MULYANA

(Yogyakarta)

Mulyana is educated as an art teacher in Department of Fine Art Education Universitas Pendidikan Indonesia (UPI) Bandung and  learned knitting and crocheting at the famous bookshop collective Tobucil in Bandung. Mulyana experiences the act of knitting or crocheting as a form of meditation and prayer. His pieces begin their lives like small organisms, the modules slowly blooming with quiet contemplation into vividly colored clusters of queer forms that seem to hold together tightly, as if a pulling force was binding them relentlessly with invisible strength. These islands were aptly titled, Sister island, Coral Island and such, ironically prompting us to recall coral life on the seabed, instead of man-dominant or artificially reclaimed islands. As one draw closer to peer into the multitude of tiny eyes poking out of the coral-like forms, cute as they may seem, their intimate presence pulls one into their microcosm of tactility and a parallel life – a channel to transcendence?   

In 2008, Mulyana created his alter-ego, the Mogus (Monster), acronymed with the Gurita (octopus) and Sigarantang (Mulyana’s clan name). The Mogus is made of knitted pompoms from unused bulky yarn, adapted from images of marine life with its beautiful diversity and mystery. Mulyana’s fantasy is to “have many hands, so that I can do many things, and give to many people”. The Coral islands series represent The Mogus’ home – domain, a safe places of refuge, which is a basic human need. “In God’s eyes, our being in this life is to eventually meet the Creator at a beautiful place,” says Mulyana for whom art making is a privileged way of “showing gratitude to our Creator who has given him a sound mind and a healthy body to be part of life on earth”. Often, Mulyana speaks of his work with vigorous reference to spirituality and a sense of a higher being guiding his act of creation. Deeper layers of interpretation lie in these vibrant and eye-catching soft sculptures – do we not forget that corals live and breathe a life of their own? Despite looking dormant, harmless and nonchalant, corals provide an optimally suitable environment for underwater plants and creatures to live on, live in and find refuge, like a giant rock that shelters the weak from turbulent ocean conditions and life-threatening mammals. Just like how insects, plants and birds have their methods to live self-sufficiently without the need for human intervention, the corals can be seen as a god-sent gift to sustain the lives of other creatures, ever so naturally.       

When Mulyana moved to Yogyakarta in 2014, he was looking to find something interesting for a community-based project. He then started to actively work with crochete communities, one of it is a transgender women community in Sorogenen village, where unlike in many other areas in Indonesia, they are accepted as part of society. Mulyana also works with housewives who crochete in their spare time to earn more income for their families. With this women community, Mulyana produced multiple soft sculptures in his signature style, pathing the way towards the world stage where his works now enjoy a global audience.

While Mulyana says he did not set out to overtly make a point about gender and sexuality with his intricate soft sculptures, it is possible to read the Coral islands as an attempt to negotiate the fluidity of bodies and identity. Floating on invisible seas, each with their individual identities in different shapes and colour yet anchored to one another, Mulyana’s corals represent the wish to move beyond arbitrary labels that devalue us as human beings; in favour of a useful, multi-armed, multi-gendered identity that can contribute to the lives of our fellow human beings. In Silent Prayers (2017), a knitting installation of large white corals suspended from the ground, warm lights embedded inside the corals glow and fade with the slow passing of time, transforming the intimate space into one of meditation and calmness. Mulyana kneels at the front, dressed in a white uniform, eyes closed. His message to the audience: A prayer is a hope. Life must be filled with prayers.

 

Commissioned by ArtJog 2018 to create the signature work for the fair, Mulyana was challenged to present a monumental installation, Sea Remembers (2018). Creating an immersive installation out of knitted materials, Sea Remembers features an entire panorama of an underwater world. The main highlight of his installation is a skeleton of a whale with coral attached to it, surrounded by fishes that are shaped like the explosions of atomic bombs. An invitation to “dive deeper”, Mulyana’s artwork is an invocation to confront one’s fear of the unknown. Encouraging viewers to delve beneath the surface and negotiate their fears, Mulyana’s works have become emblematic of wider personal and global struggles that many are familiar with facing today. Conceived of as an invitation for us to “dive deeper”, Sea Remembers (2018), presently in the collection of MOTOMOTO Museum in Jakarta.

In 2019, February – March, Mulyana’s works was on display at the window of HERMES, Singapore and his first overseas solo exhibition at FORM, Perth, Australia titled “ A Man, A Monster and The Sea” was displayed March – June. A Man, A Monster and the Sea then is presented at Orange County Museum of Art in California, USA September 2019 – March 2020. In August, Mulyana presented his environmental project titled  “Anima Mundi” at Central Embassy, Bangkok. Mulyana  participated in Indonesia Contemporary Art and Design ( ICAD )  exhibition in November and did HERMES, Seoul window display.

Mulyana’s practice revolves around deeper ideas of spirituality and togetherness with nature. Many of his works have environmental overtones to them, and often resemble corals, reefs and underwater plants and creatures. Believing that caring for the environment goes hand in hand with being part of life on earth, Mulyana’s knitted works are reminders of the natural beauty that we are surrounded by.

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