Kuswidananto’s works portrays the history of Indonesia within the complexity of the legacy of aristocracy and colonialism, and all of its consequences. As part of the young generation of artists living in a dictatorship during the Soeharto’s era (Indonesia’s longest-time president), Kuswidananto pays strong attention to revealing the hidden history and to digging into downplayed narratives. At the same time, he questions the almost-taken-for-granted idea of being a state/nation, and this becomes the crossroad for history and identity in his works. His major survey on this subject matter is on Java, the largest ethnicity in Indonesia, which therefore plays a relevant cultural role in the nation.
The notion of identity is a never-ending battle, an on-going process of negotiation and contestation. His previous series were inspired by the images of phantoms and ghosts, which then evolved into a large-scale parade. The parade becomes a metaphor on how identity is formed and enriched by encounters of different cultures and history. The culture that turns out from these encounters goes beyond oppositions such as ‘old’ and ‘new’, ‘genuine’ and ‘false’, ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’, ‘us’ and ‘them’. It leads to a synthesis, what he likes to call a ‘third reality’. This merging or syncretism has become Java’s true tradition, the fuel of a culture that is always in transition. While borrowing lots of identity symbols such as costumes, uniforms, music, masks, and different imagery, Kuswidananto focuses on the fluidity of the symbol itself, because it offers different meanings for different cultural backgrounds as well.
In the On Paradise series, featured in this exhibition, Kuswidananto moves forward towards the history of hidden narratives, and focuses on events that took place in Banten, the western area of Java Island. He found some statements from the Jayabaya’s book (the great fortune-teller of the past), which forecasts that there would be three big disasters: the eruption of Krakatoa, the spread of anthrax disease, and a rebellion of the masses. Kuswidananto carefully studied those three events that actually took place in Banten in order to read them linked to current reality.