FX Harsono (1949, Indonesia), visual artist
FX Harsono has played a crucial role in Indonesia’s contemporary art scene for forty years. His critical installation and performance work spans from pro-democracy dissent to explorations of the experiences of ethnic minorities. As a Chinese Indonesian, his works are often informed by the repression and feelings of ‘otherness’ he has encountered.
Report from the 2014 Prince Claus Awards Committee
FX Harsono (1949, Blitar) is a visual artist whose work explores national identity, particularly in relation to ethnic minorities. An engaged citizen and a significant figure in the Indonesian art scene over four decades, in 1975 he was a founding member of the Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru (New Art Movement) which rejected elitist notions of art and critically addressed social issues through installation and public performance. Although dissent was dangerous, Harsono was actively critical throughout Suharto’s regime in works such as Voice Without Voice/Sign (1993-94), which spells out the word ‘democracy’ in universal sign language.
In 1998, when demands for reform achieved Suharto’s downfall but unleashed mob violence against ethnic minorities, Harsono began to explore identity. An Indonesian of Chinese ancestry, he had grown up under Suharto’s laws (1967-2000) prohibiting public expression of Chinese culture and beliefs. The search for the self and experience of forced cultural denial are poetically depicted in Writing in the Rain (2011), in which Harsono’s repeated attempts to write his Chinese name are continuously erased. His research drew him to the massacres of Chinese Indonesians (1948-49), mass gravesites, calligraphic epitaphs and survivors’ stories, which he transformed into moving artworks.
Harsono’s work explores the experience of being ‘the other’; the pain of having to camouflage one’s true self and of being excluded from society.He continues to produce innovative work, teach, write and contribute to debate on art and social issues, nurturing and challenging the next generation of artists.
FX Harsono is honoured for creating poignant aesthetic means for examining and healing the wounds of Indonesia’s past; for drawing attention to the experience of ethnic minorities and incisively critiquing discrimination and the exclusionary nature of ‘national’ history and identity; for reclaiming memories and repressed stories that are central to Asian history; and for contributing significantly to the development of socially engaged art in Indonesia.