Seeing for the First Time

Jessica Lim responds to artworks in the Redbase Gallery booth at Aotearoa Art Fair, an exploration of formless forms, water, art, violence, and capturing the uncapturable.

A fluid response to a collection of distant, related images.

Less about identity, more about intimacy.

In the booth of Redbase Art Gallery at Auckland Art Fair, the artist Ruth Ju-shih Li makes a sculpture out of recycled clay and dirt. Sweeping organic forms into the shape of something almost real. Though these works may resemble natural forms – the spine, flowers, birds of paradise – they have no resemblance at all…

A spine-like sculpture stands against a stark white backdrop, made from material from the Earth, dirt, soil, to be recomposed. Water falls slowly over that which only came into its slight existence – a physical form for the first time… to be recognised, if only for a moment.

Is this something that everyone in the category of human can understand, beyond cultural constraints?

“A self portrait…,” Ruth says, over the telephone one day in March.

“More a reflection of the inside, than the outside…”

If art is always already three dimensional, how might we understand the multiple and complex dimensions of a universal language through a screen? To be present, only in a different time and space…

So I use the only maps available to me.

The following is a response to ephemeral works assembled in a single place at one time. I write from my studio in London. This is a place that I’ve come to call home, where I feel more disconnected from my own sense of belonging, but is something I crave more than anything else.

I recalibrate through memory, towards streets dimly lit in a sinking city – I write towards home – a fractured third space, between Aotearoa and Indonesia. A space that now exists only in my imagination…

Yogyakarta, 1941.
(I look backYou are still standing thereI look back againYou are still standing there).– Ren Hang

A bright neon green against a fuchsia sunset

The flowers all in bloom.

In the painting, people gather around a lotus pond, where dragonflies are suspended over white wreaths.

A procession of people comes and goes, collecting water and light, like sustenance. 

To drink the light of the sun…

She wonders where the colours come from.

A chemical reaction. The deep green seems to be an illusion, she has never seen colours so bright. 


Samuel Quinteros, Three Figures Enjoying Pomegranates, 2022, oil on linen, 61 × 81.4 cm. Image courtesy of Redbase Art Gallery.

December 2000

A young girl follows her siblings through the temples and villages. She can’t keep up.

There is a soft vibrancy that she feels here, but she doesn’t quite understand… offerings of food or money to ghosts or gods overflowing on the sidewalks.They will bring prosperity or luck. Unlike the streets lined with warung in Jakarta, the mist-smothered tea plantations in Bandung, the unpaved roads of Borneo…


Slipping into the present… I’ve come to reflect on what a gallery should be, what material function it performs. After two years, I’ve concluded that, at best, the gallery, as a container, should work towards drawing close yet distant cultures into conversation with one another.

Redbase is a gallery founded in Indonesia, which later expanded to Sydney, that represents, as they say, “a diasporic community showing work across mediums of paper, sound, painting, fabric and sculpture”.

Perhaps listening, looking, can be a kind of faithfulness…

Can this acknowledgement soften our grief?

Maybe we need to carve out our own space. Perhaps this work is an emergency.

And… is anyone paying attention? 


They say each village here specialises in a particular art form…

That the artisans and makers are the most respected people

That Bali is home to the largest orchestra outside of the Western orchestra…

Traditionally, every member of a community must develop skills in a particular art form – dance, music, visual art…

Communities of painters, jewellers and puppeteers are hidden all over the island.

The puppet show is her favourite of all…

Later that evening she wonders, could it be that art and music are the universal language? A language without words.  The universal language of dreams…


At the beginning of Indonesia’s independence, after 350 years of Dutch colonial rule, it is said that Sukarno united an entire nation, composed of 1340 ethnic groups and diverse religious creeds, through a policy of anti-imperialism.

As they say, in a bloodless affair.

To create a unified perception of gender, ethnicity and identity…

Is this familiarity what I’m looking for in my search for a common language that isn’t constrained by a particular culture, class or religion?


It could be that her childhood was just planes passing back and forth into the night…

Disembarking from the plane. She is smothered by an unbearable humidity for the first time.

Bright red droplets collect below her nose.

Father collects four children at the gate.

He takes them to the hospital to meet their grandmother, Popo, for the first time.

“She has been waiting for you,” he says.

He lifts her tiny body over Popo’s bed, and they gaze at each other.

Popo’s eyes are kind… but she feels afraid.

What if she falls on her? What if she hurts her?

Disoriented, she wriggles from father’s grip.

Later, she awakes in a room with many doors…On a cool, hard mat, her sister sleeps next to her.

She wakes her, softly, and asks where each door might lead…

Cheolyu Kim, Universe #100, 2022, lithograph on paper, 70 × 152 cm. Image courtesy of Redbase Art Gallery.


Suharto seizes power after a bloody coup d’état staged against Sukarno, inaugurating a military dictatorship considered to be one of the most brutal and corrupt regimes of the 20th century.

The artists are exiled to islands for their safety, where it is hoped that they will not be found…


Suharto’s dictatorship collapses… Legislation is passed forbidding engagement with Chinese culture, and the use of Mandarin in public.


“The way a colour could be seen differently from another’s perspective”

London, 2023

She is studying the pigments and origin of paint, in her apartment, having travelled to Crete and seen the ruins of the ancient Minoan civilisation. She remembers now that archaeologists could trace the trade routes, migration, and thus sexual relations, empires of ancient civilisations, from the traces of paint preserved in frescoes.

“The long and rich history of ceramics is one of the many reasons why I choose to use this medium, it’s humble, mundane and organic…When we die we return to the earth as well,” Ruth adds, over the phone one day.
To work without intruding on the landscape…

Jakarta, January 2001

Men check every car for bombs, with convex mirrors.

“Why are there military tanks lining the streets?” she asks.

No one answers.

Raglan, October 2002

There are multiple bombings in Bali

Mother says it is unsafe to return…

She wants to swim in the warm sea, hear the call to prayer at dawn, enveloped in the warmth of an estranged family.

She recalls the Balinese dancers, the deep reds and gold of fabrics in their woven dresses.

The taste of the bright-green fruit and the beauty of her stepmother.

Location and Date Unknown

Two children play near the edge of the pond, to gaze beyond the effervescent surface.

Two years between them. They peer into the water, where fish and weeds drift below.

As the vibration of their footsteps settles, they catch their reflection in the water.

The younger one reaches out and can almost touch…

Nearby, a painter has just discovered the perfect vantage point to sketch out the scene. A perch with just the right angle capturing the sun’s golden yellow hues.

Nestling on the bank, observing the light and shadow falling over the landscape, the movement of the bodies dressed uniformly in sarong, departing and gathering around the body of water.

He relinquishes bright colours into the warm light, in precise strokes.

Closing his eyes, he wants to hold this image inside his head for a moment, before it slips away…

Somewhere else in the archipelago, people are gathering, weaving, dreaming that somewhere… here a new country will be arriving.

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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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