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Restu Kusumaningrum: Unflagging spirit for the nation'€™s art

  • Yuliasri Perdani

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Thu, June 11, 2015 | 10:42 am
Restu Kusumaningrum: Unflagging spirit for the nation'€™s art

Courtesy of Bumi Purnati Indonesia

Arts have taken center stage in Restu Imansari Kusumaningrum'€™s life.

Renowned for her South Sulawesi epic, I La Galigo, which toured across the globe, she has taken up another challenge '€“ presenting the face of Indonesia in the 56th Venice Biennale, one of the world'€™s oldest contemporary art exhibitions.

In 2013, Indonesia made its mark at the 120-year-old biennale exhibition, where Restu brought the works of five Indonesian artists to fill the 500-square-meter Indonesia Pavilion.

In this year'€™s biennale,running from May 9 to Nov. 22, the sole artist featured in Indonesia Pavilion, Heri Dono, speaks about the nation'€™s existence and cultural differences through his Voyage installation, which includes Trokomod, a 4-meter-tall ship in the shape of a Komodo dragon.

Exhibiting Trokomod in the prestigious biennale, as Restu said, is part of her and her friends'€™ continuing efforts to bring Indonesian art into the global arena, as well as the national limelight.

'€œI want contemporary art to be part of the nation'€™s daily life in the 21st century,'€ she said in Jakarta recently ahead of her departure to the biennale.

However, Trokomod'€™s journey to Venice was far from a smooth trip. After working hard to secure a space at the biennale and completing the installations, Restu encountered red tape around government funding. From a budget of Rp 7.5 billion (US$578,900), the Tourism Ministry had promised to cover Rp 2.5 billion only to backtrack later.

'€œI was so close to giving up on this journey. The art works were completed, and we felt weary and discouraged due to uncertainty about which ministry would cover the exhibition space'€™s expenses,'€ she said.

'€œI was like a sinking boat to the point that I said '€˜we will not participate'€™. Then, these strong ladies woke me up [and were like] come on, this is a nation pavilion ['€¦]. Their encouragement feels like a second wind for us.'€

The ladies -- art enthusiasts grouped under Friends of Indonesia Pavilion -- along with a number of state-owned and private companies -- lent support to the project.

'€œI rose up again, scaling down my team and saving some of the budget,'€ she said, adding that two containers of the work had arrived at Venice Port, ready to be installed.

It has been a tough challenge but not the hardest ever faced by Restu -- a prolific dancer, architect and art project producer.

She said I La Galigo, the first art project that she produced, was the toughest one she has done as she conducted extensive research on the classic manuscripts and collaborated with a large number of artists of different nationalities.  

Since its debut in 2004, I La Galigo, the text adaptation and dramaturgy of which were written by Emmy-winning producer, writer and filmmaker Rhoda Grauer, has been staged in Europe, the US and Australia. As the co-producer, Restu negotiated tirelessly so that the Bugis epic creation myth got its deserving place.

'€œI had to insist that the ticket must be sold for at least 50 dollar per seat and that the show must take place at an opera house. I was engaged in that sort of struggle for years.'€

Heri Dono'€™s Voyage - Courtesy of Bumi Purnati IndonesiaHeri Dono'€™s Voyage - Courtesy of Bumi Purnati Indonesia

Although she was born to a family with no art background, Restu said she has been interested in dance since age five.

In her teenage years, she made great strides after joining Guruh Soekarnoputra'€™s Swara Mahardhika performing arts troupe, which enabled her to perform all across the world.

Restu went on to hone her dancing skills at the Jakarta Arts Institute (IKJ), aside from her architecture study at Trisakti University, Jakarta.

Her dancing skills have been proven in her extensive list of traditional and contemporary performances and her collaboration with a vast number of multidisciplinary artists. In addition to that, Restu has designed numerous private villas and amphitheaters in Jakarta and Bali.

Restu is the founder of Bumi Purnati, a production house and consultant for performing and visual art events, and the Bali Purnati Center for The Arts.

In her eyes, art offers ways to improve the quality of life. Through the Losari Foundation, Restu in 2012 inaugurated a batik workshop called Omah Batik Losari to preserve batik and empower village women from Jlamprang, Central Java.

Under the banner of the Indonesian Network for Heritage Conservation (JPPI), Restu convened Rajapatni dance performance, which reenacts the glory days of Majapahit Kingdom, at Candi Brahu in Trowulan of East Java in November 2014 as part of Trowulan Majapahit Festival.

'€œIt is our way to attract people back to the temples of Majapahit. Next, we will hold an event at the royal high court Kerta Gosa in Klungkung, Bali. Its ceiling paintings and building needs to be preserved.'€

Erected at the end of the 18th century inside the Klungkung palace complex, Kerta Gosa is the hall of justice in which Brahmana priests, who presided over the court, convicts and visitors can take a glance at Balinese wayang-style paintings on the ceiling that depict punishment in the afterlife.

'€œBased on the idea and initiative of Bali Purnati, I want to make a children'€™s book inspired by stories from Kerta Gosa.'€  

With these accumulating activities, Restu spends her time between Jakarta, Bali, New York and Singapore, where she, her husband David Halpert and their 6-year-old twin boys live.

'€œI video call them every day,'€ she said about the twins.

In her free time, Restu takes paint and brush to express her unspeakable thoughts.

'€œPainting'€™s three dimensions '€“ object, color and texture '€“ are a language that I use to express intellectual thoughts. Also, painting offers a new challenge for me,'€ she said, adding that she planned to hold her painting exhibition next year.

Restu and her team are unstoppable and continue to create new events and performances that embrace Indonesia'€™s traditional and contemporary works.

Currently, she is conducting research for two opera projects that will take inspiration from Indonesia'€™s culture and tradition.

'€œI am a citizen of Indonesia, as well as the world'€™s citizen. I can work wherever, outside my country. But I will keep coming back to build this beloved country.'€

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