“A lasting impression one got from the exhibition “After Darkness: Southeast Asian Art in the Wake of History” at the Asia Society Museum in New York was the sense of art’s power to propel. Walking a tight rope between personal aesthetics and the repressive sociopolitical conditions of their countries, seven artists and a collaborative group—from Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar, respectively—demonstrated their roles as radical emissaries of change.
While the show might be too small to be called a survey exhibition, it certainly spawned a conversation about the roots of the artists’ practices. Far from being gratuitous anti-government propaganda generated for international consumption, the exhibits represented the humanity in the various countries. Perhaps the most iconic in the exhibition and exemplifying this spirit was the elder, sapient artist FX Harsono’s performance-video and sculpture Burned Victims (1998). Harsono’s political activism, which stems from before the rise and fall of Indonesian dictator Suharto’s New Order regime, brought a palpable immediacy to the artist’s subject matter. Burned Victims commemorated the deaths of hundreds of innocent people in the artist’s hometown in Jakarta. These victims were locked in a mall that was set on fire during the riots that protested Suharto’s dictatorship, just days before the president stepped down. They were burned alive. In the installation, scorched wooden logs resembling torsos are strung in metal armatures, while charred shoes placed at the base of each sculpture brought home the horror of the situation. The accompanying video captured Harsono’s public performance in 1998 in which he lit the logs later used in the installation on fire as a proclamation of the government’s wrongdoing. This act of fury, unfolded in an urban setting, was the artist’s means to convey the urgency of his beliefs to the general public. Harsono—as well as his compatriots who incorporated political dissension into their practices—saw art as a vehicle to mobilize passive observers. … “
Read Bansie Vasvani’s review on ArtAsiaPacific.