Agus Suwage

b. 1959, Purworejo, Indonesia
Lives and works in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Agus Suwage is known for his paintings, drawings, sculptures, and installations that relentlessly investigate the interrelationships between multiple forms of identity – touching on issues of ethnicity, religion, and politics – as viewed through a very personal lens. Over the course of his 35-year career, he has continually returned to the self-portrait as a primary motif through which not only to address these broader socio-political issues but also to probe what it means to be an artist. He has had a longstanding fascination with the process of artistic inspiration, with notions of artistic influence, and with the role of the artist in society.

Appropriation, particularly from his own work – but also from the works of his peers, of iconic works of the past, and of the contemporary mass media – is a central, ongoing strategy for Agus, a process of recycling and recontextualizing that parallels the cycle of life and death that has been an underlying theme throughout his career, and which is grounded in the spiritual traditions of Java’s ancient Hindu Buddhist culture. The artist’s mixed Chinese Javanese heritage, and his experience as a Christian convert to Islam, have informed his approach to cultural pluralism and religious syncretism. His works have often made critiques – sometimes pointed, sometimes veiled – of various forms of intolerance and of the attempt to impose a single rigid, monolithic structure on society, whether by Indonesia’s authoritarian Suharto regime (1966-98) or more recently by the rise of a fundamentalist strain of Islam in Indonesia. The specter of violence recurs in many of his works, creating a somber mood that is leavened by humor and an irreverent spirit of self-mockery and irony. Agus is a master of paint and watercolor, and his works shimmer with vibrant color delineated by boldly assured line drawing, the use of textual components, and startling juxtapositions of images – all hallmarks of his early training in graphic design.

Country: Indonesia