Interview with Maryanto: Once Upon a Time in Rawalelatu

Tan Boon Hau, Art Republik, June 16, 2017

“They ARE violent! They will kidnap you!” Regales Maryanto, on friends’ response to his a recent attempt at a jaunt into the warlord-guarded oil rigs in Africa. “I’m like, yeah! You think so? Okay, let’s find someone who can bring us in.”


The exchange epitomises Indonesian artist Maryanto’s ethos — a visceral approach almost detective noir-esque, jumping into the abyss. Much of his work involves inserting himself into strange and prohibited lands (not through arbitrary bravado, but of a bottomless curiosity), and him bringing back its beauty, horror and tales for a people who live untouched by the hidden atrocities of globalisation. The body of Maryanto’s work revolves around the issues of poverty, pollution and exploitation, and its geopolitical and local human consequences. These are woven through a web of historical research, myths and stories into his own artistic vernacular and vision, then, more often than not, saturated (or desaturated) into massive, brooding, monolithic charcoal drawings that channels beauty and the apocalypse at the same time. “Maryanto makes art to engage in social and political activism,” states the first lines of any text about his work. More than anything, he knows as well, like good war photographers will attest, there is a kind of sublime beauty in absolute horror.