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Enrico Soekarno: Drawing attention to Tibet

March 17, 2008

Eilish Kidd
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Sun, 03/16/2008
Arts & Design

Enrico Soekarno is an artist, of principle, who says he has been working
almost entirely in black-and-white since witnessing the Santa Cruz
massacre in East Timor in 1991.

"I guess I was so shocked that I could not use color anymore. So, I said
*I will not use color anymore, until Soeharto dies' . And, so, now
people are saying, hey, he's dead. So after this one (exhibition) I
might combine. Color and black and white."

"You can't use words to describe it," says Enrico of his meeting with
the Dalai Lama in 2006, "I have never seen a person actually glowing. He
was literally glowing."

"He was reading our introductory letter and he knew everything about
President Sukarno -- and he knows the Pancasila. He is very well read.
And the people in his government, the parliament -their choice of words
-- they are intelligent, they are amazing* I wish my DPR (the Indonesian
House of Representatives) was as smart and as caring. And they were so
humble. The prime minister met us, the ministers; they opened the
parliament to us. We were just a bunch of artists."

Yet Enrico, born in 1966, believes that artists, even humble ones, can
inspire change.

His exhibition "Out of Tibet", which runs until the end of the month at
Langgeng Icon Gallery in Kemang, is his way of drawing attention to
China's occupation of Tibet.

The show opened on March 10 -- Tibetan National Uprising Day -and
comprises images of Tibet, from starting in Nepal, going then to Tibet,
then of meeting the Dalai Lama and then on to Lhasa.

Last Friday, violence erupted in the Tibetan capital as Buddhist monks
and other ethnic Tibetans clashed with Chinese armed police. An
eyewitness account on the BBC website described monks being "beaten and
pulled and kicked" as they streamed down toward the main entrance of a

The protests have spread from Lhasa to all over Tibet in both intensity
and scale.

Enrico contacted The Jakarta Post by email Saturday morning with this
message: "Since March 10, both inside and outside Tibet, a popular
nationwide demonstration against Chinese rule has being taking place. It
is high time Chinese leaders settle the issue of Tibet peacefully
through the Middle Way Policy, whereby Tibetans are willing to accept
and live under Chinese rule if genuine autonomy is given to them to
preserve and practice their religion."

Enrico is a political artist, of this there is no doubt, for he is also
the chairman of the Roof of the World Foundation that seeks to raise
awareness of the plight of the Tibetans among the people of Indonesia.
But his works are not explicitly political.

"I don't really hang out with artists. I guess Semsar Sirait. He had the
same kind of outlook -- political without being political -- but he's
dead now. Djoko Pekik. He is also very allegorical and critical of
Soeharto. I was never jailed. I did Pramoedya book covers, but they
(Indonesian military) never came, even though my name was written there.
Sometimes if the works don't do enough, I go into the street," Enrico
said Wednesday.

Wearing a brown linen shirt, and with a trio of silver rings in one ear,
Enrico looked extremely debonair when The Jakarta Post met him on the
rooftop of the Icon building on Wednesday -- his appearance, his style
has something to do with his mixed parentage, perhaps, for his mother is
Latvian, his father Indonesian.

He attended high school in Sydney and remembers his art teacher giving
him a book on Vincent Van Gogh and the startling effect that it had on
his life. "After high school, the first thing I had to do was to travel
to Amsterdam to see the real thing. I made it to Rome also and took the
test for the art school in Rome. But I didn't get anything out of it,
except an introduction to other artists," he said scratching the stubble
on his chin.

"If needs be, I say I went to the Accademia de Belle Arti, but I didn't
actually learn anything."

In fact, Enrico hooked up with a girl a year into art school and quit.

His first exhibition was in oils and he has also tried his hand at
ceramics, etching, engraving, stained glass, photography and cinematography.

The works in his exhibition at Icon are sketch book size at 20 cm by 20
cm."I like to do it small," he says, " because I like people to approach
the work person by person. With small works, viewers tend to go back and
forth and inside the work and they might discover something."

"It is also practical as I need the drawings to fit in my backpack, when
I take ferries, jump trains."

Enrico has the spirit of adventure and the empathy for humanity that
makes one recall Conrad's The Heart of Darkness.

When he met the Dalai Lama he was traveling with a designer, a film
producer and a film director.

"We were the first artists (to come to Tibet) from Indonesia -- the
biggest Muslim country. He sent his representative to open the
exhibition -- a small exhibition like this."

So it is through art that Enrico is documenting his own journey, but
also trying to draw attention to issues. His is a softly, softly approach.

"I try to take the middle road. I don't want to be too preachy. I still
want to maintain the beauty, yes. And if someone looks at my work for
long enough, they might find something ... I do hate art to be too

He says, "The Tibetan community wants me to show this kind of thing (the
drawings at Lanngeng) overseas. Next year will be the 50th anniversary
of the uprising. Imagine that. You know, the Dalai Lama gave me a
foreword (to the 'Out of Tibet' catalog)". I was so happy. When it
arrived in the post, so happy" Enrico says with a grin.

I spoke to him (the Dalai Lama) for a long time, longer than most
according to his assistant. "You bow to him, and he bows even lower."
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