Tag Archives: art

Safiuddin Ahmed

There are numerous volumes on art and artists on my bookshelf – exhibition catalogues, biographies, monographs, essays, art theoretical writings and more. If I wrote in my last post that bookstores are among the first places that I explore in a city that is new to me, the same can be saidfor galleries and art museums. It is therefore not surprising that I am following this example in Dhaka as well.

An opulent, heavy and elaborately designed volume about the painter Safiuddin Ahmed was one of the first that I bought in Dhaka. Safiuddin Ahmed was born in Calcutta in 1922 and died in Dhaka in 2012. He had lived in East Pakistan, later Bangladesh, since 1947.

Ahmed came from an educated and devout but liberal Muslim family in Kolkata. After the early death of the father, the mother raised her children alone. Safiuddin showed early talent and interest in drawing; one of his later teachers at the art academy, convinced his mother against her initial resistance to allow her son to become an artist.

Still Life, 1939, Watercolor on paper, 27×37 cm

A catalog essay by the poet Kaiser Haq goes into the historical background and context, especially of the artist’s younger years. These were years of political debates about the future of British India, the notorious famine years, fights about the relationship between the different religions and the different ethnic groups, but also about the subtle racism of the British colonial rulers, which was also reflected in the art education. Just before the painter began his studies it was heavily focused on handicrafts and was oriented exclusively to western traditions, since the locals were denied any true understanding of art. But Ahmed was lucky – he benefited from the reform efforts of the 1930s, which brought about a departure from this pattern, and above all from exceptionally good teachers, about whose importance the painter gives moving expression in an interview printed in the volume.

Boats and River, 1954, Woodcut, 12×17 cm

After the partition of Bengal (and India) in 1947, Ahmed settled in Dhaka, East Bengal, which at the time was still a relatively small city without an art scene comparable to Calcutta. With some other painters, emigrants from Calcutta like himself, he founded the first art school in Dhaka, which is now a separate faculty of Dhaka University. Ahmed taught printmaking here, a technique he had taught already briefly in Calcutta and for which he was particularly talented.

Angling, 1954, Oil on canvas, 54×122 cm

What follows is an artist career in quite difficult conditions: politically due to the suppression of the Bengali language and culture by West Pakistan, and the later, extremely bloody Bangladesh independence struggle in 1971; but also because of arguments about the role of the artist in society; several heavy floods, in which part of his work was lost, also contributed to the fact that the artist led a rather eventful, not easy life.

Carpenter, 1956, Oil on board, 64×122 cm

A longer catalog essay by Syed Azizul Haque deals with Safiuddin Ahmed’s artistic career. Themes from everyday life in the village, portraits, sketches of nudes, semi-abstract works, still lifes and repeated scenes in which water plays a major role – Ahmed, who had empathy for ordinary people and was personally very humble, had a broad range of topics.

Banks of the River Buriganga III, 1962, Oil on canvas, 22×34 cm

A great diversity can also be seen in the techniques he used. Drawings, watercolours, woodcuts, drypoint etchings and aquatints, engravings – a technique he learned during a long stay in London – and oil paintings show his versatility here too. His preference for the color black, which plays a central role in many of his works, is striking, as is his interest in learning new techniques or perfecting them, even as he gets older.

The Angry Fish, 1964, Etching and aquatint, 26×46 cm

Decades of teaching enabled Ahmed to earn a regular income and therefore he rarely needed to sell any of his work. In the interview mentioned above, he says:

„I love my creations and don’t wish to part with them…I have no desire to sell paintings to those who collect them in order to boost their social status.”

The Sound of water, 1985, Etching, aquatint and engraving, 25×50 cm

The works presented in this blog post are from the Estate von Safiuddin Ahmed. You can see more of his work on a website dedicated to him. Or even better: you get a copy of this beautiful book!

Floods II, 1992, Charcoal and crayon on paper, 22×27 cm

Rosa Maria Falvo (ed.) with an introduction by Kaiser Haq and an essay by Syed Azizul Haque: Safiuddin Ahmed, Skira / Bengal Foundation, Milano / Dhaka 2011

The Melody of Nature II, 2001, Oil on canvas, 44×54 cm
© The estate of Safiuddin Ahmed, 2011
© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-22. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.   

Memoirs of a German-Jewish Painter

Moritz Daniel Oppenheim was an important German painter of the 19th century. He was probably the first Jewish visual artist to gain world renown. At an advanced age, he wrote an autobiography intended as a memoir for his family; it was not published during his lifetime. In 1924, his grandson Alfred Oppenheim, who was also a painter, published the manuscript as a book; it was reprinted in 1999 and 2013.

According to family memories, Oppenheim was born in late December 1799 in Hanau, a town east of Frankfurt am Main. (Wikipedia and other sources report a date of birth at the beginning of January 1800.) His Jewish family lived in economically relatively secure conditions, even though the Hanau Jews still had to live in the ghetto at that time and had to face a variety of discriminations. Although the legal betterment of the Jews in Germany at this time made progress in the wake of the emancipatory efforts of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing or Moses Mendelssohn, and especially after the French Revolution, it should nevertheless take decades before the legal equality of Jews in Germany was realized. Oppenheim’s autobiography is so interesting because it not only traces an individual artist’s life, but because it is also a practical example of how this process of Jewish emancipation in Germany in the 19th Century progressed: slowly and characterized by numerous setbacks.

A relatively big part of Oppenheim’s autobiography is devoted to his childhood and youth. Loving and caring parents who focused on providing their children with a good education evidently laid the foundation for his well-balanced character and for being knowledgeable about many subjects, not only about those necessary for a later career. Oppenheim attended the local Talmud Torah school, but received also private lessons. Later he went to a regular high school, together with Christian students. In addition, he and one of his brothers received permission from the father to attend the local drawing academy, where his artistic talent showed early; but young Moritz Daniel didn’t initially plan a professional future as an artist – he originally wanted to become a doctor. From his mother, the young Oppenheim inherited his love for literature and theater – the mother read for example Goethe’s Hermann and Dorothea and attended sometimes theater performances together with her son; these visits inspired Moritz Daniel to set up a puppet theater in the attic of their home (this feels a bit reminiscent of Wilhelm Meister).

What follows are the years at the Hanau and later at the Munich Academy, in which Oppenheim trains his talent as a draftsman and in oil painting. In retrospect, Oppenheim remembers his teachers and supporters of that period with warmth and gratitude, but he also peppers his memoirs with a few humorous anecdotes. The self-portrait, which he created as a 16-year-old, is already proof of his considerable talent and self-confidence.

Self-Portrait, 1814-1816, Oil on canvas, 98.3×83.5 cm, Jewish Museum, New York City

To broaden his horizons Oppenheim studied afterwards in Paris and later in Italy, the country for which so many German artists of his time were yearning. In Paris, he seems to have been a frequent visitor of the legendary Café de la Régence; in his biography he mentions the meeting with Aaron Alexandre there, a rabbi born in Germany, who emigrated to France during the French Revolution and who is remembered today mainly as the author of the monumental chess problem book Collection des plus beaux Problèmes d’Echecs. Alexandre was considered to be one of the world’s best chess players of his time.

More productive in artistic terms was for Oppenheim his subsequent longer stay in Italy. He attached himself looseley to the circle of the Nazarenes, an art movement that exercised a certain influence on him, but which he quickly outgrew. Particularly valuable was in addition to his contacts with Friedrich Overbeck in Rome especially the friendship with the then already famous Bertel Thorvaldsen. The senior Danish sculptor and draftsman was in Rome something like Oppenheim’s artistic mentor, and he provided artistic guidance as well as contacts with potential customers who would be interested to buy Oppenheim’s works.

If Oppenheim had expected that he would not experience any anti-Jewish resentment among fellow artists in his Italian environment, he was wrong. Both among his colleagues and among Italian acquaintances, he experienced frequently more or less open exclusion as soon as he was recognized as a Jew. In order to avoid this exclusion, several painters of Jewish origin converted to Christianity at that time (as did also the writers Heinrich Heine and Ludwig Börne). Oppenheim, who was obviously much more deeply rooted in Judaism than many others, did not follow this path. He managed to gain broad recognition and success in his later life as a Jewish painter in Germany.

One can attest Oppenheim an excellent sense of the social position of his clients and other people important for his advancement. He almost effortlessly won major Jewish art collectors, such as those from the Rothschild family, as buyers for portraits. When the still rather young Oppenheim visited Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in Weimar in 1827 – the visit was preceded by an exchange of letters in which Goethe apparently obtained a positive impression of the young man’s talent and character -, he was awarded at Goethe’s request with an order and a paid professorship with no teaching commitments. From that moment on, Oppenheim was a man who became known in important circles also outside the Jewish community.

What followed was a very successful life as an artist; Oppenheim presents himself as a man for whom a fulfilled family life was very important and he also seems to have lived in great harmony as a husband (after the early death of his first wife, he married a second time) and father of six children. I found this second part of the autobiography – apart from the sections on the 1848/49 revolution – a little less interesting, although all in all this brief autobiography is an important and instructive document.

Here are a few more of Oppenheim’s works. He was particularly popular as a portrait painter, as the following three portraits of writers illustrate:

Portrait of Heinrich Heine, 1831, Oil on paper on canvas, 43×34 cm, Kunsthalle Hamburg
Portrait of Ludwig Börne in his study, 1827, Oil on canvas, 120×90 cm, Israel Museum, Jerusalem
Portrait of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe with illustrations from his works, after 1828, Oil on canvas, Goethe-Haus, Frankfurt am Main

Scenes from Jewish life in Germany were another frequent subject of Oppenheim’s artworks. Prints based on Oppenheim’s paintings were a frequent adornment of many Jewish homes in the 19th and 20th centuries. They not only showed the everyday life of Jewish families who succeeded to leave the ghetto behind, but would also provide a clear message – particularly in the next painting -: that it is possible to be a Jew, following the religious norms of the forefathers, and at the same time to be a German patriot, fighting as a volunteer in the War of Liberation:

The Return of the Jewish Volunteer from the Wars of Liberation, 1833-1834, Oil on canvas, 86.2×94 cm, Jewish Museum, New York City
The Bleach Garden, 1842, Oil on canvas, Museum of History, Hanau

While Oppenheim’s autobiography seems to be untranslated, the following bi-lingual catalogue contains not only a detailed biography and essays about his art, but also reproductions of most of his works and is therefore highly recommended for anyone with an interest in this important German-Jewish artist.

Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, Erinnerungen eines deutsch-jüdischen Maler (Memoirs of a German-Jewish Painter), Manutius, Heidelberg 1999

Georg Heuberger / Anton Merk (eds.), Moritz Daniel Oppenheim. Die Entdeckung des jüdischen Selbstbewußtseins in der Kunst /Jewish Identity in 19th Century Art, Jüdisches Museum Frankfurt am Main 1999 (bi-lingual German/English)

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-20. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Visiting a painter’s studio

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit the painter Dmitrie Peicev (Димитър Пейчев) in his studio in Chisinau. Peicev was born 1943 in Burgugi, a Bulgarian village in the Budzhak region, the part of Bessarabia that belongs now to Ukraine (Odesa oblast). He received his artistic education in Chisinau and Moscow. The influence of the French impressionists, Courbet and of his teacher (and father-in-law) Mihai Grecu is visible in many of his paintings, although Peicev has his own distinctive style.

Peicev is also a poet. He has published three collections of poetry in his native language in Bulgaria. A fourth collection is in preparation. Many of his poems circle around childhood memories from his beloved Budzhak.

It was supposed to be a friendly, short visit; but we ended up (supported by some Moldovan wine) to discuss for about six hours a big variety of topics from the world of art, poetry, and life in general. For me it was particularly interesting to learn about the life of the Bulgarian minority in the region and their history and culture. And of course it was an opportunity to see quite a number of his artworks, mainly from recent years; portraits, landscapes, still lives.

Although the artist, a very humble person, who didn’t say anything bad about anyone during our meeting, has done a lot of efforts to keep his Bulgarian identity and to keep the Bulgarian community in the region together, I had the feeling that his experiences in Bulgaria were a bit mixed (to say it friendly). While he has some close friends in Bulgaria and spoke very fondly of his visits there, he is not very well known in Bulgaria, and a big exhibition tour years ago ended in a disaster for the artist: most of his 80 paintings exhibited there were stolen, and his experiences with Bulgarian art galleries (and the customs) were not of the kind that make him very eager to exhibit again in Bulgaria. Still, I hope that one day we will see a big exhibition of his artworks in Bulgaria.

The friendly artist suggested to paint my portrait; although vanity is usually not one of my sins, I am considering it…

I truly enjoyed to meet such an interesting person! My special thanks goes to my friend Kate Baklitskaya, who not only introduced me to the artist, but who was also brave enough to listen for the biggest part of the visit to our conversation in Bulgarian.

Some works of Dmitrie Peicev:

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-7. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
© Dmitrie Peicev and National Museum of Art Moldova, Chisinau, 2010-2017

Fünf kurze Kurzgeschichten von Ugo Untoro

Dua lembar baju, celana, 3 celana dalam, dan handuk kecil kumasukkan
dalam tas. Lewat pintu belakang aku keluar, satpamku juga tertidur dekat
dengan kurungan herder. Tetapi terlelap.
Anakku, istriku kalau mau ketemu dengan aku tontonlah sirkus keliling.

Ich legte zwei Hemden, ein Paar Hosen, drei Unterhosen und ein kleines Handtuch in meine Tasche. Ich ging durch die Hintertür hinaus. Mein Wachmann befand sich neben dem Zwinger mit dem Schäferhund. Beide schliefen. Mein Sohn, meine Frau, wenn ihr mich sehen wollt, kommt und schaut euch die Zirkusvorstellung an.


Dasar aku memang klepto, aku di kamar kecil Kereta Api (Train Urinoir) dan aku mencuri papan yang tertulis “Pergunakanlah hanya waktu kereta jalan.” Tidak berhasil karena pecah, bautnya terlalu kencang, BAJINGAN!!

Ich bin wirklich ein Kleptomane, ich war im Zugurinal und stahl das Schild auf dem steht „Nur benutzen wenn der Zug fährt.“ Es ging schief, denn es zerbrach, der Bolzen saß zu fest. BASTARD!!


Telpon berdering.
“Halo, siapa?”
“Selli mas!”
Bekas pacarku dulu sekali, waktu aku masih ingusan dan pemalu banget.
Pegang jarinya saja sudah gemetar, ngomong juga jarang, jadi surat-suratan
“Berapa anakmu sekarang Sell?”
“Dua mas, cewek-cowok”
“Suamimu dimana?”
Dia ngomong lagi ngebor minyak di Riau. Kami janjian bertemu, dua hari
lagi. Di tengah hujan lebat, di bawah beringi, kutiduri ia dalam mobilku.
Aku tidak pemalu lagi.

Das Telefon klingelte.
„Hallo, wer ist dran?“
„Hier ist Selli!“
Sie war meine Freundin als ich noch ganz jung und schüchtern war.
Zu jener Zeit zitterte ich sogar, wenn ich nur ihre Hand hielt. Wir sprachen kaum jemals miteinander, aber wir schickten uns lange Zeit Briefe.
„Wie viele Kinder hast du jetzt, Sell?“
„Zwei, ein Mädchen und einen Jungen.“
„Wo steckt dein Mann?“
Sie sagte, ihr Mann wäre in Riau beim Ölbohren. Wir verabredeten uns für den übernächsten Tag. Im strömenden Regen, unter einem Banyan-Baum, fickte ich sie in meinem Auto.
Ich war nicht mehr schüchtern.


Anjing hitam tak tau apa yang harus dia perbuat ketika dilihat tuannya
mencari-cari tali, mengikatnya di kusen pintu dan meletakkan kursi rendah di

Der schwarze Hund wusste nicht, was er tun sollte als er sah, dass sein Herrchen nach einem Seil suchte, es dann am Türrahmen festband und einen Stuhl darunter stellte.


Nahkodanya kapal Nuh terlalu banyak minum Rum. Sebuah ombak besar
datang menghantam dan langsung tenggelam. Nabi Nuh tidak bisa berenang
dan semua binatang yang dikumpulkannya mati. Hanya sepasang Gagak
yang sempat menyelamatkan diri.
Mereka terbang dan mencari sarang. Beranak pinak, anak cucunya ada
yang kawin sama ikan, gurita, kerang, ubur-ubur, penyu, dan kitalah

Der Kapitän von Noahs Arche trank zu viel Rum.  Eine gewaltige Welle krachte ins Schiff und es sank sofort. Noah konnte nicht schwimmen und alle Tiere an Bord der Arche wurden getötet. Nur ein Krähenpaar hatte genug Zeit zu fliehen.
Sie flogen davon und suchten nach einem Nistplatz. Dann brüteten sie; einige ihrer Kinder und Enkel heirateten Fische, Tintenfische, Austern, Quallen, Schildkröten, und wir sind ihre Nachfahren.

Aus dem Indonesischen übersetzt von Thomas Hübner

Give Me a Cross

Ugo Untoro: Give Me a Cross, Ölfarbe und Kohle auf Leinwand, 150x100cm, 2008  (Photo Biasa Art Space)

Ugo Untoro: Cerita Pendek Sekali (Kurze Kurzgeschichten), Museum dan Tanah Liat, Bantul, Yogyakarta 2006

© Ugo Untoro, 2006-2008
© Biasa Art Space, 2008 (Photo) 
© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-6. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


“Trouver une chose, c’est toujours amusant; un moment avant elle n’y était pas encore. Mais trouver un chat, c’est inouï! Car ce chat, convenez-en, n’entre pas tout à fait dans votre vie, comme ferait, par exemple, un jouet quelconque tout en vous appartenant maintenant, il reste un peu en dehors, et cela fait toujours: la vie + un chat, ce qui donne, je vous assure, une somme énorme. Perdre une chose, c’est bien triste. Il est à supposer qu’elle se trouve mal, qu’elle se casse quelque part, qu’elle finit dans la déchéance. Mais perdre un chat: non! Ce n’est pas permis.”

“Finding a thing, that‘s always fun; a moment before it was not there yet. But finding a cat, that’s incredible! For this cat, admit it, does not come entirely into your life, as would for example any toy while belonging to you now. It remains a little off, and it always will be: a life + a cat, that adds up to a huge sum, I assure you. Losing a thing is very sad. It has to be assumed that it is in bad condition, that it breaks somewhere, that it ends in decay. But losing a cat: no! That is not allowed.”

A boy finds a stray cat, adopts it and gets more and more attached to it. The two spend a lot of time together and we see them in many everyday situations and small adventures. Then, Mitsou, the cat, disappears again; cats are doing this sometimes, so we don’t need to suspect the worst. But the boy is inconsolable, searches for Mitsou everywhere, but to no avail.

A sad but everyday story of a heartbreaking loss. What makes it extraordinary is the fact that this real-life experience was made into a series of beautiful drawings by the 11-year old boy to whom it happened. Balthasar Klossowski, today known as Balthus, told this story 1919 in 40 drawings that show an already fully accomplished artist. Cats and girls proved to be his lifelong artistic interests. (His brother Pierre was a also a talented painter and a writer.) Stylistically, the drawings resemble woodcuts and a certain influence of the Flemish artist and book illustrator Frans Masereel, who at around the same time published several “novels without words”, can be detected.

Rainer Maria Rilke, who was at that time the lover of Balthus’ mother Baladine, added a foreword in French when Mitsou was first published in 1921 and from which the above quote is taken. Therefore the review is not included in German Literature Month. (Rilke wrote also occasionally poems in French.) 

Mitsou is a very charming and beautiful book. When you love cats or when you just want to enjoy a book with beautiful illustrations, you will like this precious work very much.

Art historian Sabine Rewald, author of the book Balthus: Cats and Girls describes here how she tracked down the surviving complete set of original drawings that were shown for the first time in an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York not long ago. You can see also some samples of these wonderful drawings when you click on the hyperlink.

The English edition of the book is out of print, but you can find this gem with a bit of luck in antiquarian bookstores or online shops. The French and German editions are still available.


Mitsou. Forty Images by Balthus. Preface by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Richard Miller, The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Harry N. Abrams, New York 1984

Sabine Rewald: Balthus: Cats and Girls, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2013

The Rilke quote in this blog post is translated from French by Thomas Hübner.

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

An Afternoon in the Museum

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to pay a visit to the newly opened National Art Gallery “Square 500” in Sofia which shows right now a huge exhibition curated by two former museum directors. The exhibition gives an overview over the Bulgarian Museum collections of the National Gallery (for Bulgarian art) and of the National Museum for Foreign Art.

The museum, ridiculously dubbed “the Bulgarian Louvre” by a part of the media and political “elite” of the country was already before its opening subject to many headlines in the media, namely because of the delayed opening and – not completely untypical for Bulgaria – because of alleged irregularities in the procurement and tender process of the reconstruction of the building that houses the museum. A rather big amount of tax payers’ money went into the coffers of the shady construction mogul who – allegedly – won the manipulated tender because he – allegedly – is a friend of the Minister of Culture.

If these rumors are really true I cannot say – but I wouldn’t be surprised. As an art lover I am of course more concerned about the result and I want to give my informed opinion about it here.

The edifice of the building which houses the museum is a late 19th century design in Viennese style, adapted after WWII to the needs of a museum and again changed now by several modern attachments, all in all a worthy location for such a museum.

Most of the artworks I saw in the exhibition were already known to me – except for a few that are borrowed from other collections for this exhibition – it is basically a combination of the works that were housed before in the two separate museums mentioned above. So regarding what I saw I can say: a good overview about Bulgarian art since the 1830s until 1989 (I didn’t see any artwork produced after the collapse of communism – if this reflects a lack of budget for new acquisitions in the last 25 years or a political statement that tells us that there is no good art produced in Bulgaria in the last decades according to the exhibition curators I don’t know), and a – in my opinion not very favorable mix with foreign artworks that are hung frequently together with Bulgarian artists of the same period.

While the Bulgarian art collection is in a way representative (except for the most recent period), the presented examples of foreign art are in most cases mediocre. It is also not visible or explained why the artworks are hung in that specific neighborhood (which frequently has no relation/influence with the respective Bulgarian artist).

Another thing that struck me was the lighting: in some rooms it was really awful and much too intense. Artworks are sensitive items and the light must be carefully balanced between the need to protect it against possible damage and the wish of the visitors to see and study it in the best possible way. The lighting as it is now doesn’t do justice to either of these requirements.

I had also the impression that the plates which describe the artwork have been done in the very last moment; there are frequently four or five of such very basic paper clippings stuck to the wall in one place and the visitor has to guess which plate belongs to which artwork. It looks cheap and inadequate.

Alas, the most surprising thing for me was something else: when you prepare such an exhibition which shows a considerable part of the visual art heritage of the country and which many people would like to see, you should make sure that people really see it when they visit the building. My guess is that a lot of the visitors will not have seen many of the artworks because the orientation in the exhibition is very very difficult.

The exhibition covers several floors and the whole building is a little bit like a labyrinth – there are only a few (very small) arrows that guide the visitors, room numbers are missing frequently, as a visitor you stumble from 19th century Bulgarian art to Christian Indian art from Goa, to Japanese woodcuts, and you have never an idea what comes next or what you have probably missed when you have once chosen a direction that was not the one intended by the exhibition makers (but which you can only guess). Friends who visited the exhibition told me for example that they almost didn’t find the room with the artwork of Vladimir Dimitrov-Maistora, one of the most famous Bulgarian painters, and only because of their persistence they found the hidden room where his paintings from the collection are displayed. And I am sure I saw – probably! – all works only because I am a very persistent visitor. Just when I prepared to leave I realized I had missed a complete flight of rooms with four more exhibition rooms!

That the museum shop where you can buy the exhibition catalogue and many other catalogues and books is hidden in a corner at the very edge of the outermost corner of the building and not in the entrance area where it belongs adds to the picture. The exhibition makers could easily print a small map on the backside of the ticket for orientation – this small thing would add indeed a lot of value for the visitors. But no, you have to pay 10 Leva (5 Leva for students, pensioners, unemployed), a proud amount considering the average salaries of the Bulgarians – and then you are on your own in the building. 

A nuisance: while most living Bulgarian artists are not at all represented in the exhibition, the Minister of Culture, Mr. Razhidov, a sculptor of modest talent has two of his own artworks in the show. It reminds me of the fact that when I visited the last time the small gallery in the Ministry of Culture it displayed an exhibition with works of – the Minister. Remember Alek Popov’s description of the visiting sculptor in his Mission London? I am not sure but my strong guess is that it is based on a real person most Bulgarians know…

That even if Mr. Razhidov would be a second Giacometti it would not be appropriate to include his own artworks in any exhibitions sponsored by the Ministry he leads seems to have never crossed his mind. It is called “Conflict of Interest” and borders the territory of outright corruption. He uses his position and taxpayers’ money to increase his popularity and potential market value as an artist. And of course he gets away with it. Also a part of the “Culture” he is promoting.

Conclusion: if you are in Sofia and are interested in Bulgarian art, this exhibition is a must. The collection itself is the by far best in that field in Bulgaria or anywhere else, the result of decades of diligent collecting. (When Lyudmila Zhivkova, the daughter of the dictator Todor Zhivkov was de facto in charge of the collection, it increased considerably – mainly by acquiring fake artworks she was tricked into buying by some clever crooks.) That this extraordinary show is so poorly prepared and presented is a pity and shows again the lack of professionalism that is so typical for many of those people who are politically responsible for Bulgarian Culture. 


Zahari Zograf, Self-portrait, National Art Gallery Sofia, ca. 1840

The exhibition can be visited at the building of the National Gallery of Foreign Art, Sofia, 19 February Str. No.1, near the Cathedral Alexander Nevski 

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. Unauthorized use and/or 
duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The first painting

Comics and Street Art are among the major influences of contemporary art in Indonesia.
One of the most influential groups in this field was the (now defunct) Apotik Komik, created in 1997 in Yogyakarta.

Yogyakarta is the art capital of Indonesia. The most prestigeous art school, the ISI (Indonesian Institute of Art) is located there and young artists from all over the country come to the old capital of Indonesia to study. And most of them stay in Yogya afterwards. Art is therefore present in everyday life in this city, and not only in the many museums, galleries and art spaces, but also in the streets. Hundreds and hundreds of mural paintings are scattered all over
the city.

The members of Apotik Komik (Samuel Indratma, Popok Tri Wahyudi, Arie Dyanto and a few others) are now well-established artists in Indonesia and also well-known abroad.


Popok Tri Wahyudi, The Chosen, 2005, oil on canvas, ca. 68x120cm, Collection Thomas Huebner 

When I was living in Yogya, I was therefore already quite familiar with the style of Apotik Komik and other street and comic artists, when I one day saw the above painting in an auction in Jakarta. It became the first artwork I bought in Indonesia.

The work is typical for the style of Popok Tri Wahyudi (born 1973, lives in Yogya). It is strongly influenced by his comics, but compresses a whole story in just one picture. As is usual in his work, he is not so much interested in depicting individual persons, but shows more the archetypical features of people by their gestures and movements, mimic or color that is used.

The central figure, the ‘Chosen’ is surrounded by a group of people that react differently to his obvious suffering (or gift). The man in the blue shirt seems to be curious and is stretching his hand in the direction of the flames, like to see if they are for real or maybe in order to warm his hands. The person left to him seems in the contrary to be shocked and frightened. The other men in the background turn away their faces from the event, one of them as if in embarrassment, the other one looking to the ground but bringing also a towel that might later be used by the ‘Chosen’. Also the man in front of the ‘Chosen’ turns away from him in order not to see his suffering. But he seems ready to help the man with the burning hands by providing a tub with water. The woman right next to the ‘Chosen’ is the only one that has physical contact with the ‘Chosen’ and tries to comfort him by touching his head who is placed in her lap.

The yellow and red colors are dominating and the impression you get looking at the painting
is very strong. How would you react if you were one of the people on the painting?

Recently the artist has been travelling quite a lot, e.g. he stayed at Schloss Solitude near Stuttgart/Germany as a participant of a residency programme. He published also the comic ‘The Light House’ in 2009 in which he is describing in a humorous form his experiences with the difficulties of multidisciplinary cooperation between artists from different cultures during his time as a Solitude stipendiary.

Popok The Lighthouse

Popok Tri Wahyudi: The Light House, Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart 2009


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