Whimsical and playful is usually not the first thing you think of when someone mentions the medieval ages, but that is precisely the world that Jakarta-based illustrator Anindya Anugrah, who also goes by the name Phantasien, creates in her illustrations. Often mashing together multiple historical references in a single illustration, Anindya’s artistic practice came from a rather unusual origin. “Back in 2016 when I was a final year law student, I wrote a thesis about appropriation art from a legal perspective and became fascinated by it,” Anindya tells It’s Nice That. “I started creating art and developing my own illustration stye,” she adds, eventually quitting her law career to embrace her creative ambition.
Her illustrations are jam-packed with an array of patterns, characters and visual puns that bring these medieval characters, often dressed in ruffs and red acorn hats, into modern situations. They are not always brought back to the 21st century, but to the lingering mid-century postcolonial aesthetic that’s common in countries like Indonesia, Singapore and India. More often, it is historical fantasy rather than period-specific references that feature in these images, not quite tipping over to the occult but building a world where medieval characters appear almost harmless. The characters wear sunglasses, hang out in rooms lit by neon lettering, scale giant lemon-flavoured eyeballs, and climb into tins of Hawaiian corned beef. Despite her consistent style and mood, the references travel all over the world and across different times.
“My way of illustrating is a bit unusual because it doesn’t start from a raw sketch. I always begin by searching for the right source materials for my work, using public domain illustration works,” she describes. “My inspirations come from bizarre, funny-looking decorative drawings in the pages of illuminated manuscripts.”
Anindya’s characters often look like they popped out of a children’s story book and decided to hunt for endless bric-a-brac. She usually taps into her childhood memories to imagine these scenes. She also tries to subvert the imagery of the era and what it’s usually known for – gloomy religious stained glass, the dull shine of a knight’s armour and the endless violence and conflict from warring nations. “I wanted to depict the opposite of what the middle ages are popularly known for,” Anindya explains. This is where the fictional elements of her work comes out the strongest. What would it look like if it was a happy and colourful time instead?
She tells us about her recent project that sees her collaborating with the graphic-heavy independent fashion label Dibba. “I provided a series of work titled Une Nuit Sans Fin depicting a midnight carnival where ghouls would gather and entertain themselves,” Anindya says. She was most excited about the fact that the label picked up the small details of her illustrations and used it to embellish their garments, from dresses to suits. Her busy illustrations, once turned into loose-fitting and flowing outfits, take on another form, still keeping its storytelling core even when worn. One dress for instance gradually transforms from a busy town fair scene into the night sky dotted with stars. Like a good picture book, we’re happy to let Anindya take us through the different ages with her fantastical illustrations.