LR: Scholars and Asian art historians stress that contemporary Asian art should not be seen
as merely derivative of the West. What do you think about this notion of an East/West dichotomy? Does it relate at all to your current work?
GMY: I think it’s more like branching than following. They might begin similarly but I think they develop different paths. I know it’s a difficult question for us artists from emerging countries. Sometimes we just pretend that the boundary/dichotomy between East and West doesn’t exist. I think the best thing for me to do is to learn about Western art and at the same time learn about our own identity, whatever “identity” means now. I’m a Balinese Indonesian, and we have our own traditional Balinese painting. I think I could learn a lot from our history.
LR: Tell me about the art scene and cultural productivity in Indonesia today.
GMY: Mostly art production is centered in Yogyakarta, but there’s no intellectual activity there. I like Bandung more because I can talk with art critics or curators about many issues, from recent news to art history. For me, Yogyakarta is the factory; Bandung is the academy. And Bali? Bali is for tourists.
LR: Who do you think are some of the most interesting contemporary Indonesian artists?
GMY: Agus Suwage, because of his playfulness and how quickly he follows new trends and steals new ideas from international art. He’s a thief — a good thief. I like Nyoman Masriadi’s work too. Some people say he isn’t deep, but I believe his painting represents what most Indonesians think. If his work is not deep, it just reflects our superficiality. He doesn’t want to treat painting as a conceptual or philosophical tool. It would be interesting if he could make works that commented on the phenomenal prices he achieves. I really want to know how he feels and deals with this issue through his art.
LR: What will you work on next?
GMY: Many things. I’m thinking about making 3-D objects, and I’d like to explore more traditional painting methods with the contemporary context in mind.
Lucy Rees is an editor at Flash Art International.
Gede Mahendra Yasa was born in 1967 in Bali, where he currently lives and works.
Selected solo shows: 2011: Primo Marella, Milan, Italy; 2010: Sigiarts, Jakarta, Indonesia.
Selected group shows: 2010: “Pleasures of Chaos”, Primo Marella, Milan, Italy; “Contemporaneity: Contemporary Art of Indonesia”, MOCA, Shanghai.