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Like a social scientist carrying out full-blown research, Canadian artist Ken Pattern has in the past 17 years witnessed the massive transformation of Jakarta from a collection of tightly knit neighborhoods into a huge metropolis.
He has documented the changeover in his renowned, meticulously drawn, portrait-like, black-and-white paintings and stone lithographs.
Armed with camera, pen and ink, Pattern has witnessed with his steely eyes that what is now a district of glass-and-steel construction was once clusters of sprawling, traditional housing, or kampongs.
The transformation was so immense that it subliminally affected the style of his art, which has also changed over the years.
As one of thousands of foreigners who made their way into this archipelago, Pattern, who arrived in the country in 1988, underwent a difficult time adjusting to its tropical climate. His early works dealt with such climatic confusion.
His surrealism-tinged drawings, produced in the late 1980s, carried images of icebergs melting in the tropical paradise.
financial crisis, which hit the country in mid-1997.
"Everything stopped and nothing really happened. In fact people started telling me that I should produce drawings to show that nothing happened in this city," Pattern said with a chuckle.
The advent of the crisis also marked another transformation in Pattern's style.
Although he had lived here for over a decade by the time the crisis struck, he still did not fully grasp the true nature of the Indonesian people and their culture.
"The longer I stay here, the more I don't know what is going on. Take the flow of traffic for example: To go from point A to point B, you have to go through R and X, there is never a straight line," he said.
Dealing with the confusion once again, Pattern returned to his surrealistic roots and started using a labyrinth as a symbol. One of his lithograph portrays Java as an island, with an intricate maze connecting one spot with another. He also used it in a drawing that aimed to describe the streets of Jakarta.
Another Javanese trait that has bewildered Pattern is
the flexibility of its people -- a penchant to bend the law and regulations
to reach an objective.
anyway," Pattern said, whimsically.
Indonesians don't see what is on the horizon because they are so busy about where their feet are, he said.
Born 62 years ago in New Westminster, Canada, Pattern graduated from Emily Carr School of Art & Design, majoring in printmaking. The incisive social critique in his art may have been nourished when he took a sociology course at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver.
He later found that stone lithography was his passion, despite the fact that the art was fairly complex and demands a great deal of skill.
Moving to Jakarta in late 1988 -- after years of living in Beijing, which he called artistically `dry'-- Pattern never foresaw that he would fall for Indonesia and spend a great deal of time here, even embracing laid-back Indonesian demeanor.
"I have probably embraced it (the easy-going attitude) more than I think I do. When I returned to Canada, I carried it with me and it worked there," he said.
And after years of living in the "melting iceberg", Pattern could not tell which was his first home, Indonesia or Canada. "I think Indonesia is more in my blood than I think; even if I'm not physically in Indonesia it's still going to be inside me," he said.
And, like millions of tourists who were enthralled by the country's idyllic nature, Pattern was also captivated by it and his later works portrayed beautiful scenery he discovered on road trips.
The routine persisted until 1991, when Pattern started to realize that a lot had changed in a place where he based his artistic work, Jakarta.
At first, he was struck by the stark contrast that prevailed in the capital. "I lived in a gated and walled house with a swimming pool inside. But outside the wall, it was just a regular kampong and my house was like that of a rich person," Pattern said in an interview with The Jakarta Post.
Pattern and his wife Helen Vanwel, once a consultant with a private consulting company, then lived on Jl. Bangka, an affluent neighborhood in the vicinity of Kemang, South Jakarta.
Driven by the stark contrast, Pattern went out to explore more of Jakarta and later found out that by the end of the 1980s, Jakarta was just a large kampong made up of small neighborhoods.
"I still remember that what is now known as the Sudirman Central Business District (SCBD) -- just behind the Jakarta Police headquarters -- was just a huge kampong," he said.
Pattern, who has remained a Canadian national, recalled
that there were not a lot of tall buildings along Jl. Sudirman. "At that time, I thought that Jakarta was not a city, it was just a huge collection of kampongs," he said.
He then decided to draw paintings of the kampongs by first taking photographs and rough sketches of the scenes. "I took the sketches and the photographs back to Canada so that I could do the drawing there. But when I returned here, all had changed. The places are all empty and in some places there were tall buildings," he said.
Witnessing the rapid change, a sense of loss crept into his mind. "The neighborhood had been there for so many years, but it was taken away and a new Jakarta was being developed," he said. Pattern had to rush in his work as the view was disappearing so quickly.
The drawings that later came to fruition depicted the high-rise buildings of Jakarta standing majestically above the tree canopy, and rows of shanty towns below it, mostly in black-and-white.
One of his famous portraits of the loss of the city's innocence was the picture of a cow tied to a fence of a plot of land surrounded by banana trees, with one of Jakarta's famous landmarks, the Wisma Mulia building, looming large from a distance.The unchecked obliteration of the Jakarta's kampongs came to an abrupt halt during the
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