Indonesian society has evolved with an array of distinct visual languages. The wayang shadow puppet theatre is one of the original communication modalities to educate, entertain and capture the multi-ethnic cultures’ imagination. The modern era, however is plagued by digital imagery overload and the urban hubs are saturated with visual advertising pollution. Art calms the malaise, is gaining popularity and enriching people’s lives.
The history of Indonesian art printmaking is unsure. Certain experts cite the initial milestone was in the 1940s during the independence war with the Dutch. Some artists who became national icons created propaganda posters using screen prints of anti-colonial illustrations mostly in Central Java. Another account reveals that in 1946 Mochtar Apin and another artist were commissioned by the newly formed government to make Lino-cut prints commemorating the first anniversary of the national independence day. These images went abroad to embassies and captured international attention.
“The academic visual arts were established through the development of Indonesian institutions in the 1950s. ITB (Institute of Technology Bandung, West Java) taught printmaking beginning in 1964,” said Devy Ferdianto, the leading art printmaker in Indonesia and co-founder of Black Hand Gang an open-studio printing facility recently established in Mas. “Few printmakers, however, exist in Indonesia today. Black Hand Gang’s (B.H.G) mission is to transform this and to inspire a new generation. We wish to be at the forefront of a new wave of affordable original print art from Indonesia to the world.”
“I am passionate about developing the potential of printmaking. Due to the lack of education, however, it is seen as a stepson to conventional art techniques. There is a lack of proper equipment and materials and we need more qualified teachers,” stated the ITB graduate who also studied in art institutions in Germany and Canada. “The knowledge of the techniques and materials is specific and varied. Printing is extremely sensitive to the atmospheric conditions, and when the temperature is not consistent, the outcomes vary. Lots of experimental outcomes are possible. After thirty-two years in the field I am still learning!”
“The Indonesian affordable art market has been evolving and growing since 2000, especially in Jakarta, where most art is traded. It is a practical entry point into the market for new buyers to develop their interest and knowledge while wishing to decorate their living spaces,” said B.H.G Managing Director and co-founder Lina Nata, who previously worked at Ganara Art Space in Jakarta with experience at regional art fairs. “Not all artists are interested in creating affordable art. Some wish to maintain the exclusivity of their paintings for the top end of the market. Others, however, are attracted to the idea of making limited editions of original handmade works to help develop a larger audience and collector base. This market is growing.”
B.H.G offers printing workshops to the public and collaborates with the artists to produce signed, limited edition prints, with a certificate of authenticity. They invite established and emerging Indonesian contemporary artists, along with guest internationals, to work in partnership. B.H.G opened its doors to the public in June 2020, three months after the beginning of the global pandemic. Covid-19 dramatically impacted the art world, the global economy, international tourism to Bali, and the B.H.G’s dreams.
“One of our targets is to work with international artists travelling to Bali,” Lina stated and then shared some of the surprising outcomes B.H.G had enjoyed during the pandemic. “The response of the local artists has been very encouraging and way beyond our expectations. They are very curious yet are still confused, thinking printing means a reproduction or digital print. We have to educate them about our operations. It’s very technical and difficult to explain in words – they need to see and experience first-hand. The local artists have helped us survive during the uncertainty.”
B.H.G focus on four primary techniques, relief printmaking, screen printing, intaglio and lithography. They also provide photo etching and monotypes as the development of these four techniques which have many variations. Workshops offered include screen printing, Mokulito printing on wood, and carborundum printing, mixing carborundum and acrylic pastes to form textures to create pits below the surface of the metal that hold ink. The image is created by adding light passages to a dark field.
Ida Bagus Putu Purwa is the first Balinese artist to experiment in the B.H.G studio with lithography on aluminium plate – a technique rarely used in Indonesia. Invented in the late eighteenth-century, lithography is a method based on the incompatibility of mixing oil and water. The artist creates an image on a smooth plate, covered in ink and processed using an off-set press. “It’s been an amazing new experience. I was faced with media and techniques that I could never have imagined and a challenge that is both exciting and tense,” Purwa told me. “The results are surprising. I have gained a lot of new knowledge and a new desire to innovate and dig deeper into printmaking.”
“Our workshops are especially popular with international artists living in Bali. They have a better understanding of the market potential outside of the country than do the Indonesian artists,” Devy said. “More and more artists are willing to invest the money on the printing process to develop their works and learn new techniques. We offer another alternative for how artists may explore their ideas.”
Last year B.H.G collaborated with renowned Indonesian artists Arahmaiani and Eddie Hara, and one of the most famous senior international artists Srihadi Soedarsono. The post-pandemic era is promising with an on-going collaborative exhibition series with Indonesia’s leading museum Macan, in Jakarta. Located opposite Ari Santi Hospital on Jalan Raya Mas, B.H.G introduces a significant new element to the Bali art infrastructure, distinguishing it within the national art scene. The world-class facility enables artists to innovate and express their ideas afresh.