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Feb 2, 2012
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Ignatius Widiapradja’s path

By Jim Duncan

“Entaglement” digital print by Ignatius Widiapradja

Arthur Koestler defined the creative process as the synthesis of an idea clashing with its antithesis. It’s hard to imagine an Iowa artist more involved in that dialectic process than Ignatius Widiapradja. Even his name was so derived. He’s ethnically Chinese, but his first name is Christian and his surname is Indonesian. The latter was given to his family by a village chief to protect them from a pogrom of Chinese instigated by the military leaders who seized control of Indonesia’s government in 1965, the infamous “year of living dangerously” immortalized in Christopher Koch’s classic novel and Peter Weir’s Academy Award winning film of the same title.

“I grew up in a mystic place. Java is that kind of environment. We performed animal sacrifices every year — Old Testament style. We uncovered the center of the floor of the house and fed the earth there the blood of a goat. My father’s factory demanded the blood of cattle. We placed the skulls on the rafters then,” Widiapradja recalls.

He attended a strict Roman Catholic school, with bodyguards, on Java where he was trained for 12 years in the dogmatic Old Dutch school of drawing and painting. Ethnic Chinese students were admitted to Indonesian universities in such limited quotas that he moved to America in 1979 to attend the University of Texas in El Paso. He didn’t think he could learn much more there about drawing and painting, but his grandfather had been a master goldsmith, and UTEP’s jewelry department impressed Ignatius. By the mid 1980s, he was on the fast track to international recognition as a jewelry artist — featured at the American Craft Museum and included in their world tour exhibitions. Drake hired him to teach jewelry but that discipline was becoming frustrating.
“The ideas that entertained my mind were too big to be expressed within the discipline of jewelry, so I started painting again. I returned to Old Dutch realism because abstraction couldn’t accommodate expressions of individual struggle that I was feeling,” he explains.

Widiapradja’s previous shows focused upon Biblical moments — riffs off brutal themes from both the Old and New Testaments. His new exhibition draws more from other religions.

“In the East, we do not believe that evil is something we can get rid of. It just is. The Dancing Nataraj is both good and evil but in balance. The trick is to walk the delicate line, like Buddha, with one foot on each side. Duality is contained within a single entity. It is what it is and also its opposite,” he explains.

The paintings and drawings in the show have a definite Eastern look, the result of the continuing dialectic within the artist’s life. Widiapradja is back in the jewelry business, as a consultant to some very big players in Asia where he travels several times a year. So he’s visited a number of famous religious shrines, many reclaimed from jungles. Temples like Angkor Wat serve as backgrounds in his new series with dysfunctional Richard Meire buildings (Des Moines Art Center, Getty Museum) imposed ironically to illustrate the impudence of a species that thinks nature can be conquered. The new show is filled with more sexuality than earlier shows, temptations of the Buddha. Artificial limbs now litter familiar scenes of dismemberment to make a point.

“Modern culture is becoming more mechanical and more confused about identity and our relationship to the machines we invent. Your social security number, your Facebook page, your bank account number become your identity, to the point that stealing them is called identity theft.” “Ignatius Widiapradja” opens at Moberg Gallery Feb. 3.


“Miguel Angel Rios: Walkabout” opens Feb. 3 at the Des Moines Art Center. Video and multimedia installations, paintings and works on paper evoke South American and Mexican landscapes… “Occupy Valentine’s Day” includes works by Rob Stephens inspired by historical love letters, many never sent. Feb. 3 at The Eye Gallery. CV

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