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#Perempuan a highlight during 2018 Mapping Melbourne

Richard Horstman
Richard Horstman

Artivist, observes and reports on developments in the Bali and Indonesian art scenes

Melbourne  /  Thu, December 20, 2018  /  04:09 pm
  • #Perempuan exhibition at Space 28 Victorian College of the Arts (VCA), Melbourne.

    #Perempuan exhibition at Space 28 Victorian College of the Arts (VCA), Melbourne. OF JP/Richard Horstman

    #Perempuan exhibition at Space 28 Victorian College of the Arts (VCA), Melbourne.

  • Kapan nikah (When are you going to get married) (2018) by Arum Dayu

    Kapan nikah (When are you going to get married) (2018) by Arum Dayu OF JP/Richard Horstman

    Kapan nikah (When are you going to get married) (2018) by Arum Dayu

  • The Future (Lies) (2018) by Yaya Sung

    The Future (Lies) (2018) by Yaya Sung OF Santy Saptari/File

    The Future (Lies) (2018) by Yaya Sung

  • One is a million (2018) by Ruth Marbun

    One is a million (2018) by Ruth Marbun OF JP/Richard Horstman

    One is a million (2018) by Ruth Marbun

  • Silence (2018) by Patricia Untario

    Silence (2018) by Patricia Untario OF JP/Richard Horstman

    Silence (2018) by Patricia Untario

  • You can see but you can't touch! (2017) by Erwin Windu Pranata

    You can see but you can't touch! (2017) by Erwin Windu Pranata OF JP/Richard Horstman

    You can see but you can't touch! (2017) by Erwin Windu Pranata


Yaya Sung’s thought-provoking investigation into the murder of seven Indonesian army generals during the 1965 coup that overthrew President Sukarno’s reign during the Sept. 30 Movement (G30S), The Future (Lies) ( 2018 ), was recently displayed in Melbourne, Australia. It is one of nine contemporary works of art being presented in #Perempuan (Women), a group exhibition by emerging Indonesian female and male artists at Space 28, the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA), Southbank, open Dec. 5 to 14.

Exhibited alongside Sung’s seven-screen video installation of seven naked male models with make-up representing the generals' fatal stab and gunshot wounds, according to official autopsy reports, was the artist's book, with translations detailing her extensive museum-like archival research.

The narrative released by the New Order regime under the incoming Soeharto government claimed that the generals’ deaths were the responsibility of the underground 1950’s Indonesian women’s rights organization Gerwani. The fabrication stated they were sadistically tortured and their bodies sexually mutilated, culminating in their deaths and thus leading to Gerwani’s reputation as a group of "violent, deviant and crazed" women. Soeharto deliberately discredited Gerwani due to its association with the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) while advocating the view that women should take up traditional maternal roles.

With the increasing rise of moral conservatism in Indonesia, artists' right to freedom of speech is increasingly being encroached. Exhibitions and public sculptures have come under attack, being either forced to close or have works dismantled, due to what is deemed as offensive themes and content. Two elements of Sung’s insightful artwork make it too sensitive to be shown in Indonesia, yet suitable for an international audience in Melbourne – content featuring nudity, and the examination of the events related to G30S.

Stories concerning subjects from the present and past were granted new life for contemplation and dialogue in the first international Indonesian contemporary art exhibition that focused on issues relating to Indonesian women. Sponsored by Project 11, as part of Multicultural Arts Victoria’s Asian contemporary arts festival Mapping Melbourne 2018, #Perempuan explored topics relating to politics; social, cultural and gender identity politics; values and traditions; and the changing roles of Indonesian women.

The works presented by Java-based artists Arum Dayu, Erwin Windu Pranata, Meliantha Muliawan, Octora, Patricia Untario, Puri Fidhini & Etza Meisyara, Ruth Marbun and Tandia Bambang Permadi, along with Sung, look at issues that are rarely openly discussed in public within Indonesia.  

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“Very few exhibitions that focus solely on women’s issues have been held within Indonesia ,” said #Perempuan curator Santy Saptari, who was born and raised in Jakarta and now lives and works in Melbourne.

“Traditional lives are very orchestrated in Indonesia,” Saptari said. “During the process of organizing this exhibition, Konfir [Kabo of Project 11] and I realized that one of the major challenges facing female Indonesian artists is their capacity for career continuity. Many women sacrifice their art for family commitments, getting married and putting the male first. We wanted to give women artists an opportunity to talk about issues that matter to them.”

Yogyakarta artist Arum Dayu’s invitation to her parents to examine with her the challenges of being unmarried within the format of her artwork proved to be a unique experience for the artist. Kapan nikah? (When are you going to get married?) ( 2018 ) features Dayu photographed with potential husbands, and her parents, all dressed in traditional attire. The focal image included an edited recording of her discussions with her parents, revealing them to be understanding and supportive of her culturally frowned upon position - a young woman without a husband.

A large assemblage of layered fabric sculptures and watercolor works on paper in pink and blood-red flesh tones reveals disfigured faces and body parts - with eyes that eerily peer out at the audience. One is a million ( 2018 ) by Bandung artist Ruth Marbun is a captivating installation with theatrical elements examining the female human experience. Marbun finds beauty in adversity, and that women can achieve so much through sacrifice and dedication, without receiving recognition.

Raised by his parents to play the role of the eldest daughter of the family and caretaker of the parents when elderly, Tandia Bambang Permadi’s photograph installation After-sex selfies ( 2018 ) fascinates, while highlighting some of the complexities of Javanese culture. Permadi’s probe into his dual male/female life roles and self-identity culminated into "female selfie images of conquest" taken by his numerous sexual partners. His naked photo series reveals his renegotiation of gender roles.

Two-hundred-and-twenty individually distinct, phallic objects handmade from blown glass positioned in line along a 15-meter wall with special lighting made for a unique aesthetic experience. Silence ( 2018 ) is Patricia Untario’s statement about the absence sex education available to young Indonesian woman. This work too is also too controversial to be exhibited in the artist’s country of birth.

Read also: Taman Ismail Marzuki celebrates 50th anniversary with exhibition, performances

“Because of the complex meeting of traditional and modern values, Indonesian women have to continually fight to achieve sovereign rights that many women in other parts of the world now take for granted,” Saptari stated. “Its important for us to share these voices and unheard stories so outsiders can appreciate the many cultural complications facing Indonesian women."

“I believe the 21st century is an excellent time to be a woman,” she continued. “There is so much rapid change going on, with advances in technology and the internet.

“I was surprised and encouraged by the quality of the work in this exhibition, especially by the very young women artists who proved they are both critical and very adept in navigating their way around in this modern era.” (kes)

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.