The opening of Blixt that I attended last month was more like a gathering of misfits instead of the usual opening night of an exhibition. Yes, it was about the scale; a comparatively tiny one in size that surely was not for the elites. And, definitely yes, it was about the artists; a gang of first year art students with no names, and no portfolio.
I found myself having a conversation with Arris Aprillo in the small patio of his coffee shop where the exhibition was held. “We need to give them space,” he told me when I asked why he accommodated Blixt, even made an effort to personally help the kids in preparing everything prior to the opening night. I love the way he put it. It is not because the students need the space. It is because we – perhaps Arris was referring us as people who have been in the art scene for much longer time – need to give them space.
It is our need to see new talents rising. It is our need to actively participate in nurturing them.
Blixt is a group exhibition of photography works initiated by Atreyu Moniaga – an illustrator, a photographer, a seasonal actor, and, most importantly in this case, a lecturer. This is Atreyu Moniaga‘s fourth projects with his first year students. The other two also displayed photography works, and another one was Mixed Feelings 00 – a group exhibition of illustrations.
Atreyu Moniaga‘s off-campus projects were started in 2013 when some of his students inquired him on how to make their talents discovered. “Well, you have to build a portfolio,” his simple answer was. The portfolio building project rolled into ST/ART – a group exhibition of photography works by six first year students. Among them were Hendi Thamrin (today an official photographer for Patrick Owen), Sulvia Su (today is having a residency in Museum Nasional), and S. Jane Sukardi (today works for Antara News.)
And, just like the members of ST/ART, Lucid (the second group photography exhibition), and Mixed Feelings 00, the members of Blixt did not have it easy to have their works finally displayed on one side of the walls in That’s Life Coffee.
It took them one full year being molded by Atreyu Moniaga with additional help from his friends. “I always started with reading assignments. They have to expand their references first,” Moniaga said. “I evaluated every entry carefully. We worked together until late. Sometimes we even had to stay one or two nights together to work as a team. This is basically a year-long boot camp.”
Now, do you think the parents – the conservative Indonesian parents – of these 18-19 years old art students would easily let their children stay out of their houses like that?
Let me tell you a little more about where did Atreyu Moniaga found the young talents to be introduced in his exhibitions. He lectures in a campus located in far North Jakarta. The University of Bunda Mulia is not the first name you will think about when it comes to art schools in Jakarta, let alone Indonesia. The North Jakarta area itself has always been known as a population of business families – from the billionaires down to the humble tradesmen. Unlike the cool and hip South Jakarta, North Jakarta is not an area you would expect to become home for creative minds.
The students had already had it rough when they told their parents that they wanted to be artists. And, now these late night meetings with a young lecturer? Parents were not seldom questioning hard, even outraged.
“But, remember this. Other friends of yours are probably sneaking out of their houses as well only to go for clubbing. You guys are sneaking out to study. To make an exhibition. To make your mark,” Moniaga encouraged his students.
Adding to the pressure from home, Atreyu Moniaga‘s projects also were under the monitor of a few peers in art scene who did not always approve the idea. The (slightly) more senior artists, curators, or even educators, thought that none of the students were ready, and that their artworks were not presentable to the public, and they made having an exhibition sounds so cheap and easy.
So, can you imagine this: The school itself is already an underdog among the many art schools in the country. That means the students who joined Atreyu Moniaga‘s projects are the nerds in an underdog school. Being bullied is their lunch break.
The opening night of Blixt that I attended must be just like the opening nights of ST/ART, Lucid, and Mixed Feelings 00. This is a group of misfits whose stomachs are filled with a thousand butterflies flapping hard their wings. Are they really worthy? Is their year-long hard work will pay off? What kind of questions they will have to answer in the artists talk? Will there be any big names showing up? And, are their parents coming?
As for that night, Thalia W., Marselgeo, Stella Randy, Ketrin Aster, Andhie Kusnadi, and Ong William Joe had formed a bond unlike anything else. The quarrels they had, the challenges they faced, and the doubts they had to fight together all year long had melted them into one.
And that night they sat together in the artists talk session. They answered questions like inexperienced artists. Yet, they did answer questions. The crowds were not art critics or the elites. They were friends and people who are always eager to welcome new talents in the art scene. They came with a positive mindset that the art scene is always in the need for fresh blood.
And the parents who came saw their children’s fine works proudly displayed. They saw how people gaze at what their children had been working on all night long, all year long. They saw how their children show responsibility by answering each question from the crowds. And, finally they saw people who are strangers to them clapping hands to salute their children.
That night I saw not only an opening night of an exhibition. That night I witnessed an art education at its purest form. An art education that gives space for the underdogs to express themselves. An art education that touches deep to their homes as fathers and mothers were in tears seeing how their children have grown up to become artists. An art education that changes perception. An art education that is unnoticeable.
Thalia W., Marselgeo, Stella Randy, Ketrin Aster, Andhie Kusnadi, and Ong William Joe had no agenda in Blixt but to see the results of their hard work displayed in a small coffee shop. These are photography works with no ambition, no ego at stake, no grades, and nothing to lose.
And, for me, these are the kinds of works that deserve the highest applause.
Blixt had concluded last night, March 20, 2016. Expect to see the next Atreyu Moniaga’s project Mixed Feelings 01 – a group exhibition by his students Agatha Astari Gouw, Dicky “Daesky” Sarbeni, Robby Eduardo Garsia, and Vicky Saputra – to open on April 24, 2016 in That’s Life Coffee.