Exhibits with angels, politicians, wayang puppets, students, villains and memorials: the narrative art of Heri Dono is a mouthpiece of the collective, frequently modelled after his own head. The Indonesian people to be precise, as Dono was born in Jakarta in 1960. The dominant theme is undeniably the political situation in his country.
For example, the work Proklamasi (2007) deals with the declaration of independence from the Netherlands in 1945 and the dubious consequences this had for the residents of the new Indonesia; after the Japanese and the Dutch, it was now the Indonesian elite who took the reigns of power, so that democracy was still nowhere to be seen on the horizon.
But more recent history was also on display, such as the transforming work Flying Angels, the original version of which he created in 1996, under the Suharto regime. In 1998, during the Reformasi after Suharto's death, he set the angels, who were caught in a net, free. But in 2001 the new freedom turned out to be so superficial that Dono again caged the angels, this time in a cocoon, from which they observe the world.
Do you have to keep a historical timeline on hand when viewing these works? Or are the images alone, along with the summary info provided on the notes, enough to enable you to understand the work? This is certainly not art for art's sake; it is clearly art with a message.
In addition to commenting on our collective post-colonial history, Heri Dono also comments on the function of the art world, for example with Museum of Ethnography (2001). This work exposes a sensitive subject, namely the unilateral perspective of ethnographic museums, which traditionally only display other country's exotic cultures, rather than the culture of the devisers themselves, the western powers. Dono's museum consists of ten aluminium peepshows, each equipped with tableaus showing clichés from the whole world of figures, from Carlsberg beer, Charlie Chaplin and Superman to wayang puppets and apes in the jungle.
This artist has an extensive international CV in the art world. Why this one man show is being presented in the Tropenmuseum, and why Dono's art and that of many others is consistently labelled as ethnic is the subject of a public debate on 13 December 2009.
The exhibit can be viewed up to and including 28 February 2010 in the Tropenmuseum’s Parkzaal.