Painting social issues on walls

Indonesian artist Anagard, who won the UOB Southeast Asian Painting of the Year award, paints messages of diversity, love and anti-fascism in his street art

Street artist Anagard clinched the UOB Southeast Asian Painting of the Year award for Welcome Perdamaian, Goodbye Kedengkian (Welcome Peace, Goodbye Hostility), inspired by a house of prayer in Central Java. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Take a jaunt down the streets of Yogyakarta, Chiang Mai or Berlin and you might spot colourful hybrids of humans and animals spray-painted on the neighbourhood walls.

These curious figures, often painted in deep rainbow colours with messages of diversity, love and anti-fascism, are the creations of Anagard - a 35-year-old Indonesian street artist who also happens to be an award-winning painter .

Last Wednesday, he won the UOB Southeast Asian Painting of the Year award for Welcome Perdamaian, Goodbye Kedengkian (Welcome Peace, Goodbye Hostility), a stencil spray paint on aluminium work inspired by a house of prayer in Central Java. This famous Rhema Hill house of prayer, known to locals as the "chicken church", is a place of prayer for people of all religions.

The winning painting, which explores the idea of harmony amid diversity, features a cat-faced human figure wearing a fanciful, feathery headdress and is fringed with alternating black and yellow stripes, the sort you see on hazard tape.

Anagard laments the rise of extremism in his country. In 2017, Jakarta's governor Ahok, an ethnic-Chinese Christian, was sentenced to two years' jail for blasphemy. The artist adds that Yogyakarta - the arts hub where he lives - has also grown increasingly intolerant.

"They say Jogja is a city of tolerance, but since 2016, it's hard to say if Jogja is tolerant anymore."

Anagard, born to the owners of a small restaurant in Padang, West Sumatra, is the fourth of eight children. He studied at the Indonesian Institute of the Arts in Yogyakarta before working as an artist.

He made his first forays into street art about a decade ago.

"When I make art on a canvas, I say my work is about social issues - yet I make these paintings in my studio, send them to galleries for exhibitions and only people in the galleries can see my work. Street art is the best way of proving that you support your local society."

"When I make street art, I feel alive," adds the artist, who draws and cuts out his stencils by hand and has been invited to street art festivals in Lithuania and Poland.

The moniker Anagard (inspired by a former girlfriend's name) helps him stay safe: Some people see him as a vandal, while others are offended by the messages in his work.

"I don't make street art to be famous. If people know my real identity, it's dangerous. Maybe one day, I'll lose one hand. Who knows?"

These days, he often gets permission from building owners before painting, which he says also makes the work less likely to be removed.

He is no stranger to having his art effaced. In 2012, he joined a protest against the education ministry's decision to convert Yogyakarta's Indonesian Institute of Arts to Indonesian Institute of Arts and Culture. The mural he spray-painted on the institute's walls was removed.

United Overseas Bank's (UOB) Painting of the Year award, now in its 38th year, is the longest-running art contest in Singapore.

The UOB Southeast Asian Painting of the Year award, which Anagard won, was introduced in 2013 and is given to the most outstanding of the national winners from Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. Anagard received US$10,000 (S$13,600) - on top of the 250 million rupiah (S$24,240) he won for the UOB Painting of the Year (Indonesia) award.

He plans to travel, send his mother on a pilgrimage to Mecca, make some donations to charity and channel some of the prize money into the arts community - for instance by opening a gallery.

Meanwhile, the UOB Painting of the Year (Singapore) award was won by part-time polytechnic lecturer Wong Tze Chau for his acrylic on cotton canvas diptych War And Peace. He received a US$25,000 cash prize.

The seemingly placid painting, dotted with the Hebrew and Arabic words for "war" and "peace", alludes to the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Every living being in the world is interconnected," says 41-year-old Wong, who has bachelor degrees in architecture and philosophy and a master's in education (visual arts).

"I wanted to give people the illusion that (the two sides of the diptych) might be mirror images, or that one side is war and another is peace - when that's actually not the case.

"This is my third attempt taking part in the UOB competition. Finally, I've won something."

  • The winning works will be displayed at UOB Art Gallery in UOB Plaza 1, 80 Raffles Place till Feb 20. Go to

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2019, with the headline Painting social issues on walls. Subscribe