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‘Tale of Nowhere’:Transcending boundaries to reach an imaginary world

Stevie Emilia
Stevie Emilia

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Thu, January 21, 2021  /  01:03 pm
‘Tale of Nowhere’:Transcending boundaries to reach an imaginary world

Mythical: Bali artist Citra Sasmita blends Bali’s traditional 'kamasan' painting style with retelling traditional folklore in the ‘Tales of Nowhere’ exhibition at Museum MACAN, which runs until May 21 in Jakarta. (Museum MACAN/-)

With the pandemic confining people to their homes, virtual exhibitions may offer consolation to the weary minds and souls.

The latest exhibition at Museum MACAN in Jakarta, “Tales of Nowhere”, by Balinese contemporary artist Citra Sasmita blends imagination and technology to deliver just that.

Her 8-meter long scroll painting, based on Bali’s classical fables, brings to life mythical animals for children and adults to play in and explore the magical realms it presents.

Citra incorporates a traditional Balinese painting style known as kamasan to retell traditional folklore and adapt it for the contemporary social context.

The artist imagines a kingdom of mythical animals in her painting, which have been digitized to be exhibited online.

Tales to tell: Artist Citra Sasmita reconstructs Bali’s classic fables for her latest commission at Museum MACAN. The gold award winner of  UOB Painting of the Year 2017 (Indonesia) is also renowned for her Timur Merah Project, presented in the 'Garden of Six Seasons' (2020) exhibition in Hong Kong, and the 'Ode To The Sun' (2020) show at Yeo Workshop in Singapore.Tales to tell: Artist Citra Sasmita reconstructs Bali’s classic fables for her latest commission at Museum MACAN. The gold award winner of UOB Painting of the Year 2017 (Indonesia) is also renowned for her Timur Merah Project, presented in the 'Garden of Six Seasons' (2020) exhibition in Hong Kong, and the 'Ode To The Sun' (2020) show at Yeo Workshop in Singapore. (Courtesy of Yeo Workshop/Museum MACAN)

Citra describes “Tales of Nowhere” as a representation of the pure world of childhood.

“It provides a safe space for children to get to know a new environment and new characters, while exploring their most valuable treasure, namely their imagination. The stories will share with children the values of kindness, peace, compassion and leadership,” said the mother of a baby girl.

“As children, we first learn these traits through stories told by our grandparents, passed on to our parents. We then pass them to our own children as bedtime stories, and one day they will continue the legacy. These classic fables will evoke the treasured memories of our childhood.”

Renowned for focusing on unraveling the myths and misconceptions of Balinese art and culture, Citra is also deeply invested in questioning a woman’s place in social hierarchy and seeks to upend normative constructs of gender.

Citra said she felt challenged by that commission, since her previous work mostly focuses on feminism and women. She was, therefore, prompted to rethink the foundation of feminism itself, in this case a mother’s language of love.

From a young age, Citra’s passion for reading sparked her imagination about people and places.

For the commission, she traced her memory back to her own childhood, contributing bedtime stories read by her parents for her rich imagination today.

“When working, I often imagine a patriarchy-free world, where all heroes in historical books are women […] – things that contradict reality,” the 30-year-old told The Jakarta Post by email from Bali.

Visual interpretation: 'Tales of Nowhere' is based on Bali’s classic 'Tantri' story with metaphorical and imaginative visuals that do not restrict children’s imagination. Visual interpretation: 'Tales of Nowhere' is based on Bali’s classic 'Tantri' story with metaphorical and imaginative visuals that do not restrict children’s imagination. (Museum MACAN/-)

She based Tales of Nowhere on Bali’s classic Tantri story with metaphorical and imaginative visuals that do not restrict children’s imagination in visually interpreting the story.

She presents peculiar animal figures, like a winged monkey, three-headed lion as well as a slender deer, known to be wise in Balinese folklore, and a tiger as a nod to the museum, the acronym of which means tiger in Bahasa Indonesia.

All of these characters are nameless, as the artist invites the audience to help her name them through an interactive online activity.

“I also want to ask children to create and express their own stories,” Citra said.

“Tales of Nowhere”, the fifth commission for the UOB-Museum MACAN Children’s Art Space, was initially developed as an onsite exhibition, but the pandemic has forced the project’s expansion.

The exhibition was unveiled online on Dec. 15 and runs until May 21. A physical exhibition is planned for when the museum reopens, with health protocol in place, on Jan. 23.

Citra said she had first been invited to do the commission in late 2019, before the pandemic, and she still could see the exhibition’s space in person to produce a work that allowed children to directly play and interact with the artwork, including to identify scents of spices that are one of the work’s elements.

In line with social restrictions, she spent most of her time in her studio in Bali, researching Bali’s tales and incorporating them in her painting. With the prolonged health crisis, the idea of a virtual exhibition came to fruition.

And she is happy with the result, saying that even though the children had no direct sensory experience, the virtual version had been created to deliver a complex and magnificent aesthetic experience.

Now, children and their families can listen to Citra as she reads fables from “Tales of Nowhere”. Her stories will be brought to life with the use of augmented reality technology designed by Festivo.

The animals will also come alive through a 360 virtual tour, face tattoos as Instagram filters developed by AR and VR specialist Octagon Studio and a WebAR feature that enables children to play with the animals. The filters can be accessed on the @museummacan Instagram channel.

The museum’s head of education and public programs, Aprina Murwanti, said they had been working with the artist for months to bring “Tales of Nowhere” to life.

“In an unusual situation like this, it is even more important for children to meet new characters, to dream up a different world and to imagine countless possibilities through storytelling.”

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