Modern & Contemporary Southeast Asian Art

Anguish and Salvation in Christine Ay Tjoe’s Uplifting Masterpiece 'The Workers'

By Sotheby's
A paroxysm of prismatic colors and exquisite linework, 'The Workers' by Christine Ay Tjoe is a captivating blend of the figurative and abstract. From one of the leading voices from Indonesia’s contemporary art scene, this masterpiece skirts the borders between physical and metaphysical, brimming with an energy that captures the spirit of mankind’s struggle and comradery.

The Workers has energy and expressive vitality. Unrestrained, electrified lines emblazon the canvas with a syncopated rhythm, exuding a buoyant dynamism. The work is also a masterful display of Ay Tjoe’s use of intaglio, a drypoint technique typically employed in printmaking. She experiments with the architecture of lines and form, enacting each stroke upon the surface with whimsy and improvisation. Ay Tjoe also uses her hands to engage directly with the piece, rubbing the hard lines with her own palms, and creating a visceral medley of color fields. An eclectic amalgamation of techniques, The Workers attests to Ay Tjoe’s ground-breaking versatility and expertise across various mediums of art.

Christine Ay Tjoe, THE WORKERS Estimate HKD 1,500,000 — 2,500,000 James

Lama Sabakhthani Club is one of Ay Tjoe Christine's most important series. It marks the tipping point in her creative output that spurred an aesthetic shift, accompanied with a burst of energy previously unseen. As an artist who draws inspiration from her life and is driven by instinct and emotional expression, Ay Tjoe's life experiences and aspirations play a pivotal role in her work.

“In working, she often takes inspiration from her own intricate life journey. But not infrequently, she also reflects on the external or social world...”
Hidenori Ota, 'Myriad of ‘paste’: ay tjoe christine,' Tokyo 2013

Lama Sabakhthani refers to the line, "Eli, Eli, Lama Sabakhthani", from the gospel of Matthew, and refers to Jesus Christ's cry at the crucifixion before he died. It describes a point of loneliness and despair so intense that black tears are shed, but more than that, it also describes a moment of joy so liberating that follows it, when grief connects her to the Maker most intimately. The Workers conveys this sensation of polar opposites in a most dramatic composition of black and white below an arch of rainbow-like layers of fragments.

Photograph of the Christine Ay Tjoe in her studio, Courtesy of David Maru

The Workers offers a unique window into the psyche of Christine Ay Tjoe and her views on societal issues. The work is enigmatic and complex. Straddling the line between abstraction and figuration, two figures dominate the picture plane, one in black while the other in white. Torsos merge together in a fusion of black and white. One figure is hunched in sorrow, while the other has one arm resting across the other’s back in camaraderie. A tool belt, strong gripping hand and a nail-pierced crown balanced upon a head, are all sketched into the morphing composition. Despite the diametrically opposing tonalities, Ay Tjoe expresses a fundamental unity between the two workers. Their heads merge together in a resplendence of polychromatic harmony.

Chaotic, mesmerizing and profound, The Workers pays homage to the erudite, philosophical nature that characterized Ay Tjoe’s stirring oeuvre. The masterpiece represents the artist’s perspective of mankind: hard working, humble, kind and benevolent. Works in the Lama Sabakhthani Club series explores the connection between being in anguish and being saved. The Workers pushes further the aftermath of surviving despair, finding joy and hope in grace. The emphasis on working, in this context, is to bring us closer to the apex of Lama Sabakhthani, when the distance between pain and joy is at its finest. Through this simple but profound composition, Ay Tjoe describes the ultimate blueprint: the significance of teamwork and partnership, the value of love, of giving, of working together to create a world of kindness, faith, hope and love.

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