By Giles Bailey

04 October 2023 - 12:51

A photo of TALKER #12. The cover features Agus Nur Amal PMTOH in Acehnese clothing sitting on a grassy field, performing his art with a straw hat and a circular paper sun. ©

Doc. by Giles Bailey.

Giles Bailey of the TALKER series discovers Agus Nur Amal PMTOH’s Acehnese storytelling-inspired performance art and brings the magic to a European audience in issue #12 of the magazine, launched in London with an online show.

Issue #12 of the TALKER magazine interviewed Agus and mapped his creative journey from his graduation from Jakarta Institute of Arts to the recent projects he was developing. It shared insights into how he works and how Acehnese storytelling informed and shaped his practice as a performance artist.

The publication that we produced marks an important new step in the TALKER project and brings a voice from Indonesian performance-making into conversation with other artists the series has platformed.

Discovering the magic of Acehnese storytelling

I became aware of Agus’ work from his amazing contribution to Documenta Fifteen, a contemporary art exhibition in Kassel, Germany, held between June and September 2022. His work was an eye-opening experience; it made me very excited about the way he approached performance art.

His installation intelligently integrated sculptures with video documentation and material that had come from the workshops he’d run with young people in the city. Personally, I found it extremely rewarding to acquire new knowledge about storytelling in Aceh.

As I learned more, many new ideas became immediately apparent, the most appealing of which is to bring his craft to a new audience. That was the start of TALKER issue #12.

I wrote to Agus via Instagram to see if he was interested in working on an issue together. He was immediately receptive to the idea. I’m so happy that producing TALKER issue #12 has made it possible to share what has inspired me with an audience in Europe. 

Rethinking artmaking conventions

I showed Agus examples of the previous issues I’d made to assure him I could see a project like this through and demonstrate my expectations. We discussed details via video calls and email exchanges prior to my visit to his studio in Jakarta.

Visiting the studio was definitely a highlight of the project. The room was filled with work in progress—it was an exciting, cacophonous creative environment. Agus showed me some new paintings that he’d recently begun. These were his first experiments in the medium and it gave me a good sense of his readiness to experiment and test ideas.

Being able to conduct the interview in that space enriched our conversation. We made links between his ideas and their practical or formal realisation. It also provided some really valuable insights into how he develops themes in his work and the importance of reusing objects that would otherwise be thrown away.

Meeting with the different collectives and organisations—especially Gudskul, Kunci Copy Station, and the Indonesian Visual Art Archive—during my visit to Java was also a huge inspiration. Each one made me reflect deeply on certain conventions and assumptions that are made about artmaking in the West.

It made me keen to work in different ways to prioritise collectivity, co-authorship, and the value of holding a dialogue. These are conversations I am eager to build upon in my work as an artist and educator.

Agus Nur Amal holding a large paper cutout in the shape of an eye with a pink ring around the pupil and a black raffia cord at the top. ©

Doc. by Giles Bailey.

Towards more profound international collaborations

Both Agus and I are extremely proud that we were able to build a meaningful and hopefully enduring collaboration. Our intercultural exchange taught us both new things, and, for me certainly, contributed to building my confidence and ambition for more international collaborations.

Although challenges with the visa process meant that Agus wasn’t able to come to the UK as planned, we were able to think quickly and revise the plan so that he could contribute to the launch event in London remotely via Zoom. His presence in the room on that night, despite being virtual, was profound and engaging. I received lots of feedback from audience members saying how happy they were to experience his performance in this way. We sold several copies of TALKER issue #12.

We refused to be discouraged by the fact that we were unable to get a visa in time for the planned live events in the UK. The revised launch plan proved successful, but we have directed our efforts into seeking funding to allow the project to happen in a more ambitious form later in the year.