Talking Exhibitions (2) – Grey Area [Angkai Purbandano, (1971 – , Indonesian )]



Angkai Purbandano, Material Ethic

The appeal of Angki Purbandono (Angki) images lie in the simplicity of the concept behind each work, the manner he re-questions general perceptions in the world of art photography, exploring technical possibilities, his innate curiosity and new ways of seeing that in Grey Area create such an interesting body work. AP’s ability to think out of the box contributed significantly to the whole ethos of the exhibition.

I particularly admire the fact that AP does not only deal with problems of art/photography but possesses an awareness of how art is inextricably linked with other branches of science such as history, anthropology and technology. It is this awareness that brings Angki to the discovery of scanography, in which he substitutes the camera with a scanner.

AP’s images reflect that art photography as a process does not stop at the camera which permits a new perspective about the genre allowing a greater creative space that enables further technical developments.

As I spoke with AP about his thought-provoking exhibition ‘Grey Area’ he informed me that the works were initiated during his time behind bars for a drug offence. The exhibition presents images of everyday objects wrought with meaning, reminders of life in a place where small things mean a lot – torn scraps of gaudy snack packages, pairs of slippers, multicoloured condoms glowing like improbable rainbows through back lighting.

When questioned about how the body of work presented at Bangkok University Gallery came to be, he revealed openly that he had served time for a drug offence and that this led to creating the collection of contemporary photographs titled “Grey Area” – a chronicle memories of his incarceration through the process of scanography,

The images capture the surreal moments of prison life within the confines of space, place and equipment. The resulting body of work presented a subverted reality and texture that heightened the perception of the viewers.

When I asked about how the idea of using scanography transpired AP stated,

The idea came about because cameras are not allowed in prison. As a photographer, I knew that another way to create an image would be to use a scanner. I requested if I could take a scanner and a my Mac computer with me, and prison authorities agreed.

During my discussions with AP he revealed that some parts of the installation were co-produced with the prison warden and other inmates and that they had helped in conceptualising and contributing in gathering objects that were on view in each photograph.

It is interesting how AP was able to turn a stifling, controlled environment into an opportunity to do the unexpected. Presumably this contributed to the exhibition containing a mix and match of things that also appear unanticipated. The outcome of this was that the Grey Area as an exhibition is made up of a tapestry of thought-provoking artwork, based on the close bonds people form in adversity.


Angkai Purbandano, Condom And Earth


Condom And Earth captured my attention immediately as I entered the gallery with its colourful condoms filled with earth and plants growing in them.

AP stated that;

Despite the distance between them and their loved one, inmates stand firm in the belief that they will survive the wait to feel their warmth again …

The image titled Material Ethic was made up of a collection of colourful wrappers, diagonally placed and scanned to offer depth and visual power.


Angki Purbandono

As we spoke in the gallery AP confided that;

“Wrappers are useless objects for most people. However, to me they were important. Those small useless objects made me think of two big philosophies: beauty and flexibility in life. It was a poignant reminder for me about life while I was behind bars. My cellmates helped brainstorm to get the idea off the ground.”

The images Out Of The Box, presented the viewer with a series of images of prison bars framing an inmates’ views of what was transpiring outside their cells. The energy of these images, a series of silhouettes capturing the inside out perspective as well as some of the inmates personal possessions, were further accentuated in the manner in which the works were displayed upon the gallery wall.


Angki Purbandono, Out of the Box


Angki Purbandono, out of the Box

The intrigue and interest of the exhibit entitled Sandal United is the interpretation of the underlying narrative.


I asked AP what was the inspiration for the large series of images displayed on the rear wall of the gallery.

AP explained that after his third pair of sandals were stolen, he decided to go bare foot. To curb what was slowly becoming a practice, inmates began putting personal signs on their sandals to symbolise ownership.

As AP stated in conversation the situation had taught him two things;

“ …one that inmates, like anyone else, have a sense of pride when it comes to their personal items and two, they unite when it comes to collectively finding a plausible explanation to a pressing situation.”

It is this installation and in particular Sandal United that has inspired my thinking with regard to my own project The Object as Cipher – Interpretation, Meaning and Narrative.

When I questioned AP about the work Legalised Illegal he said that he had decide to take a slightly different approach in its presentation.


Angki Purbandono, Legalised Illegal

Here we have a photo calendar of all the different types of activities my wife Diane did while I was in prison. It is a photo diary for Angki. She compiled this for me because she knew I was worried about her. For her, the click of the shutter was effortless, but for me, the photos meant a lot. I felt a sense of connection despite being away from her.

On leaving the exhibition Grey Area and particularly on later reflection I felt I had gained a deeper understanding of the role of symbolism, its interpretation, meaning and the development of a narrative within images. That which AP demonstrated in the exhibition is how to use the power of contemporary photography as a vehicle to promote a particular narrative. It is then left to the viewers to question their own perceptions of it.

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Talking Exhibitions (1) – Displaced [Jakkai Siributr, (1969 – , Thai )]

Displaced by Jakkai Siributr.


Jakkai Siributr, Displaced, Bangkok Art Cultural Centre

The exhibition, curated by Iola Lenzi provided an opportunity for me to view the unification of two new installations with an acclaimed old one, That which was exciting about this particular exhibition was the varied mixture of JS’ work on display and that they each acted as an open, if unspoken, invitation to be actively involved in the various installations themselves.

The exhibition demonstrated how JS, through a combination of irony and empathy, explored the politics of ethnicity, religion communal strife and sectarian violence through the use of symbols and the interconnecting sociopolitical narrative that as woven into each one. As one progressed through the various works the tonal dissonance between the three installations revealed. JS highlighted the social contradictions and political frictions in the contemporary world.

Installation 78, was an introspective, provocative, disquietingly stoic, somber and pathos-charged installation and filled with symbolic references.

The outside of mysterious, 3.5m-high black fabric shrouded cube, was modelled loosely on the Kaaba, the sacred cube at the heart of Mecca, and embellished with brass-coiled embroidery and stylised Thai script.

78 evoked a stylised graveyard that through textile, script, symbolism and reference to mosque architecture, returned dignity to the disenfranchised dead.

Changing Room


Jakkai Siributr, Changing Room

Changing Room a costume-based installation was brash, relatable to and filled with hidden iconography and symbolism. The work presented the viewer, through role-play, an opportunity to become actively engaged in confronting issues related to the disconnect between various groups with the internecine religious and ethnic conflicts. Changing Room placed dynamic public intervention at the very core of its aesthetic.

The various artefacts had been transformed through the use of symbolism within the narrative – a play on contrasting expectations, the ephemeral versus the important, conscience versus infantilism, military versus civilian.

The viewer was compelled to reconcile the opposites and becoming involved in the issues raised. via this confrontation, and the change of identity afforded by costume the viewers were co-opted into the lives of the “other”. Experiencing the unspoken about conflict from the intimate vantage point of Changing Room, cross the sectarian divide.

In a third work, The Outlaw’s Flag, JS scrutinized the plight persecuted minorities.


Jakkai Siributr, The Outlaw’s Flag

The installation consisted of a display of twenty-one imagined flags coarsely embroidered with seeds and beads, symbolic of the plight of individuals and groups. A sombre two-screen video documentary footage of the main points on displacement played on two video screens beside them.

Through the use of symbolism and the on going narrative JS highlighted the perniciousness of nationalism that with its boundaries and exclusions, is often used to excuse abuses of power.

This installation through the use of visual drama and artistic metaphor drew attention to larger ethical issues of persecution and displacement and remains relevant and resonates globally in the contemporary world.

JS’ oeuvre, textile-rich, encompasses all media of the contemporary, the artist selecting techniques, images, and vernacular materials which operate deliberately as conceptual clues via their embedded cultural references, so communicating complex ideas that initiate debate,
critical thinking and the role of religion and politics.

Displaced questioned the viewer’s perception, interpretation, engagement – or lack of – with the wider issues presented by JS. I found my discussions with JS relevant to my own ideas about the use of symbols and the impact that they may or may not have on the development of narratives within fine art and photography. There appears to be a blurring of boundaries, – if in the contemporary world any such boundaries exist – between apparently differing aesthetic techniques and processes.

That which JS demonstrated in the exhibition was how to use the power of contemporary documentary art as a vehicle to promote a particular narrative.

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