landscape to create a different feeling and perspective. My intention is to create a site that reflects hybridity and creates a sense of borderless-ness through work that celebrates humanity and provides hope for a better future.”

Entang Wiharso is represented by Arndt Fine Art that has offices in Berlin, Singapore, Zurich, New York and Melbourne.

Links: Website (www.entangwiharso.com) | Instagram (www.instagram.com/entangwiharso)


Temple of Hope: Forest of Eyes (Exhibition view Panorama, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore).  Date: 2011.  Dimensions: 350 x 300 x 400 cm. Medium: Stainless steel, aluminum, resin, light bulbs, cable, lava stone. Credit: Singapore Art Museum collection. Image courtesy of Singapore Art Museum.


The Indonesian: No Time to Hide (Installation view Indonesian Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale).  Date: 2012-2018.  Dimensions: 1500 x 550 x 500 cm. Medium: Graphite powder, resin, color pigment, thread, steel, flame light bulbs, electrical cable. Credit: Gembong Hardian, Bumi Purnati Indonesia.


Crush Me. Date: 2012-2014 Dimensions: 340 x 650 x 88 cm. Medium: Resin, graphite powder, color pigment, thread, light bulbs Credit: Olivia Kwok, Arndt Art Agency.  Essentially about borders designed to protect as well as divide, the surface of the work is embedded with autobiographical material. Each side depicts different versions of the same story, becoming a public stage that shows how the vulnerability of exposure and external conditions distort reality.


Temple of Hope Hit by a Bus (Detail of light). Date: 2011-2014. Dimensions: 300 x 325 x 225 cm Medium: Graphite powder, resin, thread, color pigment, lava stone, light bulbs, electrical cable, steel bars, screws and bolts Credit: Black Goat Studios. The metaphor of the temple hit by a bus, the crushed corner, depicts a collision of ideas and beliefs. Though damaged, the main temple structure is still strong: the positive way is stronger than the negative way. The heart illuminates the inscriptions of many beliefs on the roof, creating a space of hope and dreams where everyone can celebrate the spirit of mutual independence.


Bruised. Date: 2018. Dimensions: 300 x 500 cm. Medium: pen on canvas Credit: Achmad Baidlowi, Black Goat Studios.


Borderless: Reclaim Landscape. Date: 2013. Dimensions: 300 x 1000 cm (five panels, each 300 x 200 cm) Medium: Oil on linen Credit: Olivia Kwok, Arndt Art Agency. Fences (here the tree line) define territories and the boundaries of ownership, split between the private and public sides of life.


Kaleidoscope. Date: 2018-2019. Dimensions: 300 x 600 cm (triptych) Medium: acrylic, oil on canvas Credit: Black Goat Studios.


Promising Land #2. Date: 2016. Dimensions: 225 x 900 x 15 cm Medium: Aluminum, car paint, acrylic, resin, color pigment, thread, steel bar Credit: ArtJog, HPAM Yogyakarta. Referencing the history of the prophets and escape to a ‘Promised Land’, the work looks at the historical impetus of migration and displacement in relationship to economic and political power.


Home Sweet Home. Date: 2015. Dimensions: 201 x 254 x 4 cm. Medium: Cast paper, acrylic paint, yarn, acrylic mirror, wood panel. Credit: Singapore Tyler Print Institute, Singapore. The artist write: “Living in two countries and cultures disoriented my sense of place. My physical home blurred and a sense of domestic connection was anchored by people and not place. Home was with my family.”


Body Text: Aku Akan Berlindung di Wajahku. Date: 2015.  Dimensions: 217.5 x 244 x 3.5 cm Medium: Cast paper, etching, collage, gampi paper, copper Credit: Singapore Tyler Print Institute, Singapore. The body receives information that become evidence of history and collective events. The whole map of our lives is marked on our skin, our bones and our blood. Photography: Katariina Traskelin.


Self Portrait (Installation view Never Say No, Singapore Tyler Print Institute, Singapore). Date: 2015.  Dimensions: 164 x 105 cm each panel. Medium: Screen print, laser cut acrylic, acrylic vinyl sleeves, grommets, metal poles, fishing line. Credit: Singapore Tyler Print Institute, Singapore. The artist writes: “I used public images to craft a timeline that archives public events during my life to measure my self-portrait.” Photography: Katariina Traskelin.


Under Inheritance. Date: 2014-2015. Dimensions: 166 H x 375 L x 260 W cm. Medium: Aluminum, graphite powder, resin, color pigment, thread, car paint, steel, polyurethane. Credit: Black Goat Studios.The fish can be beneficial or destructive as an embodiment of Asian legacy. Heritage can be a burden that we have to carry around. The past should be respected and passed on to the new generation.