The pictures and reliefs created by Antonius Kho are characterized by diverse cultural influences. The diverse characters, symbols, colors and materials he uses may not be immediately apparent to the Western observer, but can be explained by his biography.
In Kho’s native Java, numerous rituals are performed, that have Buddhist and Hindu sources and are also linked to indigenous beliefs. Kho grew up in a family that maintained their belief in reincarnation. The ashes of his grandparents stood on an altar where offerings were made regularly in order to protect the roots of his family. Outside of the family, he marvelled at and was deeply impressed by Borobodur Temple which depicts 100,000 verses of the Mahabharata in stone relief. Antonius Kho was also fascinated with “wayang” shadow puppet shows often performed at weddings and the like. In these all night performances, around 250 puppet shadow puppets made of water buffalo hide, come to life through a single puppet master, who tells the unscripted story of the fight between good and evil spirits represented through the ‘Pandawa‘ and ‘Kurawa‘ families of the Mahabharata.
Characters and scenes from the Mahabharata, as well as images taken from everyday life in Indonesia are central to Antonius Kho’s works and include; images of women in the market, processions, animals and political issues. His works challenge the viewer to find a sense of direction. Countless lines, points and areas of color dance on the ground and foreground until we connect the first elements into a shape. Quickly this shape disappears giving rise to another as new eye or nose comes to the forefront and we recreate the perceived image anew. This structuring and restructuring process can be uncomfortable as the subject of the foreground cannot be pinned down because the background suddenly comes forth. This principle of composition allows an opportunity for the viewer to develop their own creativity. Diversity, surprise cancellation of, or challenge to our perception are often experienced as we look on this paintings. Then relaxation comes to us, especially when we are willing to let go of our judgements.
This ambiguity, is also content based. According to Javanese beliefs, before there was man, there were “Pandawa-Kurawa” or good and the evil spirits in the world. Both good and evil are necessary, so people need to offer up sacrifice. The war between good and evil, depicted in the Mahabharata, also takes place within every human being. Not unlike in the Christian religion, the Pandawa-Karawa stories well of an initial paradise. The people left this place of happiness, which was located in the mountains, and went into town. From then on, they distinguished between good and evil and were afraid and so found life difficult.
In the Mahabharata “wayang” stories there are many evil spirits and hybrid creatures. Antonius Kho responds to these different characters as they embody the diverse nature of man, and offer an endless display of possibilities.
In relation to political changes in Indonesia, Kho addresses the fears of his countrymen using the simple yet colorful figures that also vibrate with the artist’s desire for people to find their way back to the mountains, to simplicity and come full circle to completion.
Dr. Ursula J. Krohn (art historian)