Agan Harahap is known by many different titles: often cited as ‘master photoshopper’, others might regard him as an internet troll or even a digital manipulator, while many who may not know him may be hugely familiar with his works that are widely shared and ripped-off anonymously in online media. However, in the art scene, he has been steadily regarded as one of the most prominent contemporary artist of his generation, participating in various exhibitions such as his most recent, ‘Mardijker Photo Studio’ in the 2016 Singapore Biennale.
Often made with montage techniques or digital imaging effects, Agan’s works are a fusion of relevant social commentaries and pop culture references, composed in the style of glamorous publicity photo that creates parodies or surreal recreations of factual moments in history. In recent years, Agan became a viral superstar due to his ‘hobby’ of creating digitally manipulated images that he shares freely online through various social media. These images have become widely popular and highly shared memes that take on a range of various subjects: celebrities, religious clerics, politicians, and public figures. All of his subjects are depicted in either impossible, self-deprecating, or ‘Indonesianized’ situations that express a local brand of humor. Though best understood by those who are familiar with the Indonesian culture, Agan’s amusing commentaries have proven to resonate universally as well.
From here, Agan found his position and relevance as an artist playing his role in the digital era. Even more so coming from Indonesia, one of the countries with the highest social media usage globally, along with the growing polarization, political, intellectual, and religious divide, plus a countless span of issues that come as the consequence of democratization of media and information. Digital imaging is no longer just an artistic tool or a professional occupation. It has become a powerful medium of social intervention for Agan, playing around with the public’s opinion with the intention of inviting others to rethink what the truth is, what is real and what is fiction – and essentially, to always question absolutism.
In this exhibition, Agan is taking his exploration to another level by presenting a series of appropriation of paintings by Indonesian art maestros, such as Hendra Gunawan, S. Sudjojono, Basuki Abdullah, and Dullah. Mainly from the 1940s to 1960s, most of these paintings embody the zeitgeist from a time known as the heyday of Social Realism manifesto in Indonesia, and were meant to express the grand narratives of nationalism, as well as to represent the social truth of the Indonesian society at that time. Agan ‘borrows’ these paintings to present his own version of Social Realism in the current zeitgeist: a period where religion, politics, class struggles, and consumer culture are all contesting in a culture where fake news, hoax, and media wars have become part of society’s everyday consumption – and art, somehow is still able to play a role in this divisive world we live in today.