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On the march

Christanto, D. They give evidence, 1997

Christanto, D. They give evidence, 1997


I went into the AGNSW recently to stand amongst the many sad people in Dadang Christanto’s work, They give evidence.

This is the kind of work I love—its visually evocative and emotionally powerful. A group of men and women, life-size stand in file in the Asian gallery. Cast in fibreglass, they give the impression of being carved from stone—immobile and heavy—and on the march at the same time. In careful alignment they carry in their arms the hollow carapaces of their children’s bodies.

In their silence there is stealth and determination and each figure is simultaneously an individual and one of many.

Christanto, D. They give evidence, 1997

Christanto, D. They give evidence, 1997

Dadang Christanto lives and works in Darwin and is one of the batch of brilliant Asian artists we are lucky to have contributing to our contemporary art scene. His works bring to light the many human rights abuses by political regimes the world over. His work rises deep from within, directly informed by the pivotal event of his father’s abduction and disappearance during the Suharto anti-communist purges of the late 1970s.

While we as viewers, don’t need to know the background to whatever atrocity he builds his fleet from, these freedom fighters, silent and grieving communicate so much to us. We are afraid, we are in awe, and we feel a shared grief. Presenting us with multiples is a real drawcard—there is strength in numbers and this is key to the success of his pieces.

As I looked a little closer I found that all of his work features men on the march. He is the creator of Heads from the north, the collection of bronze heads in the lagoon at the NGA in Canberra. I’ve always found them particularly evocative also–it’s a work that feeds directly into our xenophobia—in silence, these invaders wade through the marsh to firmer ground, heads just above the water line, quietly but resolutely determined.

Recently Dadang has created a performance-based work called Survivor about an environmental disaster in Indonesia. Survivor is currently on tour in regional galleries around Australia.

2 Responses to “On the march”

  1. Julie Stoneman says:

    Wow the work looks and sounds like it is incredibly evocative …. I hope I get to see some of it in the flesh soon …. Thanks for such an inspiring rave about it!

    • carolebest says:

      I think AGNSW just took it off display – or so it says on the website. Keep it an eye out though. I was really moved when I saw it and spent ages just walking around the figures which are larger than life size. The children/loved ones are hollow, so that you can see inside them. They reminded me of cicada shells – a perfect replica of something so beautiful but empty. It’s a great work.

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