Agus Ismoyo and his wife Nia Fliam were on the top of my list to see when arranging the trip, I knew their work and they were recommended to me by several people. Being very busy and successful batik artists they were not easy to catch, Nia had business to do in Jakarta on my dates so I met up with Agus alone. I felt a little nervous after hearing and reading so much about him !
Agus and Nia formed the Brahma Tirta Sari studio ( meaning creativity is the source of all knowledge ) together in 1985, their work is a collaborative process of spiritual investigation, it involves working with local cultures from a variety of global locations. These include: Aborigines from Australia ( Utopia Urapuntja and Ernbella Arts); Salish Indians from the USA; and Africans from Mali and Nigeria. Also Agus and Nia have collaborated more locally with the village batikers from Bimasakti in Giriloyo, one of batik villages I visited with Tatang in my first week.
Agus was much warmer and easier to talk to than I’d expected, I met him in his Gallery and studio, after taking a taxi there. He was a little late but it gave me time to look around and see the batiks before our discussion. The work was ethereal and delicately beautiful, each one telling a story and imbued with meaning.
He told me that through their collaborations with traditional Indonesian batik artists, they become enriched and more conscious of creative processes. They have not just worked together on artworks in a technical sense, but have been able to “absorb” the spiritual and creative processes of these cultures. This sort of collaboration has taken place in Indonesia for centuries, creating the rich stylistic variations that are still seen today.
Agus uses many traditional batik motifs in his work which attach their traditional meaning to his own philosophy. He described the work in depth giving me insight to the collaborative processes of the various cultures they have worked with, for instance, “Seven Sisters ” the Aboriginal story of the crippled sisters who had to run away from the wild man, they hide in a cave, turn into birds and fly up to the heavens and become stars. This batik had lots of foot prints on it symbolising their journey also Javanese batik motifs, Parang ( meaning knife or fire) and Kuwang, ( four directions, positive and negative
Agus disclosed that he isn’t comfortable with the word , ” contemporary ” when used to describe his work. He said that That “Contemporary puts his work into the “art market place” and drains away some of the sensitivity of meaning and spiritualism that he is so passionate about. He believes that his work is without concept, it is his creativity connecting with the Earth and nature and expressing through his strong batik heritage. He sees tradition as ongoing and changing, his work reaches back but moves forward too in his collaborations around the world. He said people talk about batik as a “resist” technique, which he doesn’t like, he said it is about “absorption”,( a word he used many times). ” You absorb the Spirit, the earth and it is then absorbed into the work. Batik is about absorption not resistance “. I suggested that “resist” was maybe a negative word, he totally agreed. I could see myself becoming totally absorbed by his very compelling ideology !
I could see plainly that Agus’ and Nia’s batiks linked the traditional with the new very effectively, not just visually but with their open, collaborative approach and sincerity to batik’s heritage. I found the three hour meeting with Agus very valuable, it will help my research by closing a gap between the traditional and contemporary, even if Agus doesn’t like that word !
Agus liked two of my portraits,” Grace” and ” Amy in turquoise “, he said he could see intensity and symbolism in them and he enjoyed the abstract, decorative elements in both batiks. That made my day !