“The figure, the human figure is its own drama, its own theatre; it is both actor and story. That’s how I sometimes see it. It’s everything. The figure is acting, is seeing and is telling the story too. It’s the figure that carries everything.”
Bendera Kaos Oblong (Flag T-Shirt) is yet another momentous work by the artist, punctuated with Masriadi’s usual sharp humour while tinged with a shade of melancholy. The Indonesian artist’s painterly world is inhabited by hulking, zealous male figures who speak to something profoundly heartfelt, despite their absurdity. The symbolism is at once deceptively direct and comically subtle. Click on the red 'hotspots' in the image below for closer analysis.
He seems to have nonchalantly stripped off his shirt and hung it on a bamboo stick, making the figure both the subject of interest and the agent of his own ridicule. The T-shirt flag is a sagging symbol rather than an icon of strength. Pink is often associated with femininity. Coincidentally the colour is also a mix of the red and white – the colors of Indonesia’s national flag.
Scorched tanned skin has been rendered in Masriadi’s signature sheen, a result of the artist’s painstaking layering of paint to sculpt the figure’s musculature. Sinuous veins bulge against the surface of his taunt skin, as the man clenches a bamboo pole.
The man appears oblivious to all except the task at hand: standing still. This is done with such inexplicable intensity that it comes across as an uncanny disciplinary act. Taking his role as a quasi military guard all too seriously, the character and his over-the-top stoicism serve as the artist’s visual punchline.
A sole male figure stands at attention with an unwavering stare into the distance. Masriadi frames his main protagonist tightly in a stark minimalist composition in order to accentuate his presence and physicality.
Masriadi's work may also include a meta commentary on art. It's easy to imagine a viewer studying the present lot with a concentration akin to the subject's very own fixated stare. It thus moves a pictorial act onto a theatrical stage.
Masriadi’s well-known aversion to explicit messages results in works with a curious ambiguity. The brilliance of Bendera Kaos Oblong is its humour, and the way in which the work treads lightly between the amateurish gimmick and the appearance of exaggerated control. In a painting devoid of context, Masriadi insinuates interpretations that dispense with notions of authority, vacant facades of security or perhaps inflated egos in contemporary society.
This approach at satire is never bitter but always comical, and is masterfully done in Bendera Kaos Oblong. With insight and wit, each of Masriadi’s paintings impresses upon us messages that transcend normalcy and provoke something daringly personal.