Friday, 14 August 2020

The Indonesian Society of Botanical Artists: An Interview with Eunike Nugroho

This month's Botanical Artists feature is about a relatively new organisation, the Indonesian Society of Botanical Artists (IDSBA), which was formed in 2017.  I asked one of the founder members, Eunike Nugroho, a few questions about the formation of the Society, their achievements to date, their vision for Botanical Art in Indonesia and how they have responded to the challenge of Covid19. Our thanks go to Eunike for such a wonderful and inspiring insight into this wonderful and forward thinking Society.

Eunike Nugroho with her painting of Amorphophallus titanum, exhibited at the first IDSBA exhibition, for Worldwide Botanical Art Day, May 18 2018

Q. How and when did you first become interested in botanical art?
A. It started in 2012 after my encounter with the botanical societies, the Florilegium Society-Sheffield and Northern Society of Botanical Art (NSBA) in Sheffield, England. At first I had no idea what botanical art is, I just wanted to learn something new, start doing art, and make friends while accompanying my husband doing his doctoral programs in the city. In fact, before that I had lost my passion and spent too long a break from painting (about 9 years) due to having so many tasks at work. I suppose experiencing the English spring for the first time also triggered my new interest. Seeing blasts of colourful blossoms in the city and the Sheffield Botanic Gardens woke me up; it made me realise the beauty of plants that I used to take for granted in Indonesia. After that, I found  my passion in art again, with a new passion for plants and botanical painting that later I brought back to my home country. 

Q.Why do you think botanical art and illustration is important and what do you think the role of the contemporary botanical artist is today? 
A. While botanical illustration is still important to support botany, e.g. describing new species or taxa, I think that contemporary botanical art has its own advantages, namely to promote plants to the wider audience/public in a better, more emotional way. Just like art can pull heartstrings to bring about actions, it could be more effective than written facts. Hopefully botanical art can raise awareness and support the existence of plants, especially those that are threatened, and their conservations.
IDSBA members on a field trip, members share skills in botany and art to raise awareness about their native flora
Q. Did you find it easy to learn botanical art and illustration?
A. Nothing is easy, it requires persistence but I found the passion and communities to keep me going.
 
Q. Did you train with any other organisation or study any courses? 
A.Not really, I learned from books, workshops by many tutors, societies’ painting days, etc. I happened to have an educational background in visual communication design/graphic design that I think somehow provide the foundations in learning botanical art.

Q. Do you belong to any other Societies?
A.Yes, I am a fellow of the Society of Botanical Artists (SBA), UK and member of the American Society of Botanical Artists (ASBA), US.

About your Society
Q.  What is your role in IDSBA? Who are the other founders and the President?
A. I am one of the two founders of IDSBA, along with Jenny A. Kartawinata. The current President of IDSBA is Andiriana Wisnu.


Q. Why did you decide form a Society for botanical art in Indonesia? Was it difficult?
A. The urge to form the society was related to the plan to hold Botanical Art Worldwide exhibition in 2018 which required a botanical art society for a country to participate, which Indonesia did not have. If you remember, I joined the first International Congress of Botanical Art in Pittsburg in 2016, where the idea was proposed. I recall a panellist mentioning my case, and whether someone from a country without existing botanical art society like Indonesia can participate in the exhibition. The idea was intriguing but overwhelming at the same time. It meant a lot of homework for me personally because at the time I did not know anyone or have friends to make it happen. I knew only one other Indonesian artist who did similar botanical art (not exclusively), but we had never met before. So I put the idea aside, the dream of having botanical art society or joining the worldwide exhibition.

After the congress, I started to give workshops in several cities in Indonesia, where I finally met people with the same passions in botanical art. We kept in touch via Instagram and later via WhatsApp Group (WAG).

In 2017, I met Jenny A. Kartawinata in person. She contacted me first after finding my name as a participant of the 15th international exhibition of botanical art and illustration by the Hunt Institute. She’s a member of ASBA and has been doing botanical art far longer than me. Her husband, Mr Kartawinata, is a senior botanist in Indonesia, former head of Herbarium Bogoriense, which exposes her to vast experiences and acquaintances in botanical affairs. We keep in touch by calls and e-mails.

Meanwhile in the WhatsApp Group, I and several friends from my workshops kept practising and supporting each other to paint botanical subject matters. At a certain point, not too far from the deadline of the Botanical Art Worldwide submission, I ventured to propose the event to them. Surprisingly they accepted it. So, everything else rolled from that, so to speak. The amazing (not to call it “crazy”) journey of forming IDSBA and preparing for our first exhibition can take hours to tell. In short, I think we are lucky to meet each other and somehow believe in each other, not to mention the “coincidences” (or blessings) that happened in our way.

The first team was also IDSBA committee right now: Andiriana Wisnu, Grace Syiariel, Deinitisa Amarawii, Elizabeth Soetopo, Youfeta Devy, Irene Ng, Fanny Agustina, Aida Makmur, Silvia Zulaika, etc.

Q.  When was your IDSBA founded? 
A.  Officially on 20 November 2017 at the Kartawinata’s house.

Q. Did you discover that many more people were interested in botanical art in Indonesia than you expected? or did you know that the interest and need for a society already existed?
A. Yes, although I didn’t expect it. I only realised the level of interests after I started doing workshops. My classes sold out in minutes. Later, after IDSBA was set up and the first exhibition announced, more people came and joined.

Members are very involved and love to share, here an Open Studio IDSBA event 2019
Q. Roughly how many members do you have? 
A.  At this time, we have about 100 members from Indonesia and aboard. We have members from Singapore, Malaysia, UAE, Turkey, and Canada. Some cannot speak Indonesian at all but they stay being a member for these years and they are quite engaged with the group’s activities. When needed, we converse in English too.
The participating member artists in Ragam Flora Indonesia, the first IDSBA exhibition, which was part of the Worldwide Botanical Art Day 18th May 2018, at Bogor Botanic Garden

Q.  Are members actively involved in helping to run the society.    
A.  Yes, I think we were so lucky to have helpful members who are willing to participate in our programs. We still communicate mostly via WhatsApp group on a daily basis where most of the members actively share their knowledge, skills, or information related to botanical art. For example, members with biological or botanical education help others to learn about botany, answer questions about plant identification, morphology, etc while artist members from various background and medium specialisation share their tips, tricks or insights in painting/drawing. I believe we complement each other.

Classes about botany, plant identification, morphology is mportant for IDSBA's artists, as shown in this class.   

Q. Did any other Societies, organisations or individuals inspire or encourage you to form IDSBA?
A. To be honest, I was not keen on organising, but encouraged (if I cannot call it forced) by my “workshop students” to initiate IDSBA. Beside the aforementioned names, I was also encouraged by Henny Herawati and Heranisvari and of course Mrs. and Mr. Kartawinata. Regarding the organisational matters, I took a lot of inspirations from ASBA. We look up to it when setting up our recruitment system, which is quite open and easy for anyone to join.

Eunike at one of her popular workshops, sharing knowledge and skills within a friendly environment is at the heart of  IDSBA

Q,  Indonesia is a very large country with many Islands, how do you promote the Society in such a large country?
A.  Since we are living in this era, when internet allows us to access and share things easily and globally, IDSBA is trying to make the best of social media or any feasible platform to promote our existence and botanical art in Indonesia. We also have offline activities in several cities, like painting days, workshops, mini trips, and many times we participated in education, art, or cultural events.

Q. What are the aims or plans for the Society and what do you feel is most important to achieve? Here are a few examples:  


Promote botanical art in Indonesia while promoting information about the importance and beauty of plants, particularly native Indonesian flora to the wider public. That’s the reason why we stick with native Indonesian plants themes for our annual exhibitions until now

o   Allow members to share and learn about their understanding of and illustration of plants in a botanically accurate way

o   Help members to improve the quality of their artwork by providing them with learning and sharing opportunities with other artists

o   Collaborate with other botanical or environmental organisations

o   Collaborate with botanical gardens

o   Organise annual exhibitions of members’ work  

Q. Do you have a structured annual plan for the IDSBA to help achieve your aims?
A. Sort of, but it’s not too strict. As a new society, we are still learning by doing. I think the committee is quite flexible while setting up the programs and plans that suit all of us.

Inspecting and reviewing work at the Ragam Flora Indonesia exhibition 

Q. Please tell us about some of the important things the Society has achieved to date, exhibitions, events, publications, sponsorship, media coverage etc. 
A.  Founded in late of 2017, we already had held 2 annual exhibitions. The 1st “Ragam Flora Indonesia” exhibition (which was a part of the Botanical Art Worldwide) was held on 18-20 May 2018 in the Bogor Botanic Gardens in cooperation with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI). It was a beautiful coincidence that the botanical art day, 18 May 2018, was also the botanic garden’s 201st anniversary, which I believe helped us get the venue, which led to opening networking opportunities with other botanical organisations.

The 2nd “Ragam Flora Indonesia” exhibition was held on 6-13 September 2019 in Bale Banjar Sangkring Art Gallery in Yogyakarta. This time it was in cooperation with the Faculty of Biology of Gadjah Mada University (UGM), one of the oldest universities in Indonesia. Since the second exhibition, we are lucky to have continual supports from The Tjiasmanto Conservation Fund. Later, it got us involved in a monograph project (forthcoming) as well.
Our exhibitions and events were covered by national television, radios, magazines, web sites, such as CNN Indonesia, Harper’s Bazaar Indonesia, National Geographic Indonesia. 

IDSBA have achieved much since their inception, having their exhibitions and events covered by national television and media, here and article by National Geographic Indonesia 
Media coverage at the Ragam Flora Indonesia exhibition 
Participating artists, Ragam Flora Indonesia 2 September 2019, Bale Bajar Sankring Art Gallery Yogykarta. Combining art and science through a collaboration with the Faculty of Biology, Gadjah Made University. 
Spacious gallery allowed at the Gadjah Made University

Q.  I know you planned to have third exhibition, 'Botanical Art for Friendship 2020', in Jakarta this year - in collaboration with the Korean Society. How did this collaboration come about? 
A.  At first, the Korea Botanical Arts Cooperative (KBAC) proposed a collaboration and asked for possibility to do an exhibition in Indonesia, which we happily accepted it. From our side, fortunately our previous exhibitions had introduced us to nationally prominent art curators, who helped us to propose our exhibition at the National Gallery of Indonesia, one of the most prestigious art venues in Indonesia. It is under the Ministry of Education and Culture. Later last year our proposal was accepted and our exhibition is supposedly set on this 9-28 June 2020, showing selected artworks of both countries’ native plants. 

Q.  Sadly Covid 19 has caused much disruption to exhibitions and events all over the world. Can you tell us what you have done to keep your members engaged in botanical art during this difficult time? 
A. Before this Covid 19 pandemic, we have offline regular painting day/meet up, some trips to botanical gardens or botanical institutions, and monthly online sessions. Due to the circumstances, we are focusing on online activities like painting/drawing challenges and BMB (Belajar Mandiri dan Berbagi, which means Independently Learn (then) Share), an online session using Zoom platform. Now we have more frequent, almost every weekend, meetings. Surprisingly the interest in joining the sessions is rising. Before, we only have about 20 members joined the session, now 35-50 members participate. Furthermore, the pandemic brought quite many new members to our society. I think the pandemic has blessings in disguise. We are happy that many members in different cities are now able to meet online and learn botanical art or about topics from their home. I am personally delighted to see many members, even the new ones, show progresses in their skills and knowledge.

In response to Covid 19 IDSBA have been pro active in focussing on more online activities, such as painting/drawing challenges and BMB (Belajar Mandiri dan Berbagi), which means 'Independently Learn (then) Share', which they share as online sessions using Zoom platform. Although IDSBA  always did communicate well using technology and social media, so this was a natural progression for them and they hold regular classes. Here Just one example of a Zoom class, as advertised on their Instagram. 

Regarding the BMB, each session has a specific theme, whether theoretical or practical, and it lasts about 1-3 hours. The practical sessions are usually followed with a homework; whose result can be posted on social media using a specific hash tag like #idsbadirumahaja on Instagram. So far we’ve learned and shared many things, e.g. painting leaves, mixing colours, ballpoint pen drawing, graphite, mixed media, tone and lighting, herbarium, artwork digitalisation, the history of botanical art, leaves morphology and more. All the slides or videos were archived and made accessible to the members. It is a fun way to learn!


Q.  Will the exhibition be rescheduled or are things still uncertain? 
A.  The exhibition will be rescheduled. We’re still waiting for the new schedule by the National Gallery of Indonesia. 

Q. Please provide links to the Society website and social media links  
A.  Website: www.idsba.com  Facebook: facebook.com/IDSBAart but the most up to date/active social media we have is Instagram account at instagram.com/idsba.



Thank you again to Eunike and IDSBA for participating in this article and for providing images. I'm sure you will all want to go check out their Instagram account now! 


All images copyright of IDSBA and their members. 


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