McNally School
of Fine Arts

Akshatha Rangarajan

Akshatha Rangarajan

MA Asian Art Histories
2021 — 2022

Akshatha's interest in Southeast Asian contemporary art led her to pursue an MA Asian Art Histories degree. She is a sculptor who graduated with an MFA in 2010. Her fascination with words and language has motivated her research in Chinese and Urdu calligraphy, which has shaped her process-oriented sculptures. Her MA thesis analyses Indonesian text-based art.

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Thesis abstract

Framing the lexical rhetoric: The socio-political context of Indonesian text-based art from 2008-2013

Language is a powerful and dynamic force facilitating communication, imparting meaning and constructing identities. It plays a dominant role in Indonesia's sociocultural and political history, uniting its people amidst its struggle for independence to establish a national identity. This thesis explores the inherent connections between Bahasa Indonesia and text-based art, delving into artistic strategies that necessitated art's conceptual and aesthetic textual methodology.

The examination of four artworks created between 2008 and 2013 by artists FX Harsono (b.1949) and Jompet Kuswidananto (b.1976) are positioned in the Indonesian historical and sociopolitical realm perceiving that 2008 marked a decade after Suharto’s Orde Baru (New Order) regime (1968–1998). The visual and semantic modes of representation exemplify the voice of the Indonesians in the post-colonial Era Reformasi period, during Indonesia’s ongoing process of transitioning to democracy. Acknowledging that literary, political and social ideologies have influenced Indonesian power systems, this research targets artistic interventions, analysing and critiquing the interplay between language, art and identity that enables the artist and their work to be situated in the contemporary.

Harsono and Kuswidananto are immersed in establishing Indonesia's ‘true’ collective identity by examining power – a formidable force that determines and facilitates the text-based art narratives. The text in these narratives becomes a verbal, aural and visual marker, essentially recording power contestations and affecting the meaning and significance of identity – realised through conceptual strategies discussed in this thesis – democracy, history and hybridity. The artists’ practice obliquely references and dynamically shifts the awareness and knowledge of neglected history through differences in the narrative, creating a contemporary reading of Indonesia’s sociopolitical and visual discourse.