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Radhar Panca Dahana: Uncovering dirty politics layer by layer

Hans David Tampubolon

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Mon, January 30, 2017  /  03:26 pm
Radhar Panca Dahana: Uncovering dirty politics layer by layer

Manusia Istana by Radhar Panca Dahana (Shutterstock/File)

There is an old adage that says “politics is the art of telling the truth but not the whole truth.” It is a very famous saying among seasoned politicians and it clearly depicts what politics is all about in practice instead of its normative formal definition.

For those who are well informed and familiar with realpolitik, the proverb cannot be more wrong. Politics, most of the time, consist of many different layers of truth and deception and to get to the definitive truth, one must be committed and diligent enough to bypass those layers.

Senior thespian, director and poet Radhar Panca Dahana is one of those artists who has dedicated his life and work to unravel the truth about politics to the public. For the 51-year-old Radhar, making the public aware of the reality of practical politics is a given responsibility as an artist.

Radhar’s works have always been very dark, grotesque, grim and highly critical of politics and the ruling class.

His theatrical plays and poems mostly concern hypocrisy and the low moral conduct of the political elite.

“All of my works are based on the reality of life in this country, which is very bleak and dark,” Radhar told The Jakarta Post in a recent interview.

“Almost everyone, these days, cannot see things clearly anymore. They cannot see reality as they are constantly fooled by deceptive elements in their society and culture. There are so many media and information mediums that people get confused as there are even more layers to dig through to find out the truth,” he said.

Radhar has shown his rebellious and critical attitude as an artist since an early age.

Having enjoyed short stories and plays since he was five years old, Radhar went against his parents who would rather see him become a painter instead of a writer and a poet. Radhar, who believed that his calling was in literary art, often used a pseudonym in his works that he sent to magazines and art publications in order to avoid his artistic choice from being detected by his parents.

(Read also: Seno Gumira Ajidarma: No rest for the wicked)

Other than the objections from his parents, Radhar also came across a lot of stumbling blocks throughout his career. When he was 14, he began his journey in the theater world and then he founded his own group called Teater Kosong several years after he wrote his first play, Gamang (Worried), in 1983.

His journey with Teater Kosong was not easy due to the cast’s poor acting level and lack of financing. The troupe took a long hiatus but in 2007, they returned to the theater scene after Radhar realized that he could only be able to fully express his artistic work through theater.

Despite the setbacks, Radhar persevered and managed to build a solid career that has spanned some 40 years in the theater and literary world.

His distinguished and unique style in his theatrical plays and poems has earned him recognition and numerous awards, such as the Paramadina award in 2005 and the Prix de la Francophonie medal from 15 French-speaking countries in 2007.

Most people might deem Radhar as a cynical artist based on his continuous pessimistic depiction of politics in his plays and poems. However, he said that he actually despised cynicism and described himself as an independent yet critical artist.

(Read also: Art Stage Singapore: To be or not to be)

“I do not think any artist should set a stance as a cynic, who keeps protesting all the time toward every single policy taken by a regime. Nobody likes a cynic. An artist, however, should always be critical,” he said.

“I only protest policies and situations that I believe are not right and endanger the public. There will always be some things that I protest because no government is perfect but then again, if they take good policies, I will not hesitate to express my support.”

Radhar’s latest project, a dramatic reading of his political poem compilation book Manusia Istana (People of the Palace), he once again aims to present the deepest truths of realpolitik to the public.

The project, scheduled to be performed at the Taman Ismail Marzuki arts center in Central Jakarta on Jan. 28, would feature a number of Radhar’s closest friends and colleagues such as actress Olivia Zalianty, Cornelia Agatha, Marcella Zalianty, Prisia Nasution and Maudy Koesnaedi along with musician Toni Rastafara and blues band Slank.

“During the performance, the performers will read poems using dramaturgy and theatrical elements. In a regular poem reading, the readers just plainly read while in this performance, they will use all of their capacity and capability as actors and actresses,” Radhar said.

Radhar added that his latest project would be a deeper interpretation and presentation on realpolitik and its reality compared to his previous work, a theatrical play called Homo Reptilicus, which presented a very brutal and bleak depiction of morals and values among Indonesia’s political elite.

“This time, the exploration will be more philosophical than Homo Reptilicus. In the previous project, we only touched on the surface of the harsh surface of realpolitik.” We showcased how society will slowly transform into a society of reptiles because of its politics.

“Now, we will look deeper into the reason why people become reptiles. We look for substance, not sensation,” he said.

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