Bayu Utomo Radjikin’s debut at The Substation Gallery, Singapore sees some continuum from the artist’s solo exhibition in Kuala Lumpur last year titled Unnamed. The artist revisits large portraits of his distinctive male protagonists dressed as Malay warriors, but the inclusion of a new element – the figures wearing fighter pilot helmets – is a slight deviation.
Or is it? Early in his career, Bayu often grappled with sociopolitical themes. As early as his university days, he addressed issues related to war and global atrocities, portraying figures in fragile situations and highlighting their cause to viewers. These themes featured in an array of mediums – installations, sculptures, and paintings – and so the artist’s inclusion of figures wearing fighter pilot helmets today is a glimpse of this “old” Bayu. The addition of text – adjectives used in relation to people and human emotions - in a number of his current works is another element that the artist has revisited from his past.
The works in Face without Name, remain true to the artist’s signature style. They are epic, large, and acutely realistic. And, the total showing is a miscellany of both charcoal works and paintings.
The physiognomic features of the artist’s signature male figures (alternately himself and a fellow artist) are detailed and pronounced, as are the attributes on the fighter pilot helmets. Both figures – masked and unmasked - are portrayed with a strong sense of drama made possible by the strong shadows and deep contrasts, which lend an air of nobility and importance to his subjects.
Why might this be? Why the focus on the human face? The answer to these questions can be found in other facets of Bayu’s oeuvre. The Malay warrior figure can be traced to Bayu’s Mencari Pahlawan (Quest of a Warrior) series, where the artist focuses on the notion of identity, questioning what it means to be Malay and what it takes to be a warrior, whilst the new figures – faceless, anonymous, and cold – instigate an entirely different set of questions: Who are they? What are they doing? Are these figures we are supposed to trust or fear?
By masking his figures with helmets, Bayu suggests that they could be anybody – you and I even. And their inclusion is not accidental, as the artist does refer to global events of our time and how soldiers become participatory elements in war, taking orders without questioning, and slowly lose all semblance of their own identity and eventually become unnamed faces.
Bayu’s universal and humanist view and the juxtaposition between the visible faces and the masked ones will probe audiences to consider oppositions, cultural and social identities, and – especially in light of the global events in the last decade - what it means to be human today.
Finally, Face without Name can be regarded as a culmination of sorts for this practicing artist of over twenty years. And quite likely, this body of work is a swansong before Bayu moves into new territory, producing works that focus on the female figure, subject matter that he recently showcased in Kuala Lumpur at HOM (House of MATAHATI) in a solo exhibition titled Cinta Kasih.