Dewi Candraningrum: Painting for women's struggles
Ganug Nugroho Adi
The Jakarta Post
Born in Boyolali on September 12, 1975, Dewi Candraningrum never aspired to become a painter. However, on August 26-31 she displayed about a hundred paintings along with her child, Ivan Ufuq Isfahan, 13, in Surakarta, captivating visitors with the works of mother-and-child collaboration.
'A mother normally delivers her children. But this time a child has given birth to his mother. Ivan has made me born again as a painter,' said Dewi in her house in Colomadu, Karanganyar, Central Java.
Dewi wasn't joking when she said Ivan had caused her rebirth. Ivan is a boy with autistic syndrome. With this mental condition, Dewi has to prepare everything whenever Ivan wants to paint and even gives finishing touches to his pictures.
'I've been doing this for years. Eventually I got desirous of painting, which I started around two years ago and has turned out what I'm showing now. So Ivan has transformed me into a painter,' noted the lecturer of women's literature in the School of English Literature, Muhammadiyah University of Surakarta (UMS).
Some parents are embarrassed to have autistic children. They frequently leave such children at home with domestic servants and lock them up when there are visitors so as not to be seen.
'The first reason is embarrassment. They're ashamed of the abnormal behavior of their children, which may cause trouble to other people nearby. Ignorance of how to deal with autistic children causes frustration and disregard for their presence,' said Dewi, now finishing her study for a master's program at Monash University, Australia.
She admitted she had been shocked to notice her child born with autism. But she soon managed to overcome the pressure and started planning to face the difficult days Ivan would have to go through.
'Being honest and open to other people about my child's autism will relieve my burden. I've never hidden Ivan's autistic syndrome,' she revealed.
Dewi often goes with Ivan to take a walk, a sightseeing trip, attend a party, arisan (rotating savings) meeting or family gathering, without feeling embarrassed, let alone troubled.
According to Dewi, Ivan's autistic symptoms were apparent as soon as he was born. For instance, unlike the other newborns, Ivan didn't cry. When he was breastfed, Ivan was looking at other objects instead of his mother.
'An autistic child requires extra attention and energy. It's not done by providing abundant material wealth, but rather by treating him with continuous patience and tender loving care,' said Dewi, who is also pursuing a doctorate at Germany's Muenster University.
Dewi explained the positive behavior of autistic children should never be formed by force. The annoying manners triggered by their mental condition result from a neurobiological development disorder.
'Autistic children badly need help in overcoming their communication and interaction difficulty. Trust me, these children never want to be defiant. We should have a lot more patience. It's the key,' assured Dewi, also a guest lecturer of the University of Indonesia's postgraduate program.
The daughter of Soekirno and Dewi Ngaenah has been actively involved in various movements struggling for women's better fate, besides an editorial board member of Jurnal Perempuan (Women's Journal) and a co-founder of Jejer Wadon, a women's discussion forum in Surakarta.
Her attention to women's affairs since teenage years and her current preoccupation with women's struggle has obviously filled the themes of her paintings. 'As a female member of a patriarchal Javanese family, I've felt the difference in freedom since childhood. My older brothers had fewer restrictions than I did,' she recalled.
'What I studied at college later helped me understand how to respond to what was going on, especially in terms of women's issues,' said Dewi, who is active in the International Journal of Indonesian Studies (IJIS) at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.
With regard to the female body, Dewi maintained that there had been a shift in people's perception of a woman's figure.
In ancient times a woman was positioned as a Queen or the origin of human civilization.
'In modern days the public view of the female body and sexuality has changed. Women are today more shaped by cosmetic and fashion products rather than judged by their integrity and achievements,' she indicated.
The concept of the body, in Dewi's view, is inseparable from ecology as the body represents part of the earth. But now the earth is damaged as culture doesn't favor ecological equilibrium, adversely affecting the body. Culture has thus caused alienation from the body.
'This is the reason for my paintings of nude women, which are in the context of ecology rather than pornography,' clarified Dewi Candraningrum, who in September is scheduled to visit Sweden for her research on children's rights.
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