On Our Radar

Meet the Indonesian Illustrator Turning Medieval Art Into Contemporary Dreamscapes

Anindya Anugrah borrows heavily from medieval art but her whimsical pieces are all her.
June 5, 2020, 9:05am
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All photos courtesy of the subject.

On Our Radar is a VICE Asia series that profiles young, upcoming creatives across the Asia-Pacific, giving an inside look into their interests, communities and inspirations.

At the core of Anindya Anugrah’s work, are subjects of childlike fantasy and imagination. These themes play an intrinsic part in her life, weaving their way into her art, which she releases under the moniker Phantasien, the German word for fantasy.

The 26-year-old illustrator from Indonesia creates dreamscapes that look like pages torn from a medieval children's book. And that’s exactly what they are, just with her personal touch. She’s inspired by drawings from illuminated manuscripts, or handwritten books from the middle ages.

“They have a special significance to me because they remind me of how I imagined things as a child,” Anindya told VICE.

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She said she wants to depict the Dark Ages as happy and colourful, not the time of violence and war that it is known for.

“Through my artistic style, I want to express how different our current society would be if it evolved from an alternative history.”

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Anindya takes artwork from the public domain and combines them with her own illustrations to create an entirely new piece. But it’s more than just a collage.

Sari-clad girls from ancient Indian miniatures clink glasses with European noblewomen while neon signs buzz in the background. A fez-donning Moroccan man uses curry flavoured cup noodles as a jacuzzi. Her surrealist scenes and the characters in them look completely at home in their psychedelic environments.

“It has to look as seamless as possible so that the final work looks like a painting or a complete hand-drawn illustration. Creating an artwork for me requires a fun combination of artistic, legal, and historical research,” she said.

To many, “legal and historical research” may not sound fun at all but to Anindya, her works are a perfect combination of all her interests. While she considers herself as a creative, she also graduated with a law degree in 2016.

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In high school, Anindya spent her time drawing and taking photographs, dreaming of one day enrolling in a prestigious university with a specialisation in fine arts. In 2011, things took a turn when she decided to challenge herself and study law.

“Now that I survived four years in law school, I must say I’m very grateful to have learned so many things that benefit my current job.”

Not one to shy away from a personal challenge, she decided to dedicate herself wholeheartedly.

“This may sound stupid, but I love to challenge myself to do things I’d never thought I could do. I was scared and thrilled at the same time but it opened me up to plenty of new perspectives."

Ultimately, Anindya’s pursuit of passion took precedence and she returned to art, but not without the knowledge and perspective that she gained from all those years studying.

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“I’m happiest when I’m creating art. It’s very clear to me that a fairly successful law career wouldn’t make me as happy as having a full-of-ups-and-downs career as an artist — and I’ve proven myself right about that.”

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Anindya originally started creating collages manually but transitioned to digital as it offered her the type of seamless and cohesive style she was after.

“What I look forward to most through my art is wanting to be able to create and communicate my thoughts freely and confidently into some sort of a craft without having to stick to a certain medium.”

VICE had a chat with Anindya, to find out her interests, philosophies, and where her art will take her next.

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I believe in… the law of attraction and positive affirmations. Not only does it feel good, it makes moving towards your life goals much easier.

My friends say I am… determined, warm, and caring.

But I like to think I am… independent and idealistic.

I've been working on… a series of artwork for Ubisum, a competition held by Japanese marketing and branding company Ubies. I was extremely lucky to be chosen as one of their finalists.

I am inspired by… jazz pianist-composer Bill Evans. His music and his way of thinking fascinates me. There’s this 1966 documentary of Bill Evans titled The Creative Process and Self-Teaching that I watch repeatedly whenever I feel unmotivated. In the documentary, he said something so profound that I always refer to whenever I create something:

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“It’s very important to remember no matter how far I might diverge or find freedom in this format that it only is free insofar as it has reference to the strictness of the original form. And that’s what gives it its strength. In other words, there is no freedom without being in reference to something.”

This advice is really spot-on and powerful not only for musicians, but also every appropriation artist out there. I’m also inspired by the colourful work of visual artist Kendra Ahimsa. The way he put his passion for music and pop culture into his work inspires me a lot.

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Recently I've been really into… binge-watching historical documentaries on YouTube. This keeps me sane and often results in having weird epic dreams at night.

You can usually find me… in my bedroom/studio.

On bad days, I… cook myself an egg drop soup. I love chicken eggs. My way of living: an egg a day keeps the sadness away.

I live for… creating more and more.

In five years I… might explore new ways of creating. I might try to do things I’ve always imagined doing but have been too afraid to, like joining a band as a flautist or living abroad alone.