Dadang Christanto


At the heart of the Dadang Christanto: 1965-66 Genocide exhibition are three figurative works made in 2014. These were also key to his survey exhibition at Brisbane’s QUT Art Museum in 2015, Dadang Christanto 1965, and they reflect his activism and the ongoing trauma of the anti-communist purges in Indonesia in 1965.

At this time the artist’s father was taken from their home in the middle of the night, suspected of being a communist sympathiser. Christanto was only eight years old on that night.

For 50 years Christanto has pondered on these events, and his artistic career has resulted in work that leaves his audience, as QUT Art Museum curator Vanessa Van Ooyen suggested in the catalogue for the survey show, “witnesses to the many voices that Dadang gives existence to.” Christanto’s paintings, This blood still fresh, General? 1-3, 2014, show the vivid reality that the injustice and violence retain for him, and for other victims of genocide and violence, with their rawness of paint, depictions of bodily trauma, and evocation of pain.

What has driven the longevity of this theme in his work, and fuels his despair, is the lack of acknowledgement of both the slaughter and its victims. Last year an international tribunal at The Hague examined the government-sanctioned violence in Indonesia in 1965, but its findings were dismissed by current Indonesian President Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, who has continued to refuse to acknowledge the atrocities or apologise to victims. Christanto’s recent work has included direct references to former President Suharto’s role in the military atrocities against Indonesian citizens, and he suggested, “I keep going because government of Indonesia has a very bloody history.”

While the events of 1965 have consumed Christanto for his artistic career, he indicated that the end of his project is nigh, culminating in a commission that will be part of the Asia-Pacific Triennial of Performing Arts at the Victorian Arts Centre in Melbourne in early 2017. He said, “I try to tire of this situation in my work. It is very dark in its content. There are not many problems in my life now, but I can’t move back from this history. For the Arts Centre I will make a political art performance. If possible I will finish my ongoing project, in this performance and in a one-off work next year.”

Dadang Christanto: 1965-1966 Genocide
14 July – 13 August

Preview Words by Louise Martin-Chew