Culture / Art Republik

Nana Tedja Levels the Playing Field for Women Artists in Indonesia

Bold, expressive, and unapologetically wild, Nana holds no reservation in breaking down the demarcations between herself and her art.

Jan 25, 2022 | By Ryan Mario

Nana Tedja

It is no secret; the art world is heavily dominated by men, and Nana Tedja is one of the leading female artists who has taken up the mantle of leveling the playing field in the Indonesian art scene for women artists to stand at the front line alongside their male counterparts. Bold, expressive, and unapologetically wild, Nana holds no reservation in breaking down the demarcations between herself and her art, which is to say that perusal of her art is akin to staring inwardly into her very being.

How did the early years of picking up art do for you?

I was born in 1971. My father had his own batik company and my mother works as a designer there. Everyday, I would observe my mother and the many employees churn out batik works. At the age of 5, I tried my hand at batik painting and it instantly grew on me. Aged, 10, I furthered my artistic experience with my grandfather after watching him paint on a canvas. It was there and then that I figured that canvas painting was how I would like to produce art, and that has stuck with me since then.

Initially, my father was not agreeable to my choice of becoming an artist. As a woman, it was even less ideal for such a career path since the creative environment in Indonesia (or many other places) largely favoured men. Even so, I refused to cave in to the adversities of such gender stratification and eventually, I was able to achieve a great many accomplishments with my art and live a decent and respectable life today.

Your works are filled with spontaneous strokes, sketchy figures, and cut-out pieces; how would you describe your style?

My paintings are mostly ideas derived from my childhood. True to myself in every sense, I have always intended my art to be an immediate reflection of my character and personality. Granted, it may be absurd to expect most to appreciate my works to the full extent since my practice differs greatly from what I was taught about contemporary art in the Indonesia Institute of Art (ISI) Yogyakarta, but I figured that I would much sooner reconcile with that fact than to give up what I find truest to my personal happiness and contentment as an artist.

Perhaps, as what most galleries have mentioned to me before, my art style falls within the neo-expressionism style. While that may be so, I have always reiterated that my artistic direction was solely based off my personal preferences and mood. In some of my works, my subjects are presented with large teeth. Call it a self-portrait if you will, since these figures came to be because of my own teeth that many have teased me about since I was a child. “Rabbit teeth”, as how they would call them. In this vein, I am my own muse for my paintings; each stroke or colour choice is evoked through my own feelings for them. While this process is as enjoyable as it is therapeutic for me, I guess the challenge arises when I need to decide if the final line laid down completes the work to my satisfaction.

In your opinion, how is the role of an artist beneficial to society?

Our lives in society has become so astonishingly fast-paced that sometimes, we are so caught up with our daily pursuits that we forget to stop and smell the flowers. Our role as artists is to bring beauty to all who are stressed with their lives while reminding them that it is prudent to stop and take a step back in order to proceed forward. I am also thankful that I can bring my art to so many more audiences through the assistance of the media and galleries that see the value in what we do.

Also, here in Indonesia, art is good money for us, so that could possibly help us contribute to the economy whilst doing what we love most.

What are your future plans for showcasing your art?

I will be hosting my solo show at Art:1 New Museum, a commercial gallery and exhibition space specializing in contemporary Indonesian paintings and sculptures. You may wish to drop by my Instagram page (@nana_tedja) for any updates on it.

While the woman artist had to overcome a good many hurdles earlier on, Nana now stands tall as a leading figure in the Indonesian art scene. She paints to ensure that whenever someone looks up from their phone screens, they will be able to witness something mesmerising, something meaningful, something authentically Nana Tedja before their very eyes.

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