13 April - 30 May 2022
On Women, Power and Traditions
Mangku Muriati and Empu Ika Arista
The spirit of decolonization in contemporary art has shifted a number of fundamental perspectives on the boundaries and definitions of contemporary art by deconstructing the dominance of the highly modern western art system. Decolonial discourse mainly affects the way global art includes diverse art practices coming from many parts of the world by taking into account the different contexts of different cultures and geopolitics. What has been categorized as traditional art or indigenous art is now being re-examined for its relevance and position among contemporary art practice and discourse. The experience lived by the artists in the more established art scenes, such as in Europe, is different from that of the fellow artists in Indonesia (moreover, with the contexts that vary widely from one location to another). In art scenes dominated by power contestations—between the capitalistic and the communal, masculine and feminine, the dominant and the subaltern—there is an opportunity for discussion of new possibilities or the creation of a liminal space in between. This is a step that may lead to changes and give rise to solidarity platforms. The art scene is in need of a new approach to reexamining the forms of art that have long been abandoned, wiped out, and concealed, as a part of the real and relevant art practice today. We should see art from our own perspective, instead of “justifying” the viewpoint of the “outside world”.
Pepunden is a modest attempt to propose a new imagination of contemporary art practice that goes beyond being based on tradition by making that very tradition, belief, and local ideology the narrative and the starting point. The two artists featured in this exhibition, Mangku Muriati and Ika Arista, perform the practices of creation passed down through generations. Not merely crafting the work, they constantly delve into the narrative and the method to keep them relevant to the present day. They came from different cultures and belong to differ (peent generations. Mangku Muriati who came from Klungkung, Bali lives through the New Order regime. Meanwhile, Ika Arista is a Madurese artist who belongs to the generation living in the reform era with a more democratic post-1998 political climate. Both present substantial approaches and intersections between the traditional and contemporary art practices in recent days.
Pepunden is a word originating from the Old Javanese language. The Great Dictionary of Indonesian Language defines the word as something sacred or highly respected. The term is sometimes associated with the magical power of a sacred object or amulet. In this exhibition, Pepunden is employed to be the platform for discussing the power of women and how tradition enables these female artists to adapt themselves to a new situation and transform their practices into something relevant to the present time. The power of women does not only revolve around their ability to create. It also includes their endurance to stay on the less-traveled path, their faith in preserving collective knowledge and memories, and their courage to create rooms for negotiation amid the power contestation.
Mangku Muriati is an artist working on Kamasan style painting who also acts as a priestess in her local community. Muriati attended Painting major at the Indonesian Institute of the Arts, Denpasar (previously Fine Arts Department of Udayana University, Denpasar). Her academic background in art makes her distinguishable from other traditional artists for her wider perspective on the ever-changing nature of tradition and its relation with other grand narratives. Mangku Muriati provides a room for woman figures who are not prominently portrayed in the paintings made by Kamasan artists from the previous generations. Characters such as Shinta, Shakuntala, Drupadi, and Saraswati are positioned as the central figures in the narrative of Mangku Muriati's paintings with an interpretation that represents their agency. According to Mangku Muriati, is already present in ancient Balinese mythology. For example, she believes that gods and goddesses have equal status; their existence cannot be separated from one another. Mangku Muriati serves as a priestess in Pura Banjar where she lives; thus, the mastery of mythology and narrative is a fundamental part of her role. This enables her to delve into a narrative comprehensively and even accentuate it in her paintings.
In the context of the form and narrative of an artwork, Mangku Muriati often explores the narratives relevant to contemporary reality, such as the life of modern women or diverse communities in Indonesia, which she adapts into Kamasan style paintings. Despite following traditional Kamasan patterns, the new narrative also opens up the possibility of new symbols emerging in the visual repertoire created by Mangku Muriati. Is such a contemporary narrative unrelated to Mangku Muriati's belief in Balinese mythology or the narrative of Hinduism? I believe adopting traditions into these new narratives is actually what enables the artists to deconstruct norms or boundaries so that the creative process can be more dynamic and keep pace with the changing perspective of time. In the last five years, Mangku Muriati slowly becomes more active in contemporary art scene and this has opening broader possibility of her encounter with contemporary art practice.
Ika Arista is a female master of keris making, a profession which is dominated by male. She presents keris with a completely new frame of thought and a spirit more in tune with her generation. She positions the tradition of making and perceiving keris as a part of knowledge production and the representation of a new spirituality. Ika Arista creates new designs of pamor (special motives attached on the metal part of keris), to interpret local history, and bringing her subjectivity comes from her own perspective as a Madurese woman who lives in the context of today's era. Ika learned the technique of making keris from her grandfather, who is also a master, where they live in an area where many of the residents work in the keris-making industry, both as blacksmiths and kris-makers. The kris itself has a fairly complex political and social position in the society of the archipelago, where it includes meanings and metaphors related to the hierarchy of class and power, masculinity, spirituality, and aspects of materiality. Keris is a weapon considered as the top or highest position of traditional weapons, because it is made from the best materials with demanding high skills from the Masters, so it is included in the category of heirlooms. Keris has a higher position than swords, sickles, or other sharp weapons that are more widely circulated in society. In Madura, where Ika lives, the weapon used by most of the people is sickle, and the keris itself is a form of weapon that is often attached to a stigma as a sacred object that has magical powers.
Ika realized that her identity as a master of keris-making woman (Empu) was something quite special, because the will to inherit knowledge and skills about keris-making was dominated by male groups (including users or those who collect kerises). In fact, in reality there are also several types of pamor motifs that contain narratives about women's thoughts and experiences, and this also to re-claim the perception that the keris is entirely the world of men. In reading the practice of Ika Arista, I see that the production of knowledge about the keris is still limited to past traditions rooted in patriarchal culture and society, and the bridge to connect the practice and history of the kris as part of the tradition with the practice of the kris as part of contemporary world has not yet built. Ika Arista's works become a subversive offer to pull the keris out of the traditional framework filled with magical myths, into a work of creation based on knowledge, and therefore must also be released from its masculine character. Knowledge of today's keris should be accessible to all genders, and adopt historical narratives that are in favor of women, even for non-binary genders.
Ika brings the story of Potrekuning, a daughter of a Sumenep (eastern part of Madura) noble who became the ancestor of the rulers of East Madura from the 15th century. She was a brave woman who refuses her father's request to marry, because she still wanted to live independently and not to be burdened by the responsibilities of marriage, and instead she asked her father's permission to study religion and spirituality. Other works of Ika includes the keris which takes the story of Trunojoyo, a hero who liberated Madura from the colonial grip of Mataram in the mid-17th century, against Amangkurat I, and at the same time against the VOC (The Netherland’s company who occupied some parts of Indonesia for trading’s mission). The Kingdom of Mataram then allied with the VOC to conquer Trunojoyo, and in historical literature today Trunojoyo's name is more often referred to as a rebel against Mataram's rule. Ika Arista's narration is a story that mostly marginalized from mainstream historical texts, mainly because it tells of those who were marginalized, forgotten, and omitted from the winners' version of history.
Ika Arista and Mangku Muriati create works in the context of the craft industry, which not only sees the work as an economic source, but also acts of creation as a way of being, as well as a form of community caring work. The independence they mention is not only related to economic independence, but includes the position of their agency as individuals. Both of them encourage important changes in re-examining the practice of tradition making itself, that the within boundaries are always a space for negotiation so that the discourses expand to the dynamics and contexts of today. These two women artists take the traditions beyond routine and static practices, linking them with criticism of historical writing and mythology, as well as efforts to reveal narratives that are widely hidden. I think this spirit and awareness to take an ideological position is in line with the spirit of contemporary art which seeks to become a platform to break through social deadlocks in society, provide space for negotiations that defend equality, and traditions that to prevent the acts of forgetting.
writer: Alia Swastika
Started her career as a painter in 2000 and until now still active as well as often participates in duet and joint exhibitions in Bali and outside Bali. Such as in 2002 at Bentara Budaya Jakarta, in 2009 at The Mansion Wood Carving Sayan Ubud, in 2012 a joint exhibition with the Female artist group in Denpasar, in 2015 at Sudakara / Sudamala Suites & Villas Sanur, in 2017 at Titian Art Space Bali, in 2019 at Art Bali Nusa Dua, Mega Rupa Exhibition in Ubud, joint exhibition with Perempuan Perupa Bali, in 2020 participating the competition at UOB World Painting.
Born in Sumenep in 1990, interested in heirloom; from Keris, tobak, badik, and so others.
Decided to become woman Keris smith, a profession which identic with masculinity. Keris or other national heirlooms should be able to be appreciated by all individuals, especially the youth. Therefore, perceiving the heirloom should be in a different perspective, not only from the magical side, but also in keeping the adiluhung culture and learn about the knowledge in time. Interested in making artwork that presents the theme and narration based on present day perspective.
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