Essays & Media

Pieces from the Collection: Chair of the Punakawan by Nasirun

Chair of the Punakawan
20 Jun 2020

Artist: Nasirun (b. 1965, Indonesia)
Title: Chair of the Punakawan
Year: 2008
Medium: Mixed media on canvas
Dimensions: 145 x 400 cm
Credit Line: Gift of the Artist 2008, Collection of SMU
Location: Administration Building Level 14

Nasirun grew up in a small remote village near Cilacap on the southern coast of Java, where folklores, wayang stories and mythologies were familiar and habitually recounted by elders. He graduated from the Indonesia Institute of the Arts (ISI), Yogyakarta, and has continued to be based in Yogyakarta where he creates expressive large-format paintings with imageries and motifs drawn from his extensive knowledge of Javanese wayang to reflect on contemporary social conditions.

Chair of the Punakawan (2008) features prominently the four much-beloved court jesters of Javanese wayang standing or laying atop a chaise longue that has more than a few extra pairs of legs. “Punakawan” comes from an Old Javanese word meaning “friends who understand”. And these four friends—Semar, Gareng, Bagong and Petruk—,who symbolise the common people, often make a cameo as advisors to knights, kings, heroes and gods, providing both comical relief and biting social commentary.

Additional resources

Lee, J. (Ed.). (2008). Indonesian triple bill: Museum Oei Hong Djien loan collection, Entang Wiharso & Nasirun. Singapore Management University.

Supangkat, J. (2005). Art and politics in Indonesia. In C. Turner (Ed.), Art and social change: Contemporary art in Asia and the Pacific (pp. 218-228). Pandanus Books: Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University.