Saturday, 8 August 2015

Illustrators Arise: Giovanni Dessy Austriningrum

How are you doing, artsy folks? I hope you are great this fine morning! Well, if it ain't fine, I hope it will be after you get a dose of this month's Illustrators Arise. In case you're not sure what this feature is, it is where I introduce my favourite illustrators from all over the world every month through an interview so you guys can read along and get to know them too. Doesn't that sound mighty fine? I hope so! Because August is the Independence Month of Indonesia, I thought we'd go a bit local today. The first time I witnessed this month's illustrator's works was through instagram and it was love at first sight. Her works speak volumes and her principles struck me with awe. Without further ado, let's welcome Giovanni Dessy Austriningrum, an activist illustrator who creates to change the world! She now lives in Bandung, amongst creative crowds and other inspirations.

Hello, Giovanni! Shall we start with how you got to know the world of illustration and why you stand by it?
When I was a child, my parents always give me story-books to tell or read myself. I think that’s when I fell in love with stories and pictures. As I grow, illustrations (and visual art generally) always attract me. I joined art extracurriculars, wall-magazine team, joined some drawing and craft competitions and always like to draw for fun or randomly doodle. So, basically I just continue doing what I always love.

I hear you went to National University of Singapore. Why didn't you go to an art school? What are your thoughts on it?
Actually I graduated from International Relations Dept. of Universitas Airlangga in Surabaya. It was just one semester exchange then in NUS. Well, as many of high school graduates, I didn’t know what I really wanted to do in my life back then. Beside art, I like to read books and discuss so much. I love debate, in fact. That’s why I joined Debate Club in High School. So, many debate competitions I joined were held by International Departments or talked about international issues. And that’s how I thought I really wanted to study IR.
But, eventually, I realized that the dominant discourse and praxis in international relations (both theory and practice) was much more about pragmatic politics, western-centric developmentalism, imperialistic desire, and less about serious attempt to make the world a better place. It is so exploitative that I begin to despise it. That’s when I took art seriously. I think visual art kinda saved me from this depression about the world and I learned that it can be used to spread ideas and touch the heart of people.
I think going to Art School seems nice. But sometimes they (Art students and faculty) forget what is art and what good can be used of it. In Indonesia, “Seni” comes from the word “sani” which means the honesty of the soul. Nowadays, I see many art school graduates lied to themselves and become corporate slaves (designers for unethical companies, for example). They don’t reflect much whether what they do contributes to this exploitative system which appreciate superficiality more than honesty, thus make them lose the essential meaning of art.

What kind of material do you usually use?
Watercolor, gouache, colored-pencils, pencils, drawing pen, acrylic, paper.

You seem to draw a lot of Indonesia-themed illustrations. How would you describe your ideal Indonesia? What should we do to achieve it?
Actually I like to draw about good things that haven’t been covered much (or sometimes repressed) by the mainstream media. Recently, I’m interested in the notion of stateless society, where both individuality and community is respected, strong, independent, and lives in harmony with nature. We can reach this if we start to have consciousness of our existence within our world system and fight for our freedom. 
So, to answer your question, with all the respect to our history and every possibility to change, I would say that my ideal Indonesia is where there is no state of Indonesia.

You are also involved in a lot of social movements, especially non-profit organisations. What inspired you to do this? How can other young people follow suit?
Because I was frustrated about how our society is trapped in false consciousness and I cannot live in peace, knowing that many human-beings around me are exploited and repressed in the name of “development”. So I wanna join the fight.
Well, with the internet, you can actually simply search and start to browse which organization or community fits your passion and interest. My only suggestion would be: think and choose critically.

A lot of your illustrations seemed to be commissioned by intercultural organisations as well. How did this start and what is the most memorable experience of working together with them?
I joined some exchange programs and international events. It began when I wanted to go abroad but didn’t have enough money and savings. So I started to apply to these programs. The most impressive thing for me was the exposure of diversity. But now, if I reflect about my intercultural activities back then, I realized how it was typical diplomatic strategy. Many international events (unfortunately) are merely ceremonial; they don’t really want to make substantial change.

You once admitted that you are alter-capitalism. Why is that? What can we do to fight capitalism?
In my mind, or theoretically, I am actually anti-capitalist. But, in practice it is not that simple because capitalism has been the ideology of our age. That’s why for the sake of consistency I choose the word “alter” or “alternative”.
Like I said, its ideological and it’s not that easy to simply fight it. But we can simply start to notice and learn from our surroundings (people, environment), read books and contemplate, and discuss with friend about what we can do to make things better. I think the sense to fight injustice will come if you just let yourself to be fully “human”.

Nowadays many of the younger generations start to be attracted to and involved in the field of illustrations in Indonesia. What is your opinion on the creative industry in this country?
I think it’s nice how many people do art. But like i said, I hope people would direct their artworks for the betterment of the society. For example, one of my most favorite artist is Affandi because his artworks reflect his clear ideological stance on how he see reality. In this country, this kind of artwork is rare nowadays. 

What does the future look like for Giovanni Dessy?
I have so many plans. I want to take Master study, I want to continue drawing and explore illustrations, I want to make a centre of grassroots movement with my friends in Komune Rakapare, I want to make library, art and collaborative space, I want to get married and fight together with my partner (damn, I’m romantic) . So many exciting plans.

Any advice for new artists out there (including myself)?
Be brave, be independent, keep learning, reading, drawing, and playing outside :)

A little note from me

The first thing that came to mind when I see Giovanni's works is the simple warmth to it. Her tendency to use earthy tones and warmer colours makes me feel like at home. Her unique style is second to none, radiating with friendly vibes as well as down-to-earth aesthetics. Through her works, you can see Indonesia for what it really is; from the villages and rice fields, not the big malls and borguise wanna-be in the cities. What inspires me the most is the number of works and contribution she's done for social movements as well as diplomatic organisations throughout the years. Her principle to create not only to make "pretty" things but also to get people to fight for a cause is simply something to abide by. Knowing she is actually the same age as me is quite surreal. One thing is for sure: I would love to see more of her socially conscious artworks for years to come!

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