One of the Indonesian painter Nyoman Masriadi’s more recent productions, Peaceman presents a different reality to the muscular, brawny world one confronts with other of Masriadi’s paintings. The immediately recognizable and striking visual language of Indonesian artist I Nyoman Masriadi is what has made him one of the most successful contemporary painters to emerge from Southeast Asia. His bold, hyper-masculine figures rendered in iconic hues of black began to feature prominently in his work from the year 2000, and have since become synonymous with any discussion of the artist’s work.
The protagonist in Peaceman, with a strikingly studied visage that resembles the artist is, however, markedly different from the black bold figures that have come to characterize Masriadi’s works. Masriadi does not often refer to the self in his paintings, and the present painting offers a rare instance where he does. Peaceman, on the surface, shows a man seated instead of being in a state of motion or movement. He has not a chip but a bird on his shoulder while a pig looks out adoringly at the viewer beneath the protagonist. It is a picture that speaks of contentment and satisfaction with one’s station in life.
The painting benefits from an anthropological reading too. Masriadi was born in Gianyar, Bali before moving to Yogyakarta on the island of Java as a young adult to attend art college. Being Balinese, social hierarchy mattered. Men constantly defined themselves against each other within society by their possessions. Many anthropological photographs were taken of such men with their domestic fowls. Owning something means being in power over a certain something, imbuing of its material and spiritual values. The modern Indonesian painter, Affandi, was particularly fond of painting such demonstrations of possession by Balinese men as seen in his portraits of men cradling cockerels. Peaceman is one of such portraits in line with the common anthropological definition of Balinese men, albeit a contemporary version.
Instead of a Balinese headdress, on the t-shirt of the seated protagonist is a graphic image of a hand gesture in which the index and middle fingers are raised and parted, while the other fingers are clenched. A classic sign for V, or victory, it is a symbol that has had profund shifts in meaning in different contexts. Winston Churchill claimed the V sign for victory, especially used by Allied troops during World War II. Since the 1960s, when the "V sign" was widely adopted by the counterculture movement, it has come to be used as a symbol of peace, and is most distinctly associated with John Lennon, with his famous happening staying in bed for peace with Yoko Ono in 1969. Masriadi alludes to these essentially contradictory traditions by investing in his protagonist a place within the pantheon of the famous who espoused supportive or antagonistic values about the notion of peace.
In Peaceman, Masriadi has created a profound multi-faceted character – is his protagonist truly an emblem of peace or in fact a post-modern construct of a personage swinging between or possessing dual realities – the first espousing values of peace and the second demonstrating traits of possession, and competition within a social hierarchy?