Dodit Artawan’s Pool Party!: Barbie and Liquor in Culture Clash

Interview courtesy of Gina Fairley
Images Gallerie TAKSU

Balinese Dodit Artawan is the kind of artist whose works are deeply rooted to his social milieu. Postmodern yet traditional (Dodit is inclined towards still life), he uses western pop culture to reflect the social implications of globalisation. His recent exhibition held at Gallerie TAKSU Kuala Lumpur, Pool Party!, which is still on-going till 15 March, is exactly that.

Using liquor bottles and Barbie dolls to comment on the prominent alcohol culture of Balinese (“[alcohol is] a serious problem in society and even in my own life”), Pool Party! plays on the inherent consumerism both products reflect. Barbie, as Dodit puts it, is represented as “seductive, pretty, sexy, and glamorous” just as how alcohol is advertised, making them the perfect match for an art exhibition that provides commentary on hedonism.

Put together, Barbie acts like sales promotion girls, a conduit to the gender politics of industrial products like cigarettes, cars, electronic products, and the theme of the exhibition itself – alcohol consumerism. While alcohol is not a foreign invention (fermented drinks exist in all cultures), alcohol culture as it is – and the brands – is distinctively western. One particular painting ‘Living in America #2’ depicts Barbie, a miniature Harley Davidson, and American whiskey, which comments on not just America but instead also the American lifestyle adopted by Balinese – “we all live in America,” says Dodit.

You’d be forgiven if you thought the exhibition is made of blown up photographs, our eyes were fooled too initially. A student of hyperrealism, Dodits’ paintings have the illusion of reality, but upon closer inspection the hyperrealism of his works seems to crack revealing the artifice within. You could almost liken it to advertising, “in photorealism – hyperrealism paintings, there are social, political, or psychological aspects that the artists want to convey, some even critique the theme they present.”

However Dodit is quick to point out that “[still life] is not merely inducement or solicitation to buy an existing product, like in advertising.” Like Jeff Koon before him, Dodit is merely appropriating the commercialism of liquor ads as artistic statements.

Aesthetically, the choice of utilising still life for the exhibition makes perfect sense for Dodit as he is attracted to the transparency and reflection of bottles, glass, metal, plastic, and ice cubes. On a personal level, all of Dodit’s works aren’t far from his personal lifestyle. It’s only sensible that he chose to depict his works closer to reality.

This is not the first time Dodit has used alcohol as a theme, his previous paintings of alcohol had been exhibited in different galleries. So much so that you won’t be the first to ask him what it is with his fixation with alcoholic drinks. In which he would jokingly answer “because I do not like milk.”

As amusing as such remark is, alcoholism is among Balinese is a real problem. Dodit says “5 in 10 adolescents become drinkers when they grow up… who knows how many died because cirrhosis every year.”

A solemn thought to go by the image of Barbie dolls and liquor bottles by a pool party, but that is the reality behind the farcical hyperrealism.

Dodit Artawan’s Pool Party! is an on-going exhibition at Gallerie TAKSU Kuala Lumpur till 15 March. Much of the paintings for the exhibition have been sold. Find TAKSU events at