My artistic practice revives my family’s Indonesian cultural history and aesthetic traditions nearly erased by acculturation. As a first-generation American growing up in Southern California, I almost unconsciously accepted my American identity. My family’s American identity however was deliberately adopted, birthed by politically-forced migration from The Dutch East Indies and reinforced by assimilation into mid-century California life—a process that implicitly demanded they pack away their grief and sense of dislocation.
My artistic exploration of heritage draws on western painting history and Southeast Asian traditional craft to acknowledge that rather than an exception, the trauma of dislocation, complexity of cultural hybridity, and spiritual strength required of the migrant experience are intrinsic aspects of Americanness. My work highlights how sustained engagement with cultural difference and acknowledgement of injustice is essential to build truly inclusive societies.
I began studying Indonesian craft with Javanese artisans in 2017 with the support of a Fulbright grant. The year of uninterrupted work allowed me to make significant strides in my practice by learning new technical skills, including batik painting, woodcarving, palm weaving, and carving wayang kulit– Javanese shadow puppets. This research allowed me to engage with my ancestry and address my Indonesian-Dutch-American heritage to consider how hybrid identity shapes our understanding and participation in the world. Working in Java also supported my establishing relationships with the local contemporary art community which have also been critical to my artistic development and led to my inclusion in exhibitions at The World Trade Centre, Jakarta and the National Museum, Yogyakarta.
In my work I often use projections and window gazing as formal metaphors to examine that what we consider to be ‘culture’ and ‘understanding’ are in fact systems of implicitly agreed upon conceptual constructs. How does the distortion of projection offer insight about the unconscious biases that shape our worldviews? How do our origin narratives and contexts influence how and who is considered to be ‘allowed’ or ‘belong’ to a place, culture, or ideology? Can revealing the distortions caused by the slippages of perception emphasize the richness of diversity and thereby create space for awareness and positive change?
Adam de Boer graduated with a BA from the College of Creative Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara (2006) and an MA from the Chelsea College of Art, London (2012). Recent exhibitions include Gajah Gallery, Singapore (2021); Gazelli Art House, London (2021); The Hole, New York (2021); Hunter Shaw Fine Art, Los Angeles (2020/2018); World Trade Centre, Jakarta (2018); and Art|Jog, Yogyakarta (2018/2015).
In 2017, de Boer was awarded a Fulbright Research Fellowship to Indonesia. Other grants include those from Arts for India, Cultural Development Corporation, and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
For the past decade, de Boer has travelled throughout Indonesia to investigate his Eurasian heritage. His recent work employs imagery and traditional crafts from the region as a way to connect his artistic practice with those of his distant cultural forebears. He currently lives and works in Los Angeles.