“I am not a religious fanatic. I am a Moslem and I learn. I also learn about all kinds of religions that developed in Indonesia. I read their books. All of these religions have valuable teachings, including spiritual teachings from Indonesia and other countries. From this I conclude, that I should continue to work (drawing) — to do something useful for the world. I want to leave something for my children and my descendents, the environment and even the world, something that will be useful for their future.”
— Noviadi Angkasapura, 2015
“We have a major question to confront then. If the work is not created for a mainstream agenda, why then is it created? I am not sure this question has ever really been tackled. It must be asked. We call it Art Brut and so that is what it becomes. Even Andre Breton has a problem with this designation, especially with the idea that spiritualist art was no longer called what it was, but was automatically Art Brut if Dubuffet so decreed. We call it outsider, but we rarely if ever ask it any more questions. Or even one: Why?”
— Randall Morris, 2015
Noviadi Angkasapura was born in 1979 in Indonesia. He currently lives with his wife in Jakarta. Not much is known about the artist’s early life. Angkasapura loved to draw as a child, but drawing became a way of life to him when, at the age of 24, he met what he calls a supernatural creature in a waking state, who gave him the message to live honestly and patiently. He chased the spirit, but it disappeared, leaving him only a piece of paper with the words honest and patient inscribed on it. Angkasapura creates a drawing a day using found paper, pen and pencils, and his brilliantly improvisational creativity.
Balanced by the Spirit: Drawings by Noviadi Angkasapura
By Randall Morris.
When Noviadi Angkasapura came upon a book of Art Brut in a bookstall in Jakarta, a wonderful thing happened. He saw a way his own future images could be given permission to flourish by just allowing them to come through unfettered by anyone’s definitions or expectations. Thus liberated, he began to draw daily, creating dozens of drawings that fused East and West in ways no one had ever seen before.
The first impression of a Noviadi Angkasapura drawing is that it is amazingly tight and fully realized. They seem to contain the calligraphy of local scrolls. They are like wall paintings in a post-Neolithic temple in a religion that still has roots and manifestations in the fierceness of Nature.
There is a narrative in his drawings that instinctively draws upon the Wayang scrolls of Bali as well as the Javanese narrative scrolls from another protean Asian drama, the Ramayana. But he has copied nothing. In fact he has hybridized it, adding in the visionary wildness, the powerful and beautiful animism of the island spiritualities of the Indonesian Archipelago, each island with its own motifs and sacred patterns and celestial beings. He has synthesized and reinvented a Pan-Indonesian aesthetic by liberating it with that permission granted by the Art Brut book he saw.
When one comes in contact with a country, any country in which there are already deep and important artistic traditions, it is almost a given that if one looks hard enough and ignores the academic insistence on the mainstream and status quo, one will always be rewarded by finding the work of iconoclasts, of untrained artists who have reinvented the wheel of formalism for themselves and have infused the traditions of their cultures with the power and strength of their own culture-rooted but idiosyncratic visions. The tradition becomes the language the art speaks but the artist then shapes it and puts the words and nuances of that language together again in a totally personal way.
Noviadi Angkasapura was born in Irian Jaya, Papua New Guinea in 1979. His mother came from Central Java and his father from East Java. They met in Irian Jaya, settled there and had two sons. Angkasapura lived there through high school. He remembers it as being culturally polyglot, with immigrants from many of the Indonesian islands like Borneo, Sulawesi, Sumatra, Bali, Madura and others. Irian was a cultural melting pot for these islanders.
He remembers the powerful influence of nature there, particularly the impact of the trees and rivers and lush greenery. He remembers being restless and extroverted and mixing with his friends outside every day as well as the indigenous Papuans.
When he graduated from high school in 1999 he went to Jogjakarta to attend college. He wanted to major in electronics but dropped out due to lack of funds. He currently works as an administrative consultant in charge of correspondence. It is here where he finds the paper he chooses to draw on. His parents retired in 2000 and moved to East Java, close enough so that he could visit them on holidays, a five- hour drive through the country. He never lost contact with the knowledge that culture and nature had deeply affected him.
The powerful, graceful yet always dangerous drawings of Noviadi Angkasapura are indicative of the future of the field of non-mainstream art as its wide parameters come to be recognized globally, ranging from the almost hermetic isolation of the Art Brut classic artists to the more sophisticated and worldly, though still non-mainstream, art work called Art Singulier.
It used to be that the majority of the art in this field, both scholastically examined and collected, came from Europe and the United States, giving it a weight and focus in Western traditions. If this art came from anywhere else it was treated as an isolated phenomenon or it was ghettoized, referred to, for example, as Haitian, Jamaican, or Inuit but kept separate, even though its context and intentionality may have coincided with the Western artists. The two ‘big brothers’ overseeing the field were the specious and highly ambiguous terms ‘outsider’ and ‘art brut’, both of which were not fixed in any matrix of art historical bedrock. They still aren’t.
The academic concerns of the field are not necessarily those of the makers. As Angkasapura has said:
“I do not even clearly know the meaning of art brut/outsider, or even contemporary art. I have just kept to my drawing task and the money goes to my wife and child. I follow my feelings. Randall, am not even proud of what I have accomplished or listen to what other people say, this is not a surprise in my life, it is my normal everyday. Some people call me Art Brut, another Outsider, and some say I am Contemporary, it hardly matters to me. The important thing is my commitment to draw and deliver the message, to try and make this spiritual message more understandable.”
Many of the older scholastic constructs have begun to change for both positive and negative reasons, usually mixing together. As the mainstream art world globalizes, non-western mainstream art has demanded inclusion on its own terms culturally, even as it becomes part of the global mainstream’s context and language, particularly in the art for art’s sake discourse. Work by contemporary Asian artists pushed these parameters first, followed by artists from India and Africa.
The non-Western non-mainstream is a messy place. Things do not fall into place so neatly or easily. There is no small army of intellectuals to connect the dots for academia or the general public. Historically it has been mostly dealers who have made the discoveries and called the shots, which means that all too often quality was dictated by the vagaries of the marketplace rather than by merit or discourse. Now we are recognizing the work finally from all quarters of our shrinking world.
There are doors being opened now that we haven’t even peeked through. We claim the work is non-mainstream. We define the mainstream. We define the non-mainstream using the language and the perspective of the mainstream, thus completely shortchanging a huge field and body of art. We do not anywhere define it on its own terms. In short we are looking to name a field by using the language of something else. Let us look a bit closer.
The mainstream art world is in ongoing discussion with itself about art. It refers retroactively. Even those who consciously take a deliberate stands against the mainstream must see that they have the entitled privilege of choosing that path. Let’s put aside the mainstream for now. Angkasapura is not mainstream.
We have a major question to confront then. If the work is not created for a mainstream agenda, why then is it created? I am not sure this question has ever really been tackled. It must be asked. We call it Art Brut and so that is what it becomes. Even Andre Breton has a problem with this designation, especially with the idea that spiritualist art was no longer called what it was, but was automatically Art Brut if Dubuffet so decreed. We call it outsider but we rarely if ever ask it any more questions. Or even one: Why?
I may know at least one reason why. Right now there is a major trend in this field to push the work as Contemporary art. Not as its own form of contemporary art on its own terms, but as a form of already existing contemporary art. Unfortunately, because it does not lend itself naturally to this format it is inevitably chopped, blocked and curtailed in order to fit the form. The mainstream wants it to be mainstream therefore no energy is really put into its own power and intentionality, that dirty word to modernists.
Seems so simple no? Why do these artists do what they do? When one brings this question up in debate or workshop the answer usually is “no one can guess an artist’s intentionality”. But that is the fallacy right there. The concept of what an artist is can no longer be defined by the mainstream. Intentionality isn’t only an intellectual conceit. When you are dealing with artists who are part and parcel of their own intense and deep cultures intentionality becomes an entirely different animal. In fact non-mainstream art is ALL about intentionality. Not a single monolithic intentionality like that of the art world, but rather a varied and diverse intentionality, one that is almost always utilitarian on some level. It doesn’t make sense that we use the exclusionary language of the mainstream to define the non-mainstream.
The entire art making process is different. The mainstream focuses on a product for which the process of making that artwork is secondary. The art world is based on the idea of finished pieces that can be distributed somewhere in the art world whether home, gallery, or museum. The non-mainstream world focuses on the very act of making the art as having primary importance. This is true of artists working serially in institutions, it is true of the art of the African diaspora, it is true of the work of Angkasapura. They work to stay alive, to survive, as a form of calling, as a way of thinking the world, or as amulet, cultural resistance, history keeping, spiritual contact and on and on. These are all intentions and can indeed be observed and researched.