Rizki Zaelani - Copy.jpeg

                                                           Photo: Courtesy of Art Sampoerna

Art Sampoerna, which opens to the public this week from May 19-21 at The Atrium in the Sampoerna Strategic Building, has already created a buzz among the art lovers and collectors in town.

With the aim of presenting the latest developments in Indonesian contemporary art from the most celebrated artists working today, we take the opportunity to talk to Rizki Zaelani, who will curate the exhibition this year. The modest conservator, who also serves as one of the board curators at the Galeri Nasional, Jakarta, talks to us about Art Sampoerna’s backstory, its theme and how he curates an artist’s work.


How has the role of art curator developed in Indonesia?

Art curatorship was first accepted in the Indonesia art scene in the early 1990s. It is a unique story since curatorial projects became popular because of the growing numbers of art exhibitions organised by galleries and international art exhibition forums rather than the local museum program activities.

Inspired by the independent curator movement that happened in the US in the late 1980s, curators then become active agents to promote and develop further the artistic ideas and art creations together with the artists. In Indonesia, the role of a curator itself is more attached to the exhibition project and the artist’s own development of ideas to make the Indonesian art scene thrive in more inspiring ways.

What about your own job as curator?

I am trained as a curator mostly by experience from curating many art exhibitions in Indonesia as well as internationally in Japan, Australia, Germany and other capital cities in Southeast Asia. During my daily activities as a lecturer at Bandung Institute of Technology’s Art Faculty, I also have had the opportunity to work with many international curators and art museums in Asia, Australia and Europe. So for me, art curatorship is an interesting and challenging job. I look at it as the other inspiring side of a great art creation. 

How do you curate an artist’s work?

The good and inspiring art exhibitions always need a challenge and a fresh vision of the artistic creation itself. If the artworks should be inspiring to the public then so should the curatorial idea for the exhibition. Curation not only aims for the public acceptance of an idea of artistic presentation, but also to work along artists’ inspirations and their perception about the projects themselves. I find it important to relate curatorial exhibition ideas with a certain level of progress due to the artist’s artistic achievement so it will become an interesting co-operative project altogether.

Moreover, every artist has his or her special achievements in term of their own artistic tendencies, and it is important for a curator to do research to offer the right artistic strategy to present at the exhibition. I also find that there are no artistic works that are not related with another artist’s works since every artwork is created as a language of culture, and, as we know, every culture in the world is interconnected from time to time.  It is always possible for a curator to make the connection of one specific artist’s works with the other works so he or she can be exposed to a fresh context of art creation as content of the exhibition.

Tell us about your role as the Board of Curators of the Indonesian National Gallery.

As with many national art galleries outside Europe countries and America, the National Art Gallery in Jakarta also works in the developmental experience and process by accepting the idea of modernity. The concept of art museum or gallery itself is part of social modernisation. So, the development of a national art gallery is always related culturally with the realisation of modern society with its furnished infrastructure.

For me, it is interesting to work with the National Gallery since Indonesian art still has more things to achieve. You could say that the national art gallery Jakarta has two smiling faces. The first has to front the pluralism and the different kinds of art expressions of Indonesian cultures that consists of many cultural dialects and expressions as well as different levels of acceptance for the idea of modernity.

The other smiling face engages and communicates actively with the international and global art industries that it is theoretically assumed have their own specific discourse. For me, it is always challenging to work with these two facets with their different enthusiasms. I always have to remember that art is a matter of ways to make connection or to re-connect the differences so that every Indonesians, however or wherever, can have their opportunities to apprehend personal experience of the art exhibitions.

Which is your favourite project and why?

I was involved with the National Gallery’s special exhibition entitled “MANIFESTO”. This was a biennale exhibition that started in 2008 in conjunction with the 100 years of Indonesia’s awakening (since 1908). MANIFESTO exhibits Indonesian artists and marks their current artistic achievements. The inaugural exhibition showcased more than 300 Indonesian artists’ works across cities in Java, Bali, Sumatra, Kalimantan, and Sulawesi. Every two years I work with different curatorial teams to propose different curatorial themes for the artists and help the artists to present their current achievements. It’s my favourite project because it’s challenging to think and to tie the connections between the local Indonesian art scenes with the international ones. We are now preparing for the sixth MANIFESTO exhibition next year.

How did you get involved with Art Sampoerna?

I was invited by a good friend of the organiser, W Production. It’s not the first time that I’ve worked with them and I had a wonderful experience since it allowed me to accomplish an extraordinary and unexpected curatorial idea for an exhibition. We discussed about how we can to make the idea of Art Sampoerna to be one of the most interesting and memorable art events in Jakarta, and I think you will be pleased to see the result.

See also: Road to Art Sampoerna: Flow into Now

What can visitors expect from Art Sampoerna?

First, the location of Art Sampoerna is unique since it is held in a special public place at Sampoerna Strategic building. The office building has been designed and decorated with an art-sphere environment. It’s always interesting to invite different type of art enthusiasts and a wide range of crowd to experience and appreciate art in different media and venues. I think that this event is not only about the magnificent artworks, but also to understand how to juxtapose art with a business environment.

What can you tell us about the theme “Flow Into Now”?

The moment of “now” is always an attractive context. How or what have we achieved at the moment is of our nowness. Yet the present is always connected with other moments—let’s say our past experiences as well as our expected future. The artworks at Art Sampoerna come from different places and moment of times where they are all will interact and melt with their different backgrounds and expectations.

“Flow into Now” is about how we embrace our differences yet still try to find common ground for the appreciation of beauty. This exhibition not only consists of the works by artists, but also by architects and designers in Indonesia. The different approach and artistic disciplinary are expected to provide a richer side to the artistic appreciation by the public.

What is your take on Indonesian art exhibitions?

The general concept of art fairs and exhibitions in Indonesia are commonly as “celebrations” for the galleries. It is also common for the goal of exhibitions to be appreciated by the public, so if we only present an exhibition within a certain limited time, within less than 14 days, say, it will become a wasted opportunity for the public to appreciate the art. Hence, Art Sampoerna is an interesting concept since the organiser has invited the artists to be present at the exhibition.

In your opinion, why is art an important aspect in life?

Friedrich Nietzsche once said: “We love life not because we are used to living but because we are used to loving.” For me, art is a way to find and amplify any kind of effect that has been done by love and beauty. Life will be a wonderful journey to praise only those two with art.

See also: 4 Awesome Reasons Why You Need to Attend Art Sampoerna

Tags: Event, Art, Interview, Exhibition, Profile, Art Sampoerna, Curator, Rizki A Zaelani