Jakarta, Indonesia – Two years since Art Jakarta was last held, the fair is back and stronger than ever – with galleries, artists, collectors and curious observers flocking to the Jakarta Convention Center.

The return of the fair, which began on Friday and is now in its 12th iteration, marks the first major art event in Indonesia since the start of the pandemic.

Its main purpose is commercial – to connect artists, galleries and other interested parties with potential buyers.

More than 60 galleries from Indonesia and elsewhere in Asia are showcasing their collections at the fair. More than 500 artists will participate and more than 25,000 visitors are expected.

“Indonesia is a superpower when it comes to art. It has a strong production and a strong stage. She remained intact and was able to reset and come back strong. Everyone is happy to be here,” said Gil Schneider, consultant for Art Jakarta.

“The most important thing is to show that the market is strong and there is demand. Collectors are back, buying art. We are happy to see that sales are strong and the market is back on its feet.”

Hanging art exhibit by South Korean artist Bahk Seon Ghi.
Hanging art exhibit by South Korean artist Bahk Seon Ghi [Jessica Washington/ Al Jazeera]
Sculpture by Indonesian artist Nyoman Nuarta
Sculpture by Indonesian artist Nyoman Nuarta [Jessica Washington/ Al Jazeera]

This year’s event also has a distinctly festive tone. It’s a reunion for Indonesia’s established art world, a chance to reconnect as the country’s creators emerge from a difficult period.

“It’s not just artists, but those who display art, like galleries and art management, are all excited to work together again. Slowly, we can see that the situation is improving,” said one of the artists at the fair, Depok-based artist Meliantha Muliawan.

Indonesia was hit hard by the pandemic. In mid-2021, the country became the global epicenter of the virus as the Delta variant spread. Prolonged COVID-19 restrictions meant many galleries had to close their doors and display their collections online.

Esti Nurjadin, owner of D Gallerie in South Jakarta, said she is excited to show her pieces in person again.

“This is the first big event for art and it has excited us a lot, after two years that everything is online. It was difficult for the galleries,” she said. “For us to reach the transaction point, we need to meet in person. Collectors want to see art and experience it – rather than seeing it on a screen.”

One of the pieces she is showing is by Indonesian artist Soni Irawan. Ten guitars are attached to the wall, but the bodies of the instruments have been replaced by bags.

“It’s hard to take a picture and show that on a screen. If you’re here, you can see the depth, you can imagine: How would this look in my home or office? Showing a piece of art like this online won’t have the same feel or grab people’s attention.”

D Galleri is also displaying two large woven sculptures by Yogyakarta-based artist Nindityo Adipurnomo.

Painting by Indonesian artist Rizal Hasan.
Painting by Indonesian artist Rizal Hasan [Jessica Washington/ Al Jazeera]
Indonesian artist Nindityo Adipurnomo with one of his sculptures.
Indonesian artist Nindityo Adipurnomo with one of his sculptures [Jessica Washington/ Al Jazeera]

Understanding the artist’s concept and intent is difficult when the public cannot see the pieces in person, Adipurnomo told Al Jazeera. His works are meant to represent traditional Javanese hairstyles for women – and how the standard of beauty for women is, in many cases, dictated by men.

“It’s about understanding masculinity and femininity. I’m still exploring that idea, it’s how I try to understand the male gaze,” he said. “With the medium of visual art, you have to meet people. You need them to experience the work of art.”

While many are celebrating a return to the way things used to be, there’s also room for innovation not seen before at the long-running fair.

For the first time, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are exposed and for sale.

NFTs are digital assets of some kind, usually paid for in cryptocurrency.

While much of the initial hype has died down, some in the art world still believe in its potential.

“Three years ago, nobody was talking about NFTs. It is a child of the pandemic. Some collectors are interested and some galleries are selling NFT. We are responding to this trend in the market and we have to see how it develops over time,” said Schneider.

French artist Cyril Kongo, who has a studio in Bali, is best known for his graffiti on the streets of Paris, and later, for incorporating his graffiti aesthetic into collaborations with luxury brands such as Chanel and Hermes. This week, he’s branching out into NFTs for the first time – displaying a collection of 26 NFTs at the fair and selling them on the OpenSea NFT marketplace.

“This new world, digital art, is interesting. It’s not stable yet, we don’t know where we’re going. But it reminds me of when I started street tagging. People said, what are you doing? They said I was a vandal,” he said.

“I think NFTs are the same. It’s a subculture and now it’s open. I can’t answer what will happen, I just jump on it and see. It’s fun.”

Kongo has shown at Art Jakarta before, but this year feels important, he said, and not just because he’s experimenting with new mediums.

“It’s been so long, after all this time, it’s good to be back and see everyone. “Looking at each other is incredible,” he said.

“I think the world needs this. We need art to feed our hearts, minds and souls. We need art to live.”

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