Forms of Islam: Minangkabau Metaphor and the Work of Handiwirman Saputra

Katherine Bruhn

University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, United States of America

What is Islamic art? Is it art that contains visibly Islamic forms like calligraphy? Is it art created by an artist that identifies as or comes from a region that is predominantly Muslim? Can the work of art be made Islamic by its reception and identification as such? Centered around these queries, this paper takes as its focus the work of Indonesian contemporary artist Handiwirman Saputra. Originally from the region of West Sumatra, Saputra is Minangkabau, where Minangkabau refers to the ethnic group that is synonymous with this region. Described as the world’s largest matrilineal Muslim society, Islam is central to and cannot be detached from being Minangkabau. Further, because Saputra came to prominence nationally, in the 1990s, as part of a group of six Minangkabau artists, this identity has been continually attached to analyses of his large-scale mixed-media installations. At first glance, there is nothing identifiably Islamic about the product of Saputra’s practice. However, when read through the lens of Minangkabau metaphor that is itself, rooted in a relationship to the history of Islam in West Sumatra, the argument can be made that Saputra’s art is an expression of his Muslim identity and thus a form of Islamic expression.


Biography: To come

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