FORWORD - By Sara Agniel This exhibition of Entang Wiharso’s work will engage international audiences as it travels to the United States, Hong Kong and Indonesia. Visitors to the show may wonder how counterparts in other countries respond to the artist’s work. Do they see the same images, feel the same emotions, and contemplate the same problems? The communicative power of Entang’s work is universal. The images are potent, provocative, and overwhelming. Viewers are struck by this, yet many are scared to try to “read?the work. Entang’s iconography appears at first to be culturally coded. And for the many viewers, attempts to decode the paintings are intimidating because they simply do not speak the language. When the public comes to an exhibition of Entang’s work, they display a variety of responses. Some are terrified by violence so openly expressed. For others, guilt over their government’s policies chastens them to an uncomfortable silence. Others still are mysteriously drawn to the wildly individualistic expressions of self ?the joy, pain and confusion ?sensing a kinship with this man who can paint the uncertainly of identity honestly. But many, many more are afraid to even say what they think because they fell that they don’t know what Entang is talking about. I have never seen viewers so ready to ask an artist about his intentions when he entered the gallery. In conversation with Entang it becomes clear that, while his work engages, political, social and cultural situations, his means of communication is very personal and subjective. He builds his own lexicon of symbols for each body of work. They evolve from his personal experiences and he equates this system of signs with both intangible and concrete concepts, from political commentary to spiritual ideology. Entang does not take equations of meaning from the world around him; the Indonesian references in his images are just as manipulated and altered as are the American references. Entang’s paintings are organized emotionally and intellectually. A screaming head is simple to understand, it communicates anguish, frustration and fear. But many of Entang’s images are not so clear. In a painting such as Upside Down Gold Mountain, Entang has painted a man defecating flowers upon the head of another man. An upside down cone of gold is filled with a red liquid, probably blood, and is suspended by a thread balanced on a knife blade. Each of these arrangements means something very specific to Entang. But if you ask an Indonesian art historian what a picture of a man defecating flowers means it may result in a different reading from an American art historian because each employs an analysis which engages the socially agreed upon code of symbols within his or her culture. Which of these readings is right or wrong is not the point. As Ian Findlay-Brown, editor of Asian Art News wrote, “[Wiharso’s] vision is both a mirror in which our vanities play out and which offers us a reflection of the hidden. The universal nature of Entang Wiharso’s vision reminds us that chaos is an integral part not only of social reality but also of our own internal dynamic. Entang has endeavored to create his own language of symbols; his system of communication is so specific at this point that you cannot learn to speak it unless you study each body of work. The icons evolve from series to series. Entang has foiled the logic of deciphering art; he has fused the American and Indonesian systems of communication to create his own visual language. You must now interpret with your stomach and not your head. It is the misunderstandings, the questions and debates that evolve from struggles to understand Entang’s work that make his paintings such a vital part of contemporary art today.
Sara Agniel, is the Curator and Director, Gallery Agniel, Providence, Rhode Island, USA.