b. 1963, Sangeh, Bali, Indonesia

Playing with Reality
by Arif Bagus Prasetyo


Born in Sangeh, Bali, in 1963, Putra graduated from the Indonesian Art Institute in Yogyakarta. Mangu Putra’s creations reflect an intensive interrogation of contemporary culture, which is governed by images such as paintings, visual simulations, stereotypes, illusions, reproductions, imitations, and fantasies. He is an artist who is especially sensitive towards the power of images in the formation, the influence and the manipulation that our perception has of reality. Becoming almost obsessive, Putra has explored the complexity of practical imaging. His creations highlight a critical wrestling with the problem of image-making, struggling with “how things seem to us” and “the way we see.”

At first glance, Mangu Putra’s paintings appear to be representations of reality, a natural landscape or human figure, for example, with which we are familiar beyond the canvas. More than that, the various forms of reality are generally realized using realistic drawing methods, which, for the most part, emphasize presenting the painting as similar to the subject. Following that, our views are impelled to criticize the problem of similarity. By imitating reality, Putra’s paintings discuss the principles of mimesis, which are based on reality.

Naturalistic images dominated Putra’s early art, which peaked in the mid-1990s. Most of his paintings showed various images of nature such as fish, volcanoes, beaches, and mountains. A number of his abstract paintings, until the year 2000, raised awareness of natural elements, including the structure of earth and stones, the wind and the formation of clouds. Since 2002, images of nature on Mangu Putra’s canvases have consisted of human figures involved many socio-cultural and activities.

However, the natural world that Putra has drawn has actually never been entirely “natural.” Although it always seemed convincing, the representation of nature in his paintings does not mirror direct observation in the natural sense of viewing. In a way, the images of natural world in Putra’s canvases appear artificial, too “perfect” to come from the candid view of a normal person’s eye. The world in Putra’s paintings seems sensual, “sexier” than the real world outside the painting. The artist has reconstructed the world with such complexity that it almost resembles a ready-made product with enhanced packaging.

Mangu Putra majored in design and worked in graphic design, but he eventually decided to shift his full attention to painting. His experiences with various methods of image-making in graphic design have had a significant influence on his interpretation of reality. Similar to the latest principles on advertisements, which emphasize the importance of the image of the product more than the product itself, Putra focuses mainly on the image of the object in his paintings so much that the visual-physiological impact on viewers will be the strongest.

Putra’s paintings reflect the experiences of seeing, especially in this era where there is much greater impact of images. While the technology of imaging is continuously advancing new forms of visual simulation, illusions are achieving greater heights than ever before and now impinge on reality. Now the existence of our natural reality may be the same as before; however, our perception of reality has changed drastically. Today, there are many artificial models of reality, many of which are compatible with, or even excel our reality. The advancement of image-creation technology has transformed the natural world so much that it is replaced with a more enchanting artificial world.

By exploiting the strength of images in creating realistic illusions, Putra restructures it into the hyper-reality in his paintings, which has radically changed our way of looking at the world.

Although representing natural reality, Mangu Putra always supports artificial characters. Generally, this artificiality appears in the unnatural coloring systems, in his choice of perspective, in the organization of his compact space, analytic arrangement, and concepts. The use of special-effects with specific drawing techniques, especially the “make-up” effect, gives strength to the artificial characters in Mangu Putra’s works. In the course of representing his artificial projections, the artist emphasizes paintings as images, as artificial visual constructions. Most important to his visual strategy is adopting the effects of photographic manipulation.

In the first phase, the images in Putra’s paintings are produced through intensification or saturation, which is to light an object and dramatize its existence. Putra puts a great deal of “light” on the object he is painting, which makes the object very clear to the eye. The result of this “over-exposure” is an artificially invented product.

As a result, many realistic images appear on the canvas’s surface as unconventional, attractive, and provocative. Normal visual objects – for example, craters or fish – have a fantastic and dramatic appearance. The pictorial space is transformed into a stage of a spectacular show.

In the next phase, Putra moves on to a different visual approach to emphasize the painting as an image. He still dramatizes the existence of objects in his paintings, but by reversing the process of intensification through the process of reduction. Mangu Putra’s paintings, since 2003, are marked by the reduction of colors as the objects appear in minimal color. His paintings tend to be monochromatic, calm, luminous, and with subdued lighting.

In the stillness of refined nuances, from the note of a single soft color (grey, green, blue, yellow, sepia), the atmosphere in Mangu Putra’s works tends to be gloomy, and indistinct, yet it is dramatic. Since 2005, Putra’s recoloring has been accompanied with disfiguration, thus presenting objects in minimal color and faded. The objects in his paintings are unfinished or seem unclear, like an object caught through an unfocused camera. The paintings open an ambiguous space of meaning between reality and abstraction.

In his most recent paintings, Putra has adopted the effect of mechanical production of the print media. His visual strategy has mostly made use of old photographs, black-and-white photographs, and spoilt or damaged prints. The painting is presented as a meta-picture, a picture about a picture, a picture that shows what a picture is, a picture that reveals its nature.

Mangu Putra’s paintings do represent reality but, at the same time, are made relative, and tempt and seduce the natural relationship between representation and reality. They remind viewers that reality in the painting, however realistic, is never identical to reality outside the painting. Putra shows that representation is not a mirror that automatically reflects reality and that real space is never duplicated in pictorial space: there is no plain truth about what we see. How things seem to us is a cultural product – including the culture that forms the discipline of painting. Painting has never shown the world as it is except as an artificial world constructed on its own specific visual language.

Through the processes of intensification and reduction, Putra also that paintings are merely surface appearances. Sometimes, both processes are combined in one creation: for example, by intensifying a figure with reduction in coloring. Moreover, with the visual strategy of the artist, the painting is, in itself, an illusion created from imagination on a piece of flat canvas. Putra’s paintings show that space, light, and event (i.e. world) are never natural, because it is always constructed by systems, procedures, or mechanisms, which are fully artificial.

Mangu Putra’s paintings, which are characteristically representational, somehow illustrate the impossibility of representation. All efforts by the artist to make the representation artificial can be read as a statement that the painting is not really a portrait, but reality itself. Painting has never been able to describe reality objectively, except the objective of its reality as an image: just an artificial visual construct on a two-dimensional plane. This is the metaphorical meaning of Putra’s painting in terms of “form” or “text.”

Of course, this type of meaning is not only presented in Putra’s paintings. In the modern history of fine arts, both nonrepresentational and abstract artists have presented the same meanings. But what is interesting in Putra’s case is that the meanings were developed through representational elements with mimetic qualities. By making the normalcy of the everyday, as attractive as possible, Putra’s works become an allegory on the impossibility of seeing reality as an innocent. The visual feasts of Putra’s canvases are attractive to the eye: however, it is the signal that our eyes have lost their innocence.

Mangu Putra’s paintings act as a critical witness in this era of image imperium, that our eyes are “sinful” and helpless in the grip of the power of images with all their seductive strength, drowning in blissful and excessive image consumption.

The awareness of painting as an artificial construct pushed the artist to search for a deeper meaning, for something more substantial behind the glamorous surface. With all the artificial qualities, Putra’s creations often support symbolic meanings, which are concentrated in the form of “content” or “context.”

Some of his works have messages that describe environmental problems such as the exploitation of nature, pollution, the killing of animals, and global warming. The search for the spiritual and religious is described in Putra’s paintings with natural representations such as dramatic BaliHinduism rituals as well as Tibetan monk figures.

In his most recent works, Mangu Putra articulates his reflection on the human condition by focusing on photo-realistic explorations on the figure. These works show Mangu Putra boldly addressing social, political, and historical issues. Aspects of inclusive ethics come to the forefront to compete with aspects of exclusive aesthetics.

Mangu Putra’s realistic works cannot be truly classified as realism. His creation have many sides and many layers, and plays on various levels of meaning – metaphoric, symbolic, in the form of content, text, or context. Mangu Putra is proving that by being a realistic artist he can never take realism naively. He is a radical realist, in the sense that all his creative efforts are centered on the theme of “reality” but reality is a problem that cannot be fully understood. In his effort to understand that reality, Putra’s wrestles with “image reality,” which is the only reality zone that is fully opened for him to explore as an artist.

Mangu Putra struggles to maintain the delicate balance between his passionate imagination and cold calculation, formal interest and moral commitment, desire for the profound and the aspiration for the sacred. His creations are those of an artist who is always on the move, continuously searching and questioning reality.

Arif Bagus Prasetyo currently resides in Bali, and is a curator and critic of the visual arts. He was editor of the book Mangu Putra: Nature, Culture, Tension, and alumnus of the International Writing Program, the University of Iowa, the United States.




2002     Indofood Art Award, Jakarta – 2nd

1994     “Philip Morris Award’’ for painting titled ‘’Imagination Under the Sea’’

1990     Indonesian Institute of Art 6th Anniversary, Yogyakarta – Best Work in Visual Communication Design

1988     Indonesian Institute of Art 4th Anniversary, Yogyakarta – Best Work in Visual Communication Design



2011     “Teater Rakyat 2”, KIAF Seoul, South Korea

2010     “Teater Rakyat”, National Gallery, Jakarta

2008     “Silent Words”, Gajah Gallery, Singapore

2007     “Mandala”, Bidadari, Ubud-Bali, Indonesia

2006     “Belief”, Rupa Gallery, Surabaya, Indonesia

2005    “Spiritual Landscape”, Gajah Gallery, Singapore

2003     “Di Tepi Cahaya Bali”, Bentara Budaya Jakarta, Indonesia

2002     “Gerutu Air,Tanah dan Batu”, Santi Gallery, Jakarta, Indonesia

2000     “Nature, Culture, Tension”, Jezz Gallery, Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia

1999     Solo Exhibition, Chedi Gallery, Ubud-Bali, Indonesia



Art Expo Malaysia Plus with Art Xchange Gallery, MATRADE Exhibition & Convention Centre, Kuala Lumpur
“WhArt Now?” Traveling Exhibitions with Art Xchange Gallery, Jogja Gallery, Yogyakarta; Galeri Prima, Kuala Lumpur; Art Xchange Gallery, Singapore
“We Are Asia”, Art Stage Singapore with Gajah Gallery, Singapore
“Art Basel Hong Kong” with Gajah Gallery
“2016 Taiwan x Indonesia Cultural and Artistic Biennale”, Tainan, Taiwan
“In Commemoration of the 36th Democratization Movement 2016 Asian Democracy, Human Right and Peace”, Gwangju Art Museum, South Korea

“New Dialogue” Southeast Asian Abstraction, Sotheby’s Gallery, Singapore; Hong Kong
“Violent Bali”, Tonyraka Gallery, Ubud, Bali
“Aku Diponegoro”, Galeri Nasional Jakarta, Indonesia
“Social Realism In Asia Chapter 1. Isles of Sincerity”, Hakgojae Gallery,a Shanghai, China
“Kala/Masa”, Galeri Canna, Jakarta
“Langkah Kepalang Dekolonisasi”, Galeri Nasional, Jakarta

“Low Stream”, Jeju Museum of Contemporary Art, Jeju South Korea
“First International Art Exhibition; INDONESIA CHINA ART ASSOCIATION”, National Museum of Indonesia, Jakarta“Trajectories”, Gallery Habana, La Habana, Cuba

“Ground Zero”, Lokanat Gallery, Yangon, Myanmar
“Jiwa Ketok dan Kebangsaan” (S. Sudjojono, Persagi, dan Kita), National Gallery Jakarta, Indonesia
“Determination of Two Islands’’, National Gallery Jakarta by Tonyraka Gallery & Vanessa Gallery
“Irony in Paradise’’ Exhibition with Art Sanggar Dewata Bali, ARMA Museum, Bali
“Picturing Pictures” Art Exhibition with Art Xchange Gallery, Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum, Vietnam
“Chosun Girl, Military Sexual Slavery by Japan’’, Seoul Museum Of Art, Seoul, South Korea
“Homo Ludens “4 – 013, Bermain Seni Rupa Dengan Tiga pesan, at Bentara Budaya Bali, by CA Emmitan Gallery
“Imagining Indonesia: Tribute S.Sudjojono”, Tonyraka Gallery, Bali
“Taksu Sketsa Sanggar Dewata”, UPT Gallery ISI Yogyakarta, Indonesia
“The Age of Photography”, Tonyraka Gallery, Ubud Bali, Indonesia

Art Stage Singapore 2012, Singapore
“Archive-Reclaim doc”, National Gallery, Jakarta

“Closing the GAP”, MiFA (Melbourne International Fine Art), Australia
Art Stage Singapore 2011, Singapore
“Bali Making Choices”, National Gallery, Jakarta
“Indonesian Eye”, Contemporary Indonesia Art in Jakarta, Indonesia
“Homo Ludens 2”, Emmitan CAG, Surabaya
“Indonesian Eye”, Contemporary Indonesia Art at Saatchi Gallery, London
“Beyond Photography”, Ciputra, Jakarta

“Bali And Beyond” with Sanggar Dewata Indonesia, Bentara Budaya, Bali
“CONTEMPORANEITY, Contemporary Art Of Indonesia”, MOCA, Shanghai, China
“Paper Power”, Maha Art, Sanur, Bali

“Reborn”, H2 Gallery, Semarang
“Milestone”, Vanessa Art Link, Jakarta, Indonesia
“POLI{CROMATIC} V-Art”, Bentara Budaya Yogyakarta
Art Taipei with Vanessa Art Link, Beijing
“Indonesia Contemporary Drawing” with Andi Galeri, National Gallery, Jakarta
“KIAF”, M Daegu City, South Korea
“The Six Masters From Bali”, Maha Art Galeri, Denpasar, Bali
“Next Nature” with Vanessa Art Link, National Gallery, Jakarta
“Second Odyssey”, Srisasanti Gallery

“Expanding Contemporary Realism”, Akili Museum Of Art, Jakarta, Indonesia
“Manifesto”, National Gallery of Indonesia, Jakarta
“Le Mayeur’s Lunchbreak”, Santrian Gallery
“Merti Bumi”, Lerep Art Village, Semarang, Indonesia
“Indonesia and the Mainstream” with Canna Gallery, CIGE, Beijing, China
“The Highlight, Dari Medium Ke Transmedia”, Indonesia Institute of The Arts, Yogyakarta
“Two Generation of Contemporary Balinese Artists from Expressionism to Pop Art”, Canna Gallery
“S D I Now”, TonyRaka Art Gallery, Ubud-Bali, Indonesia
Beijing Art Fair, China
Shanghai Art Fair, China
“Art with an Accent”, Guangzhou, China

“Ar(t)chepelago Alert’’, TonyRaka Art Gallery, Ubud-Bali, Indonesia
“Global Warming’’, TonyRaka Art Gallery, Ubud-Bali, Indonesia

“Angkor-The Djin Within’’, Gajah Gallery, Singapore
“The 7th Nude Crouquis Exhibition’’, Seoul, Korea

“Bali-Jeju’’, Jejudo Art Hall, Jeju, South Korea
“Milestone’’, Vanessa Art House Jakarta, Indonesia
“Erotica’’, TonyRaka Gallery, Ubud-Bali, Indonesia

“Reading Multi Culture’’, Haus der Weltkulturen, Berlin, Germany
“Still Life’’, TonyRaka Gallery, Ubud-Bali, Indonesia
“The Big Picture’’, The Fullerton Hotel, Singapore
“Tamarind, In Pursuit of Identity’’, Nava Art Gallery, Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia
“Contemporary Indonesia Fine Art’’, Art Singapore

1987 – 2003        Participated in numerous selected Group Exhibitions in Indonesia, Singapore, Germany & Korea