Video: ‘False Idol x North Kin’ Artist Panel Discussion with Leonard Suryajaya, Charlene K. Lau, Claire Voon and Allison Yearwood

On May 14th, 2022 at 3pm CDT Plug In ICA presented an artist panel discussion with Leonard Suryajaya, Charlene K. Lau, Claire Voon and Allison Yearwood as part of Suryajaya’s solo exhibition ‘False Idol x North Kin’, on display from May 13 – July 17, 2022.

We are very thrilled to be presenting the work of Chicago-based artist, Leonard Suryajaya in Winnipeg. This is the first time the artist is formally exhibiting work in the country.

Suryajaya was born and spent his formative years in Indonesia to Chinese parents. He is a second-generation child of immigrants who, like his parents, carry backgrounds that are deeply inflicted by conflict, displacement, assimilation, the attendant trauma, and to a great extent self-erasure as part of their process of survival. Within the predominantly conservative Islamic Indonesia the artist grew up in,  he discovered his own queerness and subsequently had to suppress it from anyone including himself. Suryajaya’s photographic practice began and developed after relocating to the United States after stints in theatre programs. Over the course of discovering the medium and shaping his artistic voice through it, his work became an instrument by which he cultivated and nurtured a self away from personal histories of trauma, a self surrounded by newfound family outside a biological one, and a self that felt weightless within the fantastical environments he designed for his photographs. One of his formidable series, False Idol, surveys a long trajectory of Suryajaya evolving over years, as a person and artist moving through the various complex circumstances he began and continues to traverse. The series has served as a respite for creativity for the artist and as a container to sustain opposing perspectives, identities and states of mind. Aspects of False Idol will be assembled for this exhibition. It is a series that upon viewing charms with its elaborately detailed selection of patterns, textures, objects and rushes of colour competing for your sight. It is indicative of the grand enveloping splendour Suryajaya’s photo environments have become known for. A number of the pieces in this exhibition feature a mix of friends and loved ones including his biological family and the family he has made along the way. The artist has been lucky to participate in several artist residency programs which have connected him to various communities all over. This past winter Suryajaya, continued to build upon the relationships he’s made through his work by offering free studio portrait sessions to members of the public when he visited Winnipeg for the first time. The result of this portrait session has been amalgamated into an interwoven collage that becomes part of his characteristic visually rich installation. The installation models after airport newsstands and gift shops for travelers on their way to or leaving home. The sculptural elements of the exhibition extend the immersive set designs of his photographs to make that even more vivid. Suryajaya sees these gift stands as an invitation to audiences to ‘find a sense of familiarity in the photographs of the ‘other’, the foreigners.’ The exhibition also features his video work, Lesser Than Three, a playful, surreal, theatrical work that features as its main protagonist,  Suryajaya’s long-time partner, Peter. 

Suryajaya’s work has circulated across the United States and overseas in various exhibitions and publications. He continues to create uncompromisingly maximalist images and installations that never feel overkill or boring and it is our very pleasure to have him in here for our local audiences. 

Leonard Suryajaya holds a BA in Theatre Arts and BFA, 2013, California State University, Fullerton; MFA, 2015, School of the Art Institute of Chicago; 2017, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Selected exhibition venues include Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Photography Chicago; Benaki Museum, Greece; Photoforum Pasquart, Switzerland; National Library, Singapore; Wrightwood 659, Chicago; Aperture Gallery, NY; Barney Savage Gallery, NYC; Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago; Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago. His work is included in collections such as the Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Photography, The Block Museum, Vontobel Art Collection, Joan Flasch Artist Book Collection, Mana Contemporary and Center for Photography at Woodstock. Awards: Aaron Siskind Foundation Award, Artadia Awards, Robert Giard Foundation Fellowship, CENTER Excellence in Multimedia Award, New Artist Society Award, James Weinstein Memorial Fellowship, Claire Rosen and Samuel Edes Prize for Emerging Artist, The Santo Foundation Fellowship.

Charlene K. Lau is an art historian, critic and Curator of Public Art at Evergreen Brick Works. She has held fellowships at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity; Parsons School of Design, The New School; and Performa Biennial. Charlene has also held teaching positions at Parsons School of Design, OCAD University, Toronto Metropolitan University, Western University and York University. Her writing has been published in Artforum,, The Brooklyn Rail, Canadian Art, frieze, Critical Studies in Fashion & Beauty, Fashion Theory and Journal of Curatorial Studies, among others.

Claire Voon is a writer and editor who has contributed to publications including ARTnews, the Brooklyn Rail, Frieze, the New York Times, and Teen Vogue. Previously a staff writer at Hyperallergic and an assistant editor at Chicago magazine, she currently edits for Aperture and Borderless Magazine, a news outlet working to reimagine immigration journalism. She was born in Singapore and lives in Brooklyn.