From cultural activism to counter memorial
: The artwork of Dadang Christanto 1975-2005

  • Allison Patricia Gray

    Student thesis: Masters by Research - CDU


    This dissertation argues that historical, political, cultural gaps and misunderstanding circulate around Indonesian /Australian artist Dadang Christanto. Christanto, born in 1957 in Tegal in central Java of Chinese parentage, is one of Indonesia's foremost contemporary artists who has garnered widespread critical acclaim in the international art arena since the early 1990s. He is primarily known for performances, installations, paintings and drawings. Dadang has since 1999 resided in Australia after accepting a lecturing position at the local Darwin University. Interpretative limitations have allowed mythologised and romanticised representations to prevail within an Australian perspective and context. In this thesis I argue for more dynamic and complex interpretations that examine Christanto's cultural production as a considered shift from political activism to counter memorial. The dissertation aims to contribute to understanding and knowledge about Dadang Christanto, bridging a gap between the artist's formative context in Indonesia, his dynamic experience of migration and the critical response in Australia.

    This dissertation adopts an interdisciplinary methodology grounded in history, art history and cultural studies to provide a complex theoretical framework of the assertions. This multidisciplinary approach is intended to challenge existing interpretations as well as opening up new avenues of inquiry. The foremost point to make is that postmodern acknowledges the importance of biography and ethnicity. Such a postmodern framework allows the researcher to retain the focus on a single artist but in contrast with earlier art historical models, which focused on the myth of the artist as heroic genius: the events of Christanto's life story are viewed in a wider cultural social political context. Consequently the ‘voice’ of Christanto is crucial to this thesis. Extensive interviews with the artist are the means by which I have been able to address limitations in the critical response to Christanto. Moreover, theories of diaspora are crucial to my thesis and a means by which Dadang Christanto's biography is placed into a wider context.

    My dissertation posits that omissions and misunderstanding which surround Christanto occur at three critical junctures. First, the restricted understanding of Christanto's lived experience and formative years in Indonesia, second a limited understanding of Christanto's migrant experience and its influence on his art practice and third a gap in understanding evident in the critical response to Christanto by critics and curators associated with cultural and collecting institutions.

    The coalescing of particular circumstance in Australia enables Christanto to begin addressing his familial history. In my analysis, Christanto is also crucially concerned with a universal aspect that allows his work to be understood and appreciated not simply as political activism but in terms of the postmodern idea of the counter memorial.
    Date of Award2008
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorSylvia Kleinert (Supervisor), Sylvia Kleinert (Supervisor) & Sarah Scott (Supervisor)

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