Meet JP Soetardjo. At first glance, he may seem like just a regular old man. But oh, what a life he’s led! What can you say about a retired freedom fighter who has been, among other things, a mechanic, a cook, an author, a radio presenter and a music composer?
This extraordinary life is the subject of JP Soetardjo Menjawab Semua Soalan (JP Soetardjo Answers All Questions), an exhibition first shown at Jogja Contemporary in Jogjakarta, Indonesia in August 2015. The exhibition is now in Kuala Lumpur.
On display there are various artefacts and mementoes from JP Soetardjo’s life, which invite visitors to ask themselves who exactly is this person. How could he have such a colourful life? Why does he never seem to age? Is he even real? And does that even matter?
“The most striking thing about JP Soetardjo is his spirit. Every time he suffers a failure, he rises again, having picked up a new skill that can help him,” says Indonesian artist Pius Sigit Kuncoro, 43, during a recent interview in Kuala Lumpur.
“That’s why I like to meet people who have a large variety of skills. That means they have overcome a lot in their lives.”
Pius is the artist behind JP Soetardjo, claiming to have “met” his subject five years ago. The lanky, bespectacled artist states that the inspiration for this show comes from a friendship he forged with a group of elderly people.
“When I had times of trouble, they would lift my spirits, and tell me not to give up,” he adds.
Born in Jember, Indonesia, Pius has previously exhibited his works in Indonesia, Japan, and Britain. He is also the co-founder of interdisciplinary performance art group Geber Modus Operandi, and is a curator at the Biennale Jogja XIV, one of Indonesia’s most important contemporary art events, later this year.
This exhibition in KL is a blend of art and storytelling, of history and fiction. Whether JP Soetardjo is real or not is ambiguous. “Fiction is at the forefront, and history is in the background, for this show. Sometimes, fiction is a door into another dimension, inviting us to new experiences,” explains Pius. According to JP Soetardjo’s biography, he was sent to Moscow in 1962 to monitor the production of Indonesian battleships there.
However, the unrest and power struggles that took place during Indonesia’s anti-communist purges in 1965 made it impossible for him to return home. He became a wanderer over the next 10 years, visiting many places and meeting many people.
Featured are various news articles, books, album covers, letters and notes from the life of JP Soetardjo. Also on display are many lush watercolour images, most of which depict the jovial, white-bearded JP Soetardjo engaging in a variety of activities.
Paintings of JP Soetardjo from his time operating a crab curry restaurant are accompanied with an actual recipe for his dish, while the section of his time as an advice-offering radio deejay come with transcripts from listeners calling in to speak to him.
Another section features the covers of books read by JP Soetardjo as well as some that were written by him.
“JP Soetardjo likes to read scientific books. He believes that the answer to problems of the past can be found in the future,” says Pius.
“There’s still a lot we can find out about him. Who knows, it might even turn out he has visited Malaysia before!” concludes Pius with a laugh.
JP Soetardjo Menjawab Semua Soalan is showing at Ilham Gallery in Kuala Lumpur till April 16. For more information, visit www.ilhamgallery.com.