Grealy & Sinaga Collaboration Project

When I was living in Jogjakarta, Indonesia in 2013 I worked on some collaborations with beat-maker, producer and rapper Alex Sinaga.

Here’s one of the songs we worked on during this time. More to come soon ūüôā

Indonesia Remembers Human Rights Activist Munir Said Thalib

8 September, 2014 in the September/October issue of The Kashmir Walla Magazine

A portrait of Munir by an Indonesian Street Artist accompanied by the caption 'Menolak Lupa' (Resist Forgetting)
A portrait of Munir by an Indonesian Street Artist accompanied by the caption ‘Menolak Lupa’ (Resist Forgetting)

This week marked the ten year anniversary of the assassination of leading Indonesian human rights defender Munir Said Thalib, and activists as well as ordinary citizens commemorated his death at events across the country, renewing calls for the Indonesian government to hold those responsible for his death to account.

Munir was an outspoken critic of Indonesia’s armed forces during the authoritarian Suharto regime (1965-1998), bringing to light human rights violations committed across the Indonesian archipelago, including Papua, Aceh and East Timor. This was often at risk to his own personal safety.

After the fall of the Suharto government, Munir co-founded the Commission for “The Disappeared” and Victims of Violence (KONTRAS) to assist the families of democracy activists who were kidnapped and murdered during the Suharto regime. He also served as a member of IMPARSIAL, a commission created by the government to investigate the human rights violations in East Timor. It was during this period he was elected Chairperson of AFAD, a Federation of human rights organisations working directly on the issue of enforced disappearances in the Asia region.

Munir was a force to be reckoned with, however his refusal to stay silent on these cases sadly cost him his life. In 2004, whilst travelling to the Netherlands to pursue a masters degree in international law and human rights, Munir was poisoned with arsenic on a Garuda Airlines flight. He was 38 years old.

One Falls, a Thousand Others Grow (Gugur Satu, Tumbuh Seribu)

A “culture of forgetting” surrounds cases evoking past memories of injustice in Indonesia at times, but there has been a rising movement to remind Indonesians of the importance of Munir’s case called “Resist Forgetting” (or Menolak Lupa in Bahasa Indonesia), which has been driven by concerned citizens from across Indonesian society. The haunting image of Munir’s portrait with the words Menolak Lupa can be seen painted on the walls of almost every Indonesian city, either stencilled or on pasted-up posters, in an effort to remind Indonesians not to forget his remarkable legacy and his tragic death.

The slogan ‘one falls, a thousand others grows’ is a line from the mournful song “Fallen Flowers” written by Musician Ismail Marzuki in 1945 about Indonesia’s pro-independence heroes, but the phrase took on fresh significance in 1998 during pro-democracy protests in the capital Jakarta following the death of student protesters after the police opened fire on a crowd of pro democracy activists.

The phrase is as relevant today as it was at these significant junctures in Indonesia’s history in 1945, and 1998, as Munir’s pursuit for justice for the victims of 1998 alongside his tireless work for victims of human rights abuses across Indoensia has indeed inspired activists to continue his pursuit for justice for Indonesia’s “disappeared”.

On the tenth anniversary of Munir’s death on September 7, 2014, I spoke to Indonesian activists and artists involved in events commemorating the anniversary of Munir’s assassination, learning what the his struggle meant for them, and why the credible resolution of the Munir case is important not just for his family and those close to him, but for the Indonesian nation itself.

Novriantoni Kahar, an author and activist in his 30s told me that Indonesians remember “Munir as a symbol of fearlessness in a time of fear. In Arabic, his name means ‘shining’, a name that evokes a light which shone bravely in the years of darkness during the Suharto era. His legacy however, lives on in all of the bravest voices fighting for human rights in this country as his memory continues to inspire a new generation of Indonesian human rights defenders”.

Fahd Djibran, Indonesian author and poet joined others in Australia at a poetry event dedicated to the Munir case, which he described as “a wake up call for all human rights defenders in Indonesia that our country still has serious problem regarding its law systems and human rights protection.”

Ihsan Ali Fauzi, Director of the Centre for Religion and Democracy at the Paramadina Foundation in Jakarta reflected on the efforts of Munir, “it is remarkable how brave he was. But that ten years have passed shows us how difficult this journey is, not just for this case alone, but for Indonesia.

The commemoration activities in honour of his memory shows signalled hope to Fauzi, showing that “the struggle is ongoing, including all the public support. It gives us optimism that we should continue to push further for the public release of those implicated in his assassination at the top levels”.

M. Berkah Gamulya, musician From the Indonesian band Symphony and executive director of the Bung Hatta Anti-Corruption Award found the subject an emotional one as a young human rights activist. His band commemorated the anniversary at an event remembrance of Munir in Jakarta with a song written in honour of his memory which they recorded in the childhood home of Munir in Batu, East Java.

For Gamulya, one of the key messages Munir’s legacy shows young activists today is that one must not “not be afraid, and not remain silent on the issues that matter”.

The demand for justice continues as Indonesia “Refuses to Forget”

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) had promised to resolve this case during his first year in office office in 2004, the year of Munir’s assasination. Ten years later, the initial investigation results have not been publicly released. Although two low-level players have been convicted for their involvement in the crime, no high ranking government or state intelligence agency official has been held accountable for planning or ordering Munir‚Äôs assassination.¬† Despite years of stagnancy, the Indonesian government has rejected international involvement in the case, insisting domestic law enforcement agencies were up to the task.

Suciwati, wife of the late Munir recently petitioned president SBY on Change.org, urging action from the current President or the future President, Jokowi: “This [case] is not about opening wounds. This [case] is about healing a wound in our nation’s history. We need ‚Ķ a leader who can resolve [events in] our dark history so that they won’t happen again. History begins with the brave who make changes for the future. Pak Jokowi, Pak SBY, are you brave enough?”

In 2006, Human Rights First posthumously honoured Munir with the organisation’s Human Rights Defender Award. His work lives on through the organisations he helped create in Indonesia and throughout the region, and in a generation of activists, like those I spoke to this week, whom he inspired to fight for justice.

Munir is survived by his wife, Suciwati, and two children, Soultan Alif Allende, now 15 years old and Diva Suukyi Larashati, 12.

Amnesty International is currently running a campaign to call on President elect Jokowi commit to looking further into the Munir case. You can learn more about the campaign here https://campaigns.amnesty.org/actions/resolve-munir-killing-case. To learn more about KONTRAS (the Commission for “The Disappeared” and Victims of Violence), the organisation co-founded by Munir, you can visit their website here http://www.kontras.org/eng

The ‘Military Strongman’ Vs ‘The Man of the People’ – A Tired Narrative

In reading foreign coverage of¬†the presidential election campaign I’ve increasingly¬†seen descriptions of potentially two very different Indonesia’s emerging under two “very different” leaders. Coverage from expat journalists out of Jakarta is¬†inevitably¬†following the same tired narrative of an election between the¬†‘Military Strongman’ and¬†the ‘Man of the People’, images that have, in fact, been¬†constructed and exploited by strategists and marketeers from each candidate’s¬†election campaign team.

At the moment, polls are showing an increase in the popularity of Prabowo, whose controversial human rights record from his years as a general has not seemed to be a major problem in the election race.

As Asia Sentinel reported, “with very few policy differences between the two campaigns, the more potent factor in Prabowo‚Äôs favor seems to be a rising perception that he looks more like a ‚Äúleader‚ÄĚ than Joko”. Or as Dr Dave McRae pointed out on¬†Election Watch:

“At a fundamental level, Indonesians face a choice between a president who promises to govern with them, and one who would govern over them. Neither candidate is concealing this choice – it is fundamental to their respective image and appeal.

Whereas Jokowi¬†is a product of Indonesia’s democratic era, springboarded to his current position by his popularity as a small-town mayor and Jakarta governor,¬†Prabowo is firmly part of the authoritarian-era establishment”.


The Prabowo appeal is causing many Western commentators to wring their hands, and for good reasons. I’ve been following coverage from the¬†Australian National University’s New Mandela website with articles¬†written by very well qualified and respected academics, but¬†all of the articles¬†have also followed¬†the same tired “goodie vs baddie” narrative, with less analysis of the electoral appeal of the leader than I would have liked to have seen.

Whilst I have¬†absolutely¬†no hard data about the reasons behind the emerging poll trends in favour of Prabowo, during¬†this election period I have asked Prabowo many supporters about why they support him, despite his shady past. The reasons they cite¬†are usually the following: A) Whilst they like Jokowi, they¬†feel he¬†is not ready for the role B) Prabowo represents¬†a strong leadership figure C) They don’t like Jokowi’s¬†running mate, former President Megawati¬†D) Indonesia needs a more authoritarian government and E) With the exception of Gus Dur, they¬†are exceedingly¬†dissapointed with Indonesia’s Presidents¬†following the fall of Suharto, and feel that democracy did little to change Indonesia’s situation for the better F) They don’t know “who’s interests” are behind Jokowi.

This discusion of the so-called “interests” behind Jokowi has probably come from some of the smear campaign tactics we have seen emerge of late, claiming Jokowi is a “Secret Christian/Chinese/American lackey”. The conspiracy theories abound, and it will be interesting to eventually see who was behind this election tactic. But back to the point..

Whilst I have not heard one Indonesian say they would like to go back to a military dictatorship, and this is about perception over reality, many Prabowo voters also say that they feel Indonesian democracy has served the interest of the elite more than anyone.

From what I have gathered through everyday conversations, it seems some supporters of the Prabowo camp represent a section of Indonesian society fondly remember the certainty and prosperity of life under a military dictatorship. Whilst other supporters, particularly the younger ones, explain that they look to Prabowo as a leader capable of making hard decisions and leading Indonesia from the top down.

Consequently, the Indonesian people are not choosing¬†between vastly different candidates on a policy basis. There aren’t actually¬†major¬†differences between the two candidates on a policy basis. Indonesians¬†are choosing between two opposing regimes which represent vastly different views¬†on the role of the president and his¬†relationship with the nation. And of late, that appeal is to the leader with a well-constructed-by-the-PR-team “tough man” image.

The Importance of Indonesia’s Art Patrons

This is an article¬†by Djuli¬†Djatiprambudi about the import role of Indonesia’s generous art patrons which I translated from Indonesian to English. The original article in Indonesian is at the bottom of this post

Indonesian Art Minus It’s Patrons

Dr. Oei in an interview with leading Collectors of Asian Art, sitting in front of a magnificent painting by Hendra Gunawan, one of the leading modern artists of Indonesia. Image copyright © 2012 Patricia Chen. All rights reserved.

With the death of former President Sukarno in 1970, the Indonesian art world fell into a period of mourning. This grief was not only caused by the fact that Sukarno was a collector of art, but because he was a great patron and supporter of the Indonesian arts.

As a patron and supporter of Indonesian art throughout his life, Sukarno played an instrumental role in nurturing the development of Indonesian art as well as public art. Not only did he provide financial support through the purchasing works, but he also promoted national pride in Indonesia’s pool of creative talent through the commissioning of public art and sculpture and through the creation of prestigious art institutions such as the Museum of Fine Art.

Sukarno’s role as a patron of Indonesian has been historically documented by a wide variety of Indonesian academics. Research conducted by Mikke Susanto (2014) to be published in a book called Bung Karno tells the story of Sukarno’s significant contribution to Indonesian art. As Mikke explains in the publication, Sukarno supported the arts by exaulting the place of art in society. He also participated in the arts community, supporting exhibitions, engaged in dialogues with artists at the Presidential Palace, regularly visited the studios of artists and also published a book about Indonesian visual art.

Susanto’s research also sows the ways in which Soekarno’s sense of aesthetics and support of art can be seen in the development of Indonesia’s architecture at the time, with sculpture playing a central role in the planning of Jakarta as a city upon independence.

Research by Mikke and his contemporaries shows the importance of patronage and support of the arts in Indonesia. Research by the author of this article titled Arts and Works also confirms Sukarno’s integral role in elevating the prominence of Indonesian art. Not only did Sukarno support the arts, but he promoted it in ways that saw Indonesian art utilised and incorporated into nationalist which helped to firm indonesian national identity. Sukarno¬† also persuasively articulated the importance of Indonesian to international guests, and account of presentation of the works in the Presidential Palace by him are referred to as “mesmerising”.

So when Sukarno died, Indonesia lost its most dedicated arts patron. The art world post Sukarno of course continued to develop, but the socio-historical relationship between art and society has since changed. The reciprocal relationship between artist and patron is also a story which has been rarely heard of in Indonesia, and Indonesian artists are no longer recorded in the history books as significant contributors to the nation’s development.

Sukarno has not been the only patron of the arts in Indonesian however. Prominent collectors with who Sukarno also associated with and who share an equal passion for the arts include Adam Malik , Oei Hong Djien , Ciputra , Jusuf Wanandi, Raka Sumichan , Deddy Kusuma, Rudy Akili , Sunarjo Sampoerna , Tossin Hima, Budi Setiadharma , Gunarsa , Suteja Neka , and Agung Rai . These collectors have also played a key role in the development and maintenance of art in Susanto. However it is imoprtantto note that just because one is a collector, this does not necessarily make one a patron. Conversely, the social and historical relationship of collectors and patrons to the art world differ between the two.

The motive of a collector is often only a love of the art works in their collection. Whereas with patrons, the aim is to collect works, restore them, protect them from the damage of ageing as well as disseminating information to the public about the artists in their collections and opening those collections to the public. The role as a patron as ” foster fathers” of the development of art itself through their collections make them protectors of the legacy civilisation through the arts. .

Indonesian collectors Oei Hong Djien, Suteja Neka and Agung Rai, are examples of incredibly dedicated patrons of Indonesian art. Through the Museum of art they have built an incredible public gallery showing the contributions of Indonesia’s great artists to the world of art. Through the museum, the development of Indonesian art history can be easily tracked because it holds important¬† artifacts of Indonesian art and maintains their documentation. The collection is also open to the public. Because of this, these collectors actually truly deserve the honour of the prestigious title of patron of the arts.

Although these men are not as prominent or powerful as Sukarno, if they were not around and did not support Indonesian art in the way they do, we would not have access to the great collections as we do now, and Indonesian art would face a very serious crisis. Presently, Indonesian art is only be preserved through the dedication of its patrons.

In other words , it is impossible that Indonesian art could have developed in the way it has without its’ patrons. As we can see from the Western history of art in history, behind the preservation and the story of art lie its’ patrons. Their role is essential in determining the preservation of the continuity of history and social development as presented through the arts.

Therefore , when we consider the position of Indonesian art today and it’s rise in the context of Asian and Global Art, we cannot underestimate the role of its’ dedicated and passionate patrons.

Djuli  Djatiprambudi is a researcher & lecturer at the  Faculty of Art at Unesa, Surabaya.

The OHD Museum of Modern art is located in Magelang in Central Java in Indonesia. For more information see their website http://ohdmuseum.com/ 


SENI RUPA INDONESIA MINUS PATRON

Oleh Djuli Djatiprambudi

KETIKA mantan Presiden Soekarno wafat pada 1970, dunia seni rupa Indonesia ikut berduka sangat mendalam. Kedukaan itu tidak lain karena Soekarno dikenal sebagai kolektor seni rupa yang berwibawa. Lebih dari sekadar kolektor, Soekarno merupakan sosok patron seni rupa Indonesia.

Sebagai seorang patron dalam konteks sejarah seni rupa Indonesia, berarti mengacu pada dukungan seorang presiden yang diberikan kepada pelukis dan pematung. Dukungan itu tidak hanya berupa dukungan finansial dengan membeli karya-karya seniman Indonesia, tetapi lebih dari itu, yaitu dukungan moral, spirit berkarya, hingga kebanggaan nasional. Bahkan juga sebagai pelindung seni rupa yang militan dengan menempatkan karya seni rupa di tempat yang amat prestisius, yaitu Istana Presiden. Dengan cara itu, Istana Presiden tak ubahnya sebagai museum seni rupa.

Peran Soekarno sebagai patron seni rupa Indonesia telah menjadi fakta sejarah. Penelitian Mikke Susanto (2014) yang telah dipublikasikan menjadi buku bertajuk Bung Karno Kolektor dan Patron Seni Rupa Indonesia membuktikan peran Soekarno yang sangat signifikan dalam perkembangan seni rupa. Mikke membuktikan sejumlah fakta kepatronan Soekarno. Antara lain, membatu pembentukan organisasi seni, mengunjungi studio seniman, membuka pameran seni rupa, mengangkat pelukis istana, membeli lukisan atau patung, berdialog intensif dengan para seniman di Istana Presiden, dan menginspirasi pembuatan patung monumen. Juga menerbitkan buku koleksi seni rupa dan masih banyak lagi.

Penelitian Mikke itu tidak hanya mendukung,¬†tetapi juga memperkuat, melengkapi, dan¬†memperkaya penelitian Yuke Ardhiati (2005)¬†yang berjudul Bung Karno sang Arsitek: Kajian¬†Artistik Karya Arsitektur, Tata Ruang Kota,¬†Interior, Kria, Simbol, Mode Busana, dan Teks¬†Pidato 1926‚Äď1965. Penelitian itu membuktikan¬†kekuatan sense of aesthetic Soekarno yang¬†terepresentasikan secara visual ke dalam¬†arsitektur, tata ruang kota, interior, kriya, simbol,¬†busana, hingga teks pidatonya yang memukau.

Dua penelitian itu menegaskan pentingnya¬†seorang patron hadir dalam gerak sejarah seni¬†rupa Indonesia. Fakta tersebut juga dibuktikan¬†dalam sejarah seni rupa di mana pun bahwa¬†perkembangan seni rupa amat ditentukan oleh¬†kehadiran patron, baik formal maupun nonformal.¬†Penelitian pendahuluan yang saya lakukan¬†‚Äďbertajuk Bung Karno: Seni Rupa dan Karya¬†Lukisnya (2001)‚Äď juga menegaskan bahwa¬†Soekarno tampil sebagai seorang presiden dengan¬†‚ÄĚP‚ÄĚ besar. Artinya, Soekarno bukan hanya presiden¬†yang memiliki tugas sebagaimana lazimnya¬†seorang presiden dari suatu negara. Tetapi,¬†Soekarno lebih dari itu, sebagai seorang yang¬†tampil di depan untuk mengayomi seni rupa¬†dengan tindakan nyata dan fenomenal.

Kisah Soekarno dengan sejumlah seniman yang sering diajak ngobrol di istana, dikunjungi studionya, dan dibantu aktivitas keseniannya memperlihatkan kecintaan serta tindakan nyata Soekarno yang total terhadap kemajuan karya seni rupa anak bangsa. Dalam posisi itulah

Soekarno benar-benar menjadi patron seni rupa yang setiap saat di berbagai agenda kenegaraan selalu mempromosikan seni rupa Indonesia, termasuk karya seni Indonesia lainnya. Soekarno dengan persuasif dan artikulatif mampu menjelaskan dengan memesona semua koleksi istana yang menjadi kebanggaannya kepada tamu-tamu negara.

Akan tetapi, sekali lagi, sejak Soekarno wafat, dunia seni rupa Indonesia seperti berhenti berdetak karena kehilangan seorang patron yang disegani. Seni rupa Indonesia pasca-Soekarno memang tetap berkembang, tetapi makna sosio-historisnya menjadi berbeda. Cerita hubungan resiprokal antara patron dan seniman (klien) nyaris tidak terdengar lagi. Cerita hubungan persahabatan seorang presiden dengan seniman tidak tercatat lagi dalam sejarah seni rupa Indonesia.

Memang sosok patron bukan hanya presiden. Seni rupa Indonesia pasca-Soekarno juga dipenuhi banyak kolektor. Di antaranya, Adam Malik, Oei Hong Djien, Ciputra, Jusuf Wanandi, Raka Sumichan, Deddy Kusuma, Rudy Akili, Sunarjo Sampoerna, Tossin Himawan, Budi Setiadharma, Nyoman Gunarsa, Suteja Neka, dan Agung Rai. Harus diakui mereka memiliki peran yang cukup signifikan dalam perkembangan seni rupa Indonesia. Namun, harus disadari, tidak setiap kolektor otomatis menjadi patron. Sebaliknya, tidak demikian. Sebab, makna sosio-historis kolektor dan patron seni rupa amat berbeda.

Seorang kolektor biasanya sekadar memiliki¬†motif kecintaan pada karya seni. Karena itu, dia¬†mengoleksi karya tersebut. Lain halnya dengan¬†seorang patron. Selain mengoleksi karya seni,¬†dia melindungi, merawat, juga¬†menyebarluaskan informasi koleksinya dalam¬†berbagai media dan agenda yang berskala luas¬†serta penting. Seorang patron seakan berperan¬†sebagai ‚ÄĚbapak asuh‚ÄĚ perkembangan seni rupa¬†itu sendiri dan menempatkan koleksinya¬†sebagai warisan peradaban bangsa.

Kolektor semacam Oei Hong Djien, Suteja Neka, dan Agung Rai, misalnya. Museum seni rupa yang mereka bangun mengesankan upaya ideal untuk memaknai seni rupa Indonesia di tengah seni rupa dunia. Melalui museum itu, perkembangan sejarah seni rupa Indonesia menjadi mudah dilacak. Sebab, di tempat itulah berbagai artefak penting seni rupa Indonesia terdokumentasikan dengan baik. Karena itu, mereka sesungguhnya juga patron seni rupa yang patut mendapatkan tempat terhormat.

Bayangkan, sekalipun tidak sebesar Soekarno, apa jadinya andai Oei Hong Djien, Suteja Neka, dan Agung Rai tidak menempatkan diri sebagai patron seni rupa Indonesia. Maka, mudah diduga, seni rupa Indonesia akan memiliki krisis historiografis yang amat serius. Sebab, sejarah seni rupa Indonesia akan bisa ditulis dengan baik jika tersedia artefak seni rupa yang beragam, lengkap, dan terawat dengan baik.

Dengan kata lain, tidak mungkin seni rupa Indonesia berkembang dengan baik dan memiliki historiografi yang meyakinkan jika minus patron seni rupa. Seperti yang ditunjukkan dalam sejarah seni rupa Barat, semua capaian puncak yang akhirnya diakui menjadi kanon seni rupa dunia, di balik semua itu tidak lain ada peran patron yang amat menentukan keberlangsungan sejarah. Karena itu, bila seni rupa Indonesia hari ini diproyeksikan akan mengambil peran penting dalam seni rupa Asia, peran patron tidak mungkin dipandang sebelah mata. (*)

Peneliti dan pengajar seni rupa Unesa, Surabaya

 

A Chat with Artist Ashley Bickerton in Jogjakarta

Ashey Bickerton is an American visual artist based in Bali and self-described “dancing poodle for the one per cent”. I spoke to him in Jogjakarta last year whilst he was in the last stages of finishing his’ Mitochondrial Eve/Viral Mother series, which was exhibited¬†by Lehmann Maupin Gallery in New York.

2013-03-20-kisalala-ashley-bickerton-FisherBickerton_7.jpg

Ashley Bickerton photographed at his studio in Bali by Bobby Fisher, 2011

From the beginning of his career Bickerton has challenged traditional art forms. In the early 80’s he embarked on what has become a career-long process of experimenting with the hybridization of forms, materials and methods that blur boundaries between painting, sculpture and photography and the artwork as commodity.

He oscillates between abstraction and figuration, but always with a conceptual base, and is increasingly exploring the differences between representation in western and non-western cultures.

Bickerton worked with Yogya Art Lab (YAL) for a period of over 12 months to develop his’ Mitochondrial Eve/Viral Mother works, derived from models he created from organic materials and a series which one colleague described as “some of the more important contemporary sculpture produced in the next 10 years”.

When the lab¬†first saw the prototypes for the pieces, it appeared as some of the most liveliest art they had ever seen. As art Technition Hungerford explained: “touching these works in the process of creating them, has also been part of a process of realising how important they are in the world of contemporary visual sculpture. I believed when I first saw the prototypes for the works, that if we could even get close to what they looked like in their conceptual state, then the sculpture community will be in awe”.

In the beginning, the intention for these sculptures was not for the creation of individual artworks per se as Bickerton explains, “they things had been sitting in my studio. They were part of a process where I’ve attempted to find some perfect triangulation between painting, sculpture and photography. These heads were the sculptural part, and were really built just as part of a process towards another end, pieces you might get in a performance, props in a sense”.

The “Heads”, as he called them, were composed with organic materials and were in a state of decay, but everyone including respected friends and colleagues who passed by his studio continuously attempted to convince him to preserve the decaying works:

“The lemons were rotting, the flowers were wilted, butterflies with¬†broken wings. But still everyone was like ‘you’ve got to make these things’. And I kept hearing it again and again from all sorts of people. But I didn’t really know how to build them. I knew how to make the parts I made but all the little bits were made of so many things that were temporal and going to die or rot away”.

Bickerton’s art is known for its’ cynical representations¬†of life on the Island of Bali, from the excesses expats suffering midlife crises, to an island losing it’s traditional beauty¬†to the perils of capitalism and rapid development. But these works¬† are somewhat of a departure from the harshness of the themes of previous works, representing what he described as “the mitochondrial eve, the mitochondrion DNA passed from mother to child. But not literally. It’s a figure more felt than reasoned”.

In light of matters felt, Bickerton was surprised throughout the process of creating the Mitochondrial Eve figures by the many emotional responses he received, with several friends and colleagues commenting¬†on the emotions and spiritual intensity coming out of “the heads”. He understands¬†where these responses were¬†coming from, but he analogises the spirit or “spiritualisms” coming from the works as probably closer to the reflection of an experience much more intimate, “a spiritualism that comes from the turmultuousness of a life lived outside the well trodden paths of crass, consumerist spiritualisms”, which made sense looking at the works close up.¬† As he explained:

“You could analogise it to a path that could come out of something closer to Lou Reed floating around on his way to harlem to buy his next hit, rather than something of the Eat Pray Love position. It comes from more of an anti-spiritualist position, in the sense of the way that spiritualism is crunched in popular culture today. Some of the sculptures could look like what they might have ben at the moment of inception where our direct ancestor was born. At that direct point, that one moment. But, I don’t want to put the weight of too much meaning onto them. Just leave the thoughts round it sort of free flowing. not too hard and fast”.

This reminded me of an explanation he shared with Kisa Lala at The Huffington Post about the suffocation of meaning that occurs once the weight of interpretation is applied too heavily to art, when it becomes too much of a science:

“It’s like an Edith Piaf song – and she’s wailing away and it’s beautiful and mysterious and evocative, and suddenly you go online and try to translate it into English, and it’s like, ooh baby yeah ‚Ķ and you go, oh god… I don’t want to know what things mean. I don’t want to know what my own work means. If it gets nailed down in fluourescent lights on a white formica slab in the lab, it’s no longer art, it’s science. Art has to somehow flitter in the half-light, in a sort of phantasm, just out of reach.”

Born in Barbados, Bickerton was raised in Hawaii and grew up in several locales as a child through his father’s professional travels as a linguist. He made a name for himself in Manhattan in the 1980s as one of the Neo-Geo group of artists and now calls Bali home, where he has been living for the past 18 years.¬†

Gajah Gallery in Singapore will hold a solo exhibition of new works from 26 April to 25 May 2014 as the artist returns to the medium of painting to create provocative works that comment on his two-decade’s experience of life in Bali.

The Imagined Romance of Halima

A chat with¬†Indonesian academic, writer & activist Novriantoni Kahar about his book ‘The Imagined Romance of Halima: Five Acts of Love in Religious Struggle’ – a¬†collection¬†of poetic essays which seeks to highlight the spiritual and emotional effects¬†of discriminatory practices against Muslim Women

Novriantoni Kahar : Cinta Dalam Lima Tangkai Sastra AdvokasiNovri, author of Imaji Cinta Halima Рimage inspirasi.co 

Within Indonesia there are a number number of people, both male and female, working hard to reform misogynous discourse to make Islamic practices more woman-friendly. With many voices also in contradiction to such trends, never has the issue of women in Islam been so widely debated in Indonesian public life. Contradictions within the movements of contemporary Indonesian Islam indeed reflect the ferment of democratic transformations occurring in Indonesia.  From movements calling for the reinstatement of the Khilifa to genuine progressive reflections on problems within doctrinal approaches to Islam, these movements reflect the diversity that has unfolded since the collapse of since the New Order regime.

Novriantoni Kahar is¬†writer and activist who explores problems of discrimination. In his book¬†“The Imagined Romance of Halima:¬†Five Acts of Love in Religious Struggle” (Imaji Cinta Halima: Lima Kisah Kasih dalam Pergumulan Agama), he hopes to highlight the spiritual and emotional effect of discriminatory practices against women in the Muslim world.

Novri is a¬†santri¬†Muslim who gained his primary Islamic education at Pondok Modern Gontor Ponorogo (one of the most well-respected Islamic boarding schools in Indonesia). He is also a graduate of al-Azhar University in Egypt. His’ academic approach to Islam is one of co-mingling Islamic knowledge with social sciences like sociology and political science. In this way, Novri “does not accept Islam as a¬†das solen¬†as such, but tries to study it as as a¬†das sein, as a factual phenomenon”.

Novri was inspired to write The Imagined Romance of Halima by his work in anti-discrimination campaigning in Indonesia as well as by his experiences gained whilst living abroad in the Middle-East and Europe.. The stories are set in Indonesia as well as other Muslim-majority countries. All express different facets of the impact of religion on the major life choices of women.

The book’s title story, “Imaji¬†Cinta¬†Halima” tells of a love affair between an Indonesian driver and a Saudi woman. Their illicit engagement ironically being facilitated by the policy of gender segregation practiced in the Holy Land of Saudi Arabia. Another tale also set outside Indonesia tells of a love story between a Coptic Christian and a Muslim. Set in Egypt, the story comes to a sad end, with traditions and bigotries within the two communities deciding the young couple’s fate.

As a Muslim, Novri wonders how people can be “so incredibly sensitive in protecting ‘Islam’s reputation”, yet so completely desensitised to some of the discriminatory acts committed in the name of religion. In the post September 11 political landscape, we have become accustomed to seeing the image of ¬†a middle-class Muslim woman, dressed in fashionable Islamic attire talking adamantly about how Islam has “liberated” her and how acts of violence and bigotry towards women could never happen in Islam’s true name, putting the causes down to being a product of “culture”. Simultaneously, there are Muslim women who are experiencing acts of abuse at the hands of men acting within their own religious rights through interpretations of particular Islamic discourses. The experience of both women is real.

Islam can indeed ¬†‘liberate’ a woman if she is empowered to interpret the practice of Islamic teachings through the works of progressive scholars. On the other hand, doctrinal interpretations within Islam can justify acts which destroy, even end, a woman’s life. This is the reason Muslim’s like Novri call for a “genuine recognition of the problems within Islam” when it comes to discrimination against women and other minorities.

As Novri explains, “if we really pay close attention to the issue of discrimination toward women in Islamic or Muslim-dominated countries, the fact is, it is happening.¬†We must not be frightened to hold issues within the Muslim community to the light where they can be examined and aired. Denial only compounds these problems”.

Novri sees some of the reasons for such hypersensitivity at criticism in Muslim communities as being driven by certain political and psychological factors: “Politically, Islamic ideology affects many aspects of Muslim thoughts and practices, in every aspect of life, whilst psychologically, Muslim-majority societies find it difficult to accept the gulf between their imaginary ideal Islam and the actual manifestation of it in their daily life. Perhaps if we began to see the effects of the harsh treatment of women for how they are, we can begin to address some of the problems within our communities”.

Through the stories in Imaji Cinta¬†Halima, Novri hopes to help promote an awareness of the ways in which religion and tradition is used to discriminate against women in both subtle and overt ways, and the ways in which this affects their daily lives. “Denial is a common defence mechanism in Muslim societies everywhere however we Muslims need genuine recognition that many of the problems rampant in our societies are coming from within. There are real problems within Muslim societies and we need to stop attributing our them to some outside force or conspiracy. Islam should not be exempt from being be examined and criticised honestly from within. It is as simple as that”.

‘Imaji¬†Cinta Halima’¬†is published by¬†Renebook, Novri tweets at @novri75