The theme of the Indonesia Pavilion at the 55th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale is Sakti, a concept taken from Indonesia’s rich cultural heritage and interpreted in the context of contemporary art practice.
In Sanskrit, sákti refers to primordial cosmic energy and the personification of divine, feminine creative energy; it also indicates change and liberation. Of Indian origin, the Hindu concept of sakti was quickly integrated by Indonesians into their local cosmology, becoming associated with such mythical female figures as the rice goddess Dewi Sri and the South Sea Queen, and with certain objects like the keris (ritual dagger).
In modern day Indonesia, with 700 living languages, sakti can be translated into other words, but the meaning is almost always the same: a strong creative energy, divine and indestructible, that contains the capacity for achievement beyond mere human ability. It also can be understood as the feminine creative principle. As such, we chose sakti as the theme for the Indonesia Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale – an exhibition that explores the inner, alternative power that is present in the creative struggle inherent in Indonesian art and life.
The concept of sakti has been the basis for our curatorial reading of art practice and has been used as a directive for the artists’ aesthetic explorations, which include historical and social aspects as well as personal memory and the value of local cultural pluralism within the global discourse. The norms embedded in saktiencompass the “other” power, a subtle form as opposed to brute strength, almost hidden, but nevertheless tangibly poignant. The challenge has been how to draw on the principles of sakti while illuminating continuity in the progression of past, present and future in a contemporary artistic language.
The selected artists represent a cross-section of Indonesian artists working today. Astari, the most senior artist, studied painting in the U.S. and U.K. in the late 1980s, and had already set up her workshop in the early 1990s; Albert Yonathan Setyawan is pursuing a master’s degree in ceramic art from Seika University in Japan. Entang Wiharso and Eko Nugroho are well known in the international art scene, Titarubi is recognized for her large scale sculptures and installation, and composer Rahayu Supanggah has participated in a host of international collaborations, such as Realizing Rama (a contemporary dance production by ASEAN), and created the scores for Robert Wilson’s I La Galigo.
For the 2013 Venice Biennale, the Indonesia Pavilion has taken up residence in the Arsenale. It is a graduation of sorts, reflected in the ambitious scope inherent in the theme Sakti. Notwithstanding their difference in age, gender and the materials used, the participating artists have created works that interact with one another to articulate sakti as a cultural force, exploring the past, present and future.
The pavilion can be seen as a metaphor mirroring Indonesia’s culture of the present time: hybrid, syncretic and breaking through the borders of individual and social spaces. Such borderlessness is also revealed in the artworks, which include drawing, sculpture, ceramics, music (sound) and videos. While retaining their own character, the works interact with each other, through the pavilion’s layout, lighting and sound, all revealing sakti’s inherent multiple qualities.
55th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale