The summer that I became an adult, I spent time in Ibu Gedong's Gandhi ashram in Candi Dasa, Bali. I had just finished high school in Japan and was all set to start art school in London. My family spent many summers at this ashram but as an eighteen year old I was much more aware of my place in it, in Bali, and as an artist to be. I went on several of my own excursions, along the beach, to the top of the hill that overlooked an ocean of palmtrees, or by joining a ceremony with Balinese ashram workers.
That summer, I befriended the Javanese artist Dadang Christanto who was staying at the ashram as well. I joined him on a crowded minibus to Ubud where we visited a home stay owned by an art school friend of his, then we hopped on another minibus and he took me to the house of a very old and very legendary painter, Ida Bagus Made Poleng, after which we missed our rendezvous with his mates and got back to the ashram only just in time for the dinner bell. When I started art college, we wrote letters for some time and Dadang's were always embellished with jaunty inky doodles.
Thanks to facebook, we reconnected almost 20 years later, by coincidence finding ourselves in Ubud at the same time, and retraced our steps. I was able to visit his exhibition at the Tony Raka gallery and even sit down with Tony Raka and his family at their beautiful residence next to the gallery.
Dadang's art is not always easy to look at. His family was one of the many victims of the suppressed communist coup in 1965. His father disappeared overnight when he was eight years old, during the infamous round up of suspect members of the communist party. Subsequently, he spent his career focusing on the grief of victims of political violence and crimes against humanity, becoming part of a community of artists and intellectuals committed to social justice, formed by the famous Indonesian poet and activist W.S Rendra.
In recent years Dadang has given a voice to the victims of the West Java man made mud volcano. He erected statues called "Survivors" at the site where whole villages were wiped out by a mud volcano that was born from a exploratory gas borehole.
So how does Dadang's work impact its viewers? Many of his installations elicit floral offerings from the audience suggesting feelings of recognition, enhancing the artwork with the personal experiences of the viewers. Has there been any positive changes then as a result of Dadang's art? "In some of my experience I would say yes." he says. "My work has an impact on some people. But I think for change to take place, the result must be a synergy of the same ideology"