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Amenk's Pen Captures The Absurdity of Modern Life

This rising illustrator has an eye for the dark humor of every day Indonesia.

Illustrator Mufti Amenk Priyanka captures the ironic, humorous, and absurd aspects of Indonesian society with a wry eye and a sharp pen. His stark black-and-white illustrations embody the punk spirit of early Black Flag show fliers, but with a local twist. Instead of the cops, beats, and conservatives of Southern California, Amenk's work is full of smartphones, religion, and drinks in a plastic bag.


VICE Indonesia's Marcel Thee spoke with Amenk about satire, politics, and trying to move beyond your influences.

VICE Indonesia: Some people compare your works with those of Raymond Pettibon, of Black Flag fame.
Amenk: They're right. I can't deny it. He's my biggest inspiration.

What do you like about Pettibon?
There are just so many things I like about his work, like how he can capture the daily lives of people in this subculture, the social realities of modern society and politics in the US. Some of his work is critical, ironic, and ambiguous. His work is blatant and abstract.

Do you ever get any shit from people about the similarities?
As the public gets to know my work, there are some who compare my art to his, and it does affect me. I'd like to slowly lose the [overt] influence by observing my own environment, like the scene, the socio-political situation, and the funny moments you see here.

So who else is a big influence?
So far most of my influences are pretty well known because they are popular. They're artists like Charles Burns, Eko Nugroho, Winston Smith, Franz Kozik and Tatang Suhenra. I'm inspired by how their visual spirit is applicable across a wide variety of mediums.

But my other influences are the daily lives of the members of our urban society. I like to capture the dynamics of everyday life with dark humor and satire—focusing on the gray areas that are sometimes more expressive. My personal experiences, slapstick humor, television shows, films, underground comics and zines, adult mags, small newspapers, and my favorite music also play a big role in my work.


Why do you think so many Indonesian artists look up to artists from the US, Japan, and Europe? Why are foreign artists usually more influential than local ones?
We can't deny that they're ahead of us in terms of inventiveness, especially since those artists have the support of established museums and galleries who help mediate artistic development. Their societies are more appreciative of art and an artist, as a profession, is a more acceptable career there. This really motivates artists. They are seen as credible creative workers who are challenged intellectually to innovate. But in a country like Indonesia, 'artist' is not as acceptable a profession. People don't appreciate artists. Instead, the urgency is to get rich—to be prosperous in all aspects of your life.

Your characters seem really well defined. How do you think these characters up?
I remember back in a painting class in university, I wasn't really satisfied with the whole process. I was bored and frustrated. And then my senior introduced me to comics. It was 2003 and he exposed me to alternative underground comics, Xerox art, gig posters, zines, stickers stencil art, and graffiti. That's when I became passionate about things outside painting.

I experimented a lot with comics, with different kinds of paper, pencils, ballpoint pens, markers, and drawing pens. I tried using Chinese calligraphy ink. My reason for using this stuff was that it was cheap compared to painting tools. Those are expensive.


How long did it take to find your style?
The process took a while. It was exhausting, so I ended up simplifying my experimentation in comics and illustration a bit. I combined my passion for comics with my love of metaphor and making a statement. I loved the way comics can explore a narrative without a lot of panels.

In practice, visual arts are always focused on combining illustration skills with photographic observations. It's like we freeze a scene in a film. Then we illustrate it so we can develop a new reality. I fell in love with paper and Chinese ink the way I fell in love with comics.

Do politics or socio-economic issues influence your work?
I don't like politics. In general, I don't like its practice and all the intrigue. But these conditions directly influence me and my mindset. I'm challenged to be more critical in seeing the dynamics of our society so that it can inspire me to make art. But this is filtered through my own persona views that could be sentimental, satirical, blatant, or poetic.

Do you think your art would be different if you lived somewhere else?
If I lived outside Indonesia, I would experience different tensions. I would need to research, to observe daily lives that are different than those in Indonesia. Our daily lives come fro tradition, which inspires me to explore certain themes in my work.