Through Youthful Eyes

I remember the mid 1980s: the world was having a global recession and I was fresh out of university. But that did not dampen my hopes of landing my first job. Confident of my skills, personality and intelligence – and brimming with a sense of immortality – I was optimistically poised to conquer all.

That very essence is succinctly captured in Y. Indra Wahyu’s first solo exhibition in Singapore: “Urban Dreamtime” is a display of artworks that flesh out the great ambitions and aspirations for achievement that motivate young adults and adolescents to compete with others similarly highly qualified, go-getting and driven individuals in a modern, or modernizing, society.

In this Indonesian artist’s “Great News”, for example, the young are keenly studying the job ads posted in newspapers; on the faces of each is imbued with the optimism of securing a position that will set them on a path of career success and attaining what they are dreaming of.

The need for holding on to such an urban dream is, to Wahyu, almost child like as he has personally seen the Indonesian people guided and guiled by false expectations and shot down within his home country’s volatile political background – only to be faced with new political figures and equally neoteric confidences. Yet, like children, Indonesians continue to embody and exude naivety, innocence and, some would say, ignorance – they continue to anticipate in optimism.

At the same time, even though Indonesia’s ‘reformasi’ had come to an end, many artists continued to feel disappointed and frustrated – they see that their own desires through their socially and politically realistic art have not been fulfilled. Thus driving many of these politically engaged artists to seek a way out of their dilemma: they returned to their more private concerns by exploring themselves; processing the experiences they had collected. For Wahyu, it meant delving into the imaginary spheres of childhood reminiscences as he changes his style and technique completely.

The dawning of these realizations drives him to paint today’s young as children. For then, viewers of his paintings can see through societal veils the situations as they are without the so-called adult perceptions of the ways of the world. Thus enabling him to freely continue to comment on societal developments.

Hence, his “Flowers In The Mud” draws inspiration from a real gas explosion in Indonesia, where ugly mud forcefully erupted from the ground. The child in this image finds the flowers in the spitted out slimy dirt – the light in the dark, the most fragile and heart rendering of silver linings.

And when he does depict teenagers and young adults – in a distinct street art or graffiti style – like in “Voices From Behind The Wall”, where they are wielding megaphones, current political leaders are being urged to hear their voices; ones that Wahyu believes are the most opinionated segment of society, the most exhilarating mix of naivety and knowledge: they are the future leaders of today and so they play an indelible role in what society will become.

Wahyu urges that they should be heard as he points out that the Ipsos Mori survey finds that adults in developing nations are more optimistic than those of the developed world. Japan exemplifies this: it is one of the world’s wealthiest nations. Yet the number of poor youth is growing. The reality of being able to get only a McJob, despite the string of educational certificates obtained, is depressing and this creates a new pop subculture the Japanese call the ‘otaku’.

It refers to youths who are mainly interested in manga comics and anime, being distant from society, socially awkward and unable to relate to reality. This kind of life style implies the avoidance of responsibility. “Voices From Behind The Wall” expresses Wahyu’s appeal that there is a need for them to be heard outside and to take over responsibility again.

Otherwise, they will be “Entering TV”; connecting even more so to television and fantastic worlds, which they would infinitely prefer to live in, in a heartbeat, if they had the choice.

Delve into the layers embedded within Wahyu’s painterly abstracts as presented by Ode To Art at the 4th Floor, Raffles City Convention Center foyer before his exhibition ends 29 January this year.


Feature photo: Y. Indra Wahyu’s “Juvenile In Last Supper”

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