Sixteen-thousands plus islands. Four hundred millions-over people. A wealth of cultures, traditions, myths, and history. Fertile ground for a local boy who got his start is one of the world’s leading centers of graphic design.

By: Patrick Bolles

Ignatius Hermawan Tanzil is one lucky guy. The Jakarta native not only attended one of the West Coast of the USA’s top design schools-the California College of the Arts, where he graduated with a degree in Fine Arts in 1985-but he stayed on to serve his apprenticeship in no last than three established California design firms, working on accounts such as Samsung, Hyatt Regency, and the University of California Berkeley, to name a few.

Not a bad start at all.

But by 1990 Hermawan was anxious to return to Indonesia, where he felt his future lay.At that time, graphic design was still in its infancy in that country. What better time to come back and lead a little revolution. Not the BIG revolution that had ousted Suharto two years before-but a design revolution-one that would incorporate the richness and variety of Indonesian art and culture, and synthesise its various strands and motives into new and exciting expressions.

After a brief stint at what was then one of Indonesia’s leading graphic design firm, Hermawan launched his own design company in 1990. He called it LeBoYe, a contraction of the French “les beaux yeux”- or “good eyes.” perhaps he already has his eyes on the prize-or prizes, because in short order and from modest beginnings, LeBoYe went on to garner a slew of local and international design awards from How Magazine, Communication Arts, Type Director’s Club, Conqueror Paper, Scopa and other awards. Hermawan’s works have also been showcased in exhibitions around the world, from Rio de Janeiro to Tokyo to Toronto. LeBoYe specialises in branding and corporate identity, collateral and other marketing materials, and web design. It even produces its own branded range of goods which it sells in a retail outlet on the ground floor of its office.

But it is his search to create a unique design identity that fuses Indonesian with Asian and Western elements that still excites and challenges him. Representative of that quest was Hermawan’s ambitious “Boeatan Indonesia Asli” project (which loosely translates into “Made in Indonesia”). He began collecting past examples of Indonesian graphic art as well as its antecedents in the country’s arts and crafts traditions, and compiling these in a series of books, journals and other printed materials. The first edition covered folk art, the second old Indonesian ads, the third children’s toys, and so on. Hermawan is still adding to the series-his upcoming edition will be on the Indonesian alphabet.

Indonesia’s Versus magazine recently editorialised that “It is difficult to judge whether Hermawan’s work is Indonesian or not because what’s ‘Indonesian’ has yet to be defined. It is clear that he methodically mines the past and utilises his own nostalgia and romanticism to communicate his work, in turn triggering ours-the audience’s sentimentality. Therefore, he could be defined as using culture as style, or vice versa. What’s clear as a result, his work becomes unique in character-personal, undeniably ‘Hermawan’.”

Versus went on to quote Hermawan himself. “I imagine that Indonesian graphic design must reflect the characteristics of Indonesia, which can be labelled as identity, culture, and so forth… Our culture is hospitality, warmth, and rich with symbolism.”