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Conversation  |  Founder, Gajah Gallery, Singapore

Jasdeep Sandhu

In Conversation
29 August 2015
Jasdeep Sandhu. Image courtesy Gajah Gallery. Photo: Aron Teo Photography
Jasdeep Sandhu. Image courtesy Gajah Gallery. Photo: Aron Teo Photography

In 1996, Jasdeep Sandhu established Gajah Gallery

in Singapore with the purpose of promoting Southeast Asian Contemporary Art with an emphasis on Indonesian contemporary art. Now twenty years on the gallery is about to expand into a 6,000 square foot space in Tanjong Pagar Distripark in Singapore, and also recently opened a second exhibition house in the thriving arts city of Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Over the years the gallery has focused on building a legacy of initiatives such as re-invigorating academic contributions to the category of Indonesian art and history, and creating exhibitions such as Lokanat: Ground Zero which travelled to Yangon, Intersections: Latin American and Southeast Asian Contemporary Art which travelled to Havana, Cuba and the founding of art institute Yogya Art Lab (YAL) based in Yogyakarta. YAL is an experimental platform for prominent and emerging artists to come together to produce works across various mediums such as paper, sculpture, performance and digital visual production. The lab has collaborated with outstanding artists like Yunizar and Ashley Bickerton.

Ocula caught up with Jasdeep Sandhu as he prepared for Bazaar Art Jakarta 2015 to discuss the Indonesian art scene, Ashley Bickerton, Yunizar, and YAL.

Another art fair: this time Bazaar Art Jakarta. The fair is now in its 7th year. Have you always attended and if so, why?

This is Gajah Gallery’s second year exhibiting at Bazaar Art Jakarta, however, prior to joining I was in touch with the organisers of the fair and I encouraged them to take a firmer direction towards supporting fine art. BAJ has been instrumental in developing Jakarta’s buzzing arts scene. The fair contributes to building support for artists not just in the metropolis of Jakarta but for the rest of the arts community in wider Indonesia.

Have you got high expectations this year?

We have a very strong collection this year and we are confident it will be well received. However, we must, of course, take into consideration the current financial turmoil in North Asia. Surprisingly enough, even despite the relative strain across the markets, we have had considerable interest in our artworks; this has led to my finding that sometimes, when all the financial markets are down, collectors devote their attention to the art market. The next few days will certainly be an interesting barometer on the vitality of the art world in South East Asia.

You are debuting a major new sculptural work by Ashley Bickerton at the fair. Tell us about it.

Yogya Art Lab has been working with Ashley Bickerton for the past four years. Living in Bali these past 22 years, but coming from a background as a central figure in the New York’s vital East Village scene of the 1980’s, grants him a unique position in the art world today. This background further includes a peripatetic childhood never living in one country more than two years until the family finally settled in Hawaii when he was 12. Where most other artists focus on subject matter or ideas intentionally limited from their local environments, Bickerton comes armed with an entire arsenal of global references and experiences to pull on at will.  His father Derek Bickerton is an acclaimed anthropological linguist and the reason for the family’s gypsy lifestyle. Years later the son follows the father’s muse and develops what his own twisted post-modern version of the elder’s earnest pursuits. In this ongoing series he calls Junk Anthropologies, Bickerton plays havoc with so many received and canonical ideas of cross-cultural understanding. He does not shy away from issues of gender and race and their inherent exoticisation and misappropriation in the supposedly empirical fields of the human sciences or the high arts. Having been a student of the legendary conceptual artist John Baldessari at CalArts, Bickerton still shares a strong kinship with the whimsical and humorous, but conceptually driven questioning inherent to that West Coast movement.  A true post-modernist, he feels equally at home in the languages of Pop art, Conceptualism, and both high and low culture with an ability to focus clearly outside the narrow scope of western contemporary thinking. The sculpture that will debut in Bazaar Art Jakarta very simply epitomises the idea of ‘Junk Anthropology’, Bickerton’s ongoing dialogue with a multiplicity of often-contradictory aesthetics, playing with everything from Gauguin and Levi Strauss, to Warholian Pop and Instagram’s instant-gratificatory culture of narcissism. Wahine Pa’Ina, which roughly translates from Hawaiian to ‘Party Girl’ is a defining work in this series that has for years enjoyed riding double edges and playing turmoil with interpretation.

Ashley Bickerton, Auntie Painting, 2015. Oil and acrylic on jute with artist made frame. 170 x 185 x 15 cm. Image courtesy of Gajah Gallery

And you will also be showing some new works by Indonesian star, Yunizar. What will he be showing?

We will be showcasing a selection of Yunizar’s paintings and sculptures. Yunizar’s three-dimensional work has been a surprise for all of us over the past three years. He has produced bronze sculptures crafted in his distinct aesthetic, consistent with that of his already well-established paintings. These latest sculptures depict the average Indonesian person, expressed though the artist’s signature wit and quirk. For his paintings, Yunizar will be showing two works depicting the Indonesian Garuda, engaging this symbolism playfully in his realm of apolitical art.

Currently, Yunizar is preparing for his joint show with fellow Indonesian artist Ugo Untoro, which will take place at the recently established Gajah Gallery in Yogyakarta. The new space aims to provide the artistic audience in Yogya with a fresh, engaging exhibition.

Yunizar, Big Boss From The East, 2015. Cast Bronze, edition 2 of 8 2AP. 62 x 30 x 9 cm. Image courtesy of Gajah Gallery

Both artists created their sculptures at Gajah Gallery's Yogya Art Lab? This initiative, which you helped to found, has been in operation for more than 3 years now. Tell us a bit about it and how things are going?

The idea of YAL was conceived three years ago, and it was a very natural decision for us. We found that Yogyakarta had an abundance of artists and artisans working in the art-making field, primarily with sculpture and paper. However, up until 2007, the art market in Yogya was—in my opinion—acutely underfunded. There was a surplus of artistic ability and craftsmanship, but a lack of quality in production methods and materials. When the art market picked up in 2007, it allowed for a vast improvement in art-making capabilities with regards to resources. That was the foundation of our work when we opened in 2012. Since then, Yogya Art Lab has vastly improved the quality of work coming from Yogyakarta by raising the standards of production. We have brought local sculpture-making to an international standard, where one can expect no difference in the quality of the work we produce, compared to those made in America or Europe. We’ve had international experts come into YAL to work alongside the artisans in tweaking their processes, adding a knowledge base of contemporary techniques to the traditional practices they implement. We’ve been able to give the artisans top quality imported materials to work with; it has very much been an organic, collaborative process with the artists and the artisans. To be honest, we initially stumbled into this without much thought as to the difficulties we would face from bureaucracy to technical issues. Those aside, however, we have been extremely lucky to work with artists like Yunizar and Ashley Bickerton who have each produced amazing artwork that gives everyone involved in the process, from the artists and artisans to the collectors and critics, a sense of pride and joy.

Ugo Untoro, Sunday Morning, 2015. Oil on canvas. 200 x 150 cm. Image courtesy Gajah Gallery

What else are you showing at the fair?

In addition to Ashley Bickerton and Yunizar, our line-up includes new work from Ahmad Zakii Anwar, Li Jin, Sabri Idrus, Yusra Martunus, and Rudi Hendriatno. Young artist R. Yuki Agriardi will be debuting at Bazaar Art Jakarta with us for the first time. We are also showing two works of Ugo Untoro’s, which will be included in his solo exhibition at Gajah Gallery in Singapore this November.

What else does Gajah Gallery have coming up for the end of 2015?

For the past few months Gajah Gallery has been actively engaged in preparing for the opening of our new 6000 square foot space at Tanjong Pagar Distripark in Singapore. The new exhibition space holds exciting potential for us, and the location invites a unique juxtaposition of atmospheres rarely seen in Singapore. We will be opening our inaugural exhibition in the first few weeks of October.

In November, Ugo Untoro will present his latest paintings in a solo exhibition at our new gallery.—[O]

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