Throughout history the chain of islands that stretch from Sumatra to Papua has been home to many forms of art. From the stone-carved Buddha statues of 9th Century Borobudur Temple to Balinese dance, puppet shows that fueled revolutions and graffiti on the streets of Jogjakarta today, the land we call Indonesia has left her creative mark on the world.
Kevin Lee, founder of Indo Seni (Seni means art in Indonesian), is a native New Yorker who worked as a professor at Andalas University in West Sumatra. He befriended several artists there, who were a major influence on his book Leaving Indonesia, based on a cross-country Indonesia road trip.
On January 20, 2017, the same day the 45th president of the United States was inaugurated, Kevin returned to Padang and met with these artists. Asked to express their own personal vision of the United States and particularly New York City, eleven artists each painted one 20x24 inch canvas. Two months later these paintings left Indonesia, cleared customs at JFK and were welcomed to New York City, an experience which may have been more complicated for the Muslim artists that created them. The paintings were not brought to any of New York’s glitzy galleries, but to be sold on the street at the NoLita Artisan’s Market.
This collection of art is a portrayal and interpretation of a place that has never been seen through the eyes of its creators. Some paintings show disappointment and even protest toward recent political waves such as Jon Wahid’s work "She Fell," which portrays a crying Lady Liberty. Others reach directly for the American ideal, such as Randi Pratama’s "New York Sky," which is painted pink because he dreams of coming to New York and colors are always distorted in his dreams.
These eleven paintings mark the first collaboration between Kevin Lee and Indonesia’s artists. Indo Seni will work to continue to build bridges between a volatile America and a neglected Indonesia.