Catholic artist Antonius Nugroho Adi Prabowo with one of his artworks and his big motorbike. (Photo courtesy of Antonius)
Antonius Nugroho Adi Prabowo spent the whole month of February last year crafting statues of Jesus, Mother Mary and St. Joseph with Central Javanese characteristics: light brown skin tone and traditional clothes.
Each statue, made of silica sand, was 160 centimeters in height. Silica sand is quartz that over time, through the work of water and wind, has been broken down into tiny granules. Also known as white sand or industrial sand, silica sand is made up of two main elements: silica and oxygen. Specifically, silica sand is made up of silicon dioxide.
“Silica sand is the best material to use for outdoor sculptures. It is strong enough to handle hot temperatures and rainwater,” Adi told UCA News.
The 46-year-old Catholic artist, whose main workshop is located close to a popular Marian shrine in Ambarawa city of Indonesia’s Central Java province, created the religious statues for a certain reason.
“It was at the request of a Chinese-Indonesian Catholic young woman from Jakarta. She promised herself when she was praying to God that she would make a special offering if her prayers came true,” he said.
The statues have been placed in a parish church in the country’s capital.
Adi, the third of four siblings of a family with art in the blood, previously created a statue of Mother Mary holding Jesus with Papuan characteristics and a Javanese-style statue of Mother Mary. The latter was made at the request of a priest serving in Italy.
Now the artist with curly long hair, who studied art in China in 1997 and has produced thousands of statues, is preparing to make statues of Mother Mary and the Way of the Cross with Dayak features, costumes and symbols. Dayak is a generic term used to categorize a large group of indigenous peoples on the island of Borneo.
“A missionary priest from the Philippines who is now serving in Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan province, wants me to create the statues in Dayak style. I have completed the designs and will start the project early next year,” Adi said.
Statues of Jesus, Mother Mary and St. Joseph in Central Javanese style. (Photo courtesy of Antonius Nugroho Adi Prabowo)
Challenges and a call
Nevertheless, it was never easy for Adi, who has joined exhibitions in at least 14 countries and received dozens of international and national awards including one from the Archdiocese of Semarang, to create religious statues in certain traditional styles.
“I always found myself in a difficult situation. My mind kept telling me that I could not do this. I could not even make a decision. It was beyond my understanding,” he said.
However, the artist, who began to create religious statues in 2009 and whose hobby is riding a big motorbike, never gave up.
“I often asked for suggestions from bishops and priests. For instance, Monsignor Ignatius Suharyo, who then served as archbishop of Semarang, once told me that creating religious statues in certain traditional styles was allowed as all statues acted as a visual aid for worshippers,” he said.
“Such confirmation made me feel at peace.”
Another challenge he faced was all about time. “Time flies so fast. I have to manage my time wisely as I must create this and that at the same time.”
Besides preparing to make Dayak-style statues of Mother Mary and the Way of the Cross, Adi is now focusing on a 61-meter-tall statue of Christ the Redeemer, which is to be placed in Samosir district of the predominantly Protestant province of North Sumatra.
“It is 30 percent done. The statue is claimed to be the tallest one in the world and expected to become an icon in Indonesia,” he said.
For Adi, his art was a calling. “In many opportunities, I was never commercial and never thought of making any profit. It was my call. And I always felt in peace after completing my artworks, particularly religious statues.”
‘A longing expression’
Franciscan Father Andreas Atawolo, a lecturer in dogmatic theology at the Jakarta-based Driyarkara School of Philosophy, finds no problem with religious statues crafted in traditional styles.
“Such artworks are usually a longing expression of Jesus in accordance with the context of local culture. The most important principle is that they are simply artworks instead of idols,” he told UCA News.
“As long as they help worshippers to deepen their faith in God, it does not matter. But we must remember that religious statues or icons serve only as mediums. They are not the goal of our faith.”
However, the priest suggested that a religious statue created in a certain traditional style should not be placed publicly in other areas.
“For example, a religious statue created in Central Javanese characteristics should only be placed in the Central Java area. It is because people from different ethnicities may find it unsuitable for them,” he said.
Adi agreed. “My artworks must serve only as mediums and must be able to help Catholics to get closer to God,” he said.