Kartika Affandi-Köberl at Duta Fine Arts Gallery, Kemang, South Jakarta (1988)

Astri Wright
artdesigncafé - art | 29 February 2012
This article was previously published in the Jakarta Post on 18 April 1988 with the title "Travels, loneliness made Kartika a painter in her own right".

Kartika Affandi-Köberl at Duta Fine Arts Gallery

[Kartika Affandi-Köberl] is an accomplished painter who also happens to be a woman. These two aspects of Kartika are connected in so far as they both spring from and in return influence her direction and growth as a human being, but they are only two of the many "states of being" that Kartika identifies with.

"TVRI wanted to make a one-hour Profil budaya interview with me for Kartini Day, which is celebrated in honor of the first champion for education for women," says Kartika Affandi-Köberl, "but I said: I am not interested in being interviewed because I am a woman painter. I will gladly do an interview as a painter, but why should that be on the one day a year which is set aside for women? When do we have a special day set aside for men?" Kartika’s throaty laugh bubbled forth, signifying a zesty fighting spirit, carried by humor.

Besides a painter, Kartika Affandi-Köberl is a painting conservator, a mother of eight, a central member in a large family, and an active patron and member of the village near her house. Furthermore, she is busy planning the future of the recently established Affandi Foundation, which aims to promote and preserve the art of the Affandi family. Affandi himself, his wife Maryati and Kartika have for years exhibited together, most recently in Bandung and Surabaya. In addition, the new foundation aims to create an active millieu for film and lectures on art, as well as show exhibitions of other artists.

With the recent rise in the number of forgeries of Indonesian paintings, Kartika Affandi-Köberl has been able to disclaim forgeries of her father’s work; the activity of guaranteeing the authenticity of the family’s work will also be a part of the Foundation’s future work.

Besides these roles and responsibilities, Kartika Affandi-Köberl has in the last few years created a haven of beauty and privacy with her Austrian husband, Gerhard Köberl. In their home beneath Mt. Merapi, they can retreat from the world into their creative tasks: Gerhard has designed and built the one-room house, combining the chalet-style of the Alps with native Indonesian materials. He has built the guest bungalow and channeled river water into small ponds, for swimming, waterlilies or ducks. Kartika has created the garden, with palms and fruit trees of all sorts, and giant ferns, flowers, herbs and vegetables. Evenings are enlivened with kerosene lamps and just enough electricity from a car-battery to run a 5" TV and a stereo. Here Kartika can find the silence, freedom, peace and a supportive partnership she had to wait so long to find.

Kartika Affandi-Köberl: Into her own
After fighting for four years for a divorce from [her previous husband in a difficult marriage], thus fighting Islamic law which does not allow women to initiate divorce, and after being isolated into solitude by former friends once the divorce was granted, all the while fighting as an artist to free herself from her father’s enormous stylistic and technical influence, Kartika Affandi-Köberl has now finally come into her own, both as a rejuvenated human being and as an artist with a sense of her own vision and style.

Growing up as the daughter of Affandi could not have been easy. While having an extremely close relationship to her father, whose only child she was for many years, Kartika Affandi-Köberl may have been handicapped by the teaching-method Affandi used on her. He experimented with her budding talent by short-cutting the step-by-step academic teaching method, where naturalistic drawing is the [basis] of all further development. Instead he let her play directly with paint and emotion-based expressive representation. Since Kartika thus did not have the chance to experiment in other techniques and styles than those of her father, it seems almost inevitable that she should have developed into a "little Affandi".

Thus, both father and daughter paint outside, in front of their subject, and this is why neither of them have what could formally be called a studio. Their paint materials are set up before the subject that moves them, be it a bamboo grove or a handicapped person, and they set to work with their bare hands on the canvas, using a combination of fingers, palms and [squeezing] directly from the tubes of color.

A lesser painter than Affandi might take being copied as a [compliment], as proof of his greatness, as similarly some painters might be honored to be compared to a Master. But Affandi and Kartika are both too insightful and honest as artists for this kind of attitude. They both talked to me at different times of the necessity of Kartika’s liberating herself from her father’s influence.

"Before the mid-70s, my paintings might be mistaken for Papi’s," says Kartika Affandi-Köberl, dusting off some of her old canvases that are stacked in the old cave-like gallery on JL Solo. "But then I started doing something which Papi never did: Painting with black outlines. This was the beginning of me finding my own style as a painter."

This process seems to have culminated after Kartika Affandi-Köberl’s one-year stay in Austria where she studied painting conservation. This was a turning point both for the artists as well as for the woman. The two canvases Rebirth and Taking off the masks (both 1981) bear witness to this. In Vienna, Kartika was completely severed from her family and her culture. Faced with previously unknown depths of loneliness, studying a difficult subject in a foreign language, in an icy-cold [mountainous] country, Kartika had to come to terms with who she was, and with taking full responsibility for her own soul.

This history of art is full of examples of how a period of existential loneliness, often during extensive travels, caused turning points in many artists’ work. So also for Kartika Affandi-Köberl.

Naturally the link to her father is still visible in Kartika Affandi-Köberl’s painting; no artist’s work springs out of a vacuum. But she is no longer a "little Affandi". There are other acclaimed Indonesian painters who stay much more closely to Affandi’s style than Kartika. Her painting technique is still the same and at times subject matter, as well. But there is a lighter, rounder, more lyrical tone to Kartika’s work and her compositions seem more controlled— energetic but not infused with wild-man, sun-striving energy of Affandi.

"Papi always told me to paint with my emotions. But I can’t do only that— I have to think, too."

Furthermore, Kartika Affandi-Köberl is less centered on her own image than Affandi has been in latter years, painting and re-painting his self-portrait amidst bamboo, volcanoes and the revolving sun. Kartika’s two rebirth-paintings referred to above are exceptions, in which she has given us the revealing and challenging image of women’s liberation— which is human liberation— ever painted in Indonesia.

Unusual and possibly even shocking as such paintings are within the Indonesian context, they are part of a greatly varied oeuvre. There are paintings of kampongs, Balinese temples and boats, animals, bamboo groves, Austrian-snow landscapes, and European village scenes. Kartika Affandi-Köberl seems to feel equally at home anywhere she travels, be it Italy or Holland, Irian Jaya, Northern Thailand or Klaten.

Kartika Affandi-Köberl is not only interested in painting her emotions, she is interested in things in themselves, in capturing the essential relationships between things, their forms and their colors. She is interested in the beauty which is, not far removed, inaccessible to most, but always near at hand.

From the 14th of April [until] mid-May a retrospective of Kartika Affandi-Köberl’s work is on display at [Duta Fine Arts Gallery] in Kemang, South Jakarta.