“In his layered multidisciplinary practice, Leonard Suryajaya moves boldly across what appear to be insurmountable differences in the direction of reconciliation and understanding. Refined and excellently crafted, his images, objects, and environments affirm every bit as much as they challenge.”
– Darby English, Carl Darling Buck Professor of Art History, Modern and Contemporary Art, Cultural Studies, UChicago; Adjunct Curator, the Museum of Modern Art
Leonard Suryajaya uses photography to test the boundaries of intimacy, community, and family. His works show how the everyday is layered with histories, meanings, and potential. In elaborately staged photographs bursting with competing patterns and colors, Leonard creates absurd but affectionate tableaux featuring his family. Enlisting his loved ones into his photographic project, he encourages ever more wild combinations and poses as means for them to perform their loyalty. The results are photographs that are tender and critical, bound up as they are with the struggles of familial authority and self identity. He has recently extended this in his work with school children and the complex but fragile societies they form among themselves and in relation to cultural forces both popular and traditional, local and global.
Many of Leonard’s investigations are rooted in the particularity of his upbringing as an Indonesian citizen of Chinese descent, as a Buddhist educated in Christian schools in a Muslim-majority country, and as someone who departed from his family and his culture’s definitions of love and family. Leonard explores these tensions in the everyday interaction, in the chance juxtaposition of culturally-coded objects, and in the disruptions stirred by queer relations. His works perform the ways in which life is soaked not just with one’s own emotional connections but larger, external histories of exile, religion, citizenship, duty, and belonging. His photographs work cumulatively to establish narratives, and he combines these images with videos that document family histories, that play out fantasies, that test group dynamics, or that use the format of the interview to turn his sitters’ gaze back upon his role as artist and facilitator. In all of these, we feel the push and pull of allegiance and autonomy in every odd detail that his works retain as reminders.
Leonard Suryajaya is the recipient of the 2018 Chicago Artadia Award.