Indonesian Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale


Artist: Heri Dono

Curators: Carla Bianpoen, Restu Imansari Kusumaningrum, Asmudjo Jono Irianto

Commissioner: Sapta Nirwandar

Deputy Commissioner: Soedarmadji J.H. Damais

Scientific Committee: Asmudjo Jono Irianto, Elisabetta di Mambro, Franco Laera, Watie Moerany  

Venue: Arsenale

In his 1996 exhibition “Blooming in Arms” at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford, Heri Dono presented a series of paintings featuring prosthetic-legged, gun-wielding figures—man-tree hybrids. The work was a commentary on the environmental policies of the authoritarian Indonesian president Suharto, who encouraged citizens to plant trees while allowing international corporations to ravage the nation’s jungles for profit. This mix of local context and multinational trends is typical of Dono’s subject matter. He draws heavily on Javanese culture—music, dance, literature, and especially wayang shadow puppetry—blending fantastical iconography and humor with sociopolitical critique. The New York Times has written that Dono is “arguably the first contemporary Indonesian artist of his generation to break into the global art scene.”

It is fitting, then, that the 55-year-old artist is set to represent Indonesia at this year’s Venice Biennale. Dono’s exhibition will include a site-specific, voyage-themed work that he developed together with local architects and artisans from Bandung, West Java, and Yogyakarta. The show’s centerpiece—titled Trokomod (2015), a conflation of the Greek Trojan Horse and an Indonesian Komodo dragon—is a large (7.5 x 3 x 3.5 meters) boat in the shape of Indonesia’s native reptile, its tarnished metal skin a commentary on colonial gold mining. Viewers will be able to enter the dragon to look through periscopes at Western artifacts, like a statue of a man in a white, curly horse-hair wig—shifting the traditional Eastern-facing direction of the exoticizing gaze.

Dono, who has participated in more than 27 international biennials, is committed to his role as a kind of art ambassador for Indonesia. “In the global art scene, Indonesia has always been a blank spot—it is never talked about,” he has said. “I believe it is a big mistake.”

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