The free heads

A variety of issues come and go during S. Teddy D’s creative journey, starting from frivolous matters about his neighbors, his dog, his love story, his daughter, ideas, his reactions toward the government, his protests against violence, on to his comments about world politics. Apart from the trivial issues that become almost spiritual during his creative process, quite a lot of his works convey his contempt for violence and oppression (against people with less power or those who are “marginal”—a term that Teddy  often uses). One can be certain, however, that there is no single important issue that Teddy keeps on raising more than: FREEDOM!—whatever the context might be.

There are some repeated images in Teddy’s works, such as houses, bridges, rails, wheels, books, weapons (axe, gun, sickle, machine gun, etc.), peanuts, hands, feet, crowns, and heads. The presence of head images in many of his works is nothing new. More than 700 works that Teddy has made so far include drawings, prints, paintings, sculptures, object art, installation art, and performance art. Many of those shows head images.

After selecting the head images as the main focus of this exhibition, we went on to classify his works, starting from those on paper. Full of zest, while telling me stories of how he was when making each of the drawings on the hundreds pieces of paper that we were trying to classify, Teddy separated his portrait drawings from his head drawings. “In the portraits there would be people, or at least characters,” he said while taking out the pieces of papers filled with his drawings.

“Is this a head? Why aren’t there any eyes?” Blora the little girl asked, pointing at Spawn (2003). “You know it’s a head even if it’s got no eyes anyway,” Teddy answered. “But why aren’t there any eyes?” Blora persisted. “Because you already know it’s a head even without the eyes. It means that I don’t need to give it eyes [in order for it to be understood as a head image],” explained Teddy to his only daughter. I made a mental note: Teddy only draws (or creates) whatever it is that he thinks necessary. Sometimes the head image is present not only as outlines but in full—in the sense that it has eyes, nose, mouth, ears, for example in Insomnia (2002), Keluar, Masuk (Hanacaraka, 2003), Mamoli (2005), Hujan Kata (2006), Basic Instinct (2008).

What is it with Teddy and the heads? The head images in Teddy’s works are representative of his state of mind. As Enin Supriyanto explained in his introduction to this exhibition, Teddy upholds his freedom in living with art and being an artist—his main act in life.

After tracking down and classifying more than 1,500 photographs of Teddy’s works chronologically, I discovered that the head image first made its presence in the 4th Exhibition of Painting Students’ Final Works (Pameran Ujian Seni Lukis) in 1995. Teddy himself does not remember when he first started to draw the head image. His most vivid memory about the head images originates from his print work Head Series (1998). “My mind was in a total mess at the time. I was scared of my own drawings. So, I just made prints to lessen their strength. I burnt the drawings!” he explained.(1)

With almost all of the photographs of his works that I showed him one by one while tracing back his entire creative journey, Teddy managed to tell me how he had been and what his thoughts were when he was making each of the works. What he wanted to convey through the work had not been the main issue in his creative process; rather, it was what he had been through and what was going on in his mind when he was making the work that was of greater importance. A case in point is his print work Head Series (1998). “At the time I was feeling extremely fearful. I was scared of life, scared of others, scared of power, scared of insomnia, scared of not being able to work, scared of everything.”

Teddy’s works do not constitute his responses, reactions, or expressions about certain things or issues; rather, they are the manifestations of his thoughts. Or, to be precise, they are the manifestation of his freedom of thoughts.(2) After his solid statement in 2003—“Painting is a picture made simple or complex”(3) —in his interview with Tan Boon Hui for his commissioned work at the National Museum of Singapore, Teddy once again came up with an intriguing statement: “[My two-dimensional works are] my breath, while the three-dimensional ones are my soul. I make both of them.”(4) This exhibition presents the journey of them both: Teddy’s breath and soul. For Teddy, freedom means the freedom to think. The freedom to express his thoughts in his works. The freedom to create works in any forms possible.



  1. Interviews with S. Teddy D. were conducted in several sessions starting from March to June 2011.
  2. The late writer Intan Naomi used the term “mindscape” to explain about the manifestation of Teddy’s ideas in his works, in her introduction for “House” (1998), Teddy’s second solo show at Cemeti.
  3. As recorded in Hendro Wiyanto’s curatorial introduction consisting of interviews with the three participant artists—S. Teddy D., Ugo Untoro, Yani Halim—in BOAT (2003) at Nadi Gallery, Jakarta.
  4. Tan Boon Hui, “On S. Teddy D.’s Love Tank (The Temple) at the National Museum of Singapore”, introduction to Teddy’s commissioned work at the National Museum of Singapore, 2009.

REPOSITION: Art Merdeka!
Retrospective show of S. Teddy D.
Curated by: Enin Supriyanto, Grace Samboh, and Hendro Wiyanto

At Langgeng Art Foundation, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
2 June – 29 August 2011

At Gallery 1, ICA LaSalle, Singapore
29 March – 30 April 2012

Click here to see the show

About Grace Samboh

Believes in unicorn, conviviality and the struggle towards collective subjectivities—even temporarily.
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