Text & Photos: Stefano Romano
Rome has hosted, from 26 September to 4 October, the fifteenth edition of “ASIATICA – Meeting with Asian cinema”, in three different locations of the MACRO Museum, and Ambra and Palladium theater in Garbatella. This year the film festival, directed by Italo Spinelli, had its focus on Indonesia, with the screening of six films, five short films and three documentaries from Indonesia, and the presence of well-known businessman Erick Thohir as a film and television producer, which was screened the film “Soekarno”, dedicated to the first president of the Republic of Indonesia, in the presence of the director Hanung Bramantyo, and other famous directors such as Nia Dinata and Yosep Anggi Noen or the producer John Badalu. Also important is the vision of the film “Opera Jawa” by director Garin Nugroho, one of the most famous works in Indonesia. The intention is that “this festival not only to give an idea of the development of the Indonesian film industry over time, but it’s also a glimpse of the life and social dynamics of a pluralist Indonesia”, in the words of Mr. H. E. Budiarman Bahar, Ambassador of Indonesia to the Holy See, to whom we owe the success of this event.
Thanks always to Indonesian Embassy to the Holy See, ASIATICA had as its cultural corollary the dance performance of the Group Rumah Budaya Nusantara Puspo Budoyo, who opened the festival at the Museum MACRO on Sept. 26. And to complete, an exhibition of Indonesian Contemporary Art entitled “SHOUT”, from September 26 to November 12 at MACRO, with the help of the gallery Melbourne Intercultural Fine Arts (MIFA), and its curators Bryan Collie, Santy Saptari, Mara Janessa Sison and Torey Karlin. The exhibition has brought to Rome ten of the eleven presented artists, and it obtained a great interest in the day of his inauguration. From the exchanged talk with the artists it has emerged a rather critical of the social reality in Indonesia, with issues aimed at the status of women and the concept of beauty.
Aditya Novali (Jakarta, 1978) presented with “New God” part of his project called “Devotion”. Twelve crosses, each one dedicated to a famous modern and contemporary artists such as Dalì, Frida Kahlo, Jeff Koons and others, considered as “new apostles” worshiped and revered in the Contemporary Art, wondering about what is the value of a work of art in the present.
Andita Purnama (Yogyakarta, 1981) has shown with her installation “Singing in the Smokey Room” the theme of memory, using the old cassette tape as a metaphor of the past and the present blend together to give life to the future. As the existence of each of us, we can only go forward, the past we never made it back but remains forever a part of our emotional and experiential texture (as in “Krapp’s Last Tape” by Samuel Beckett) and it makes a meaning only if it serves to us to be better people. The artist took five months to complete the work, using about three hundred cassette tapes.
Angki Purbandono (Kendal, 1971) with “Corn Republic” has faced in a playful way the serious issue of the exploitation of natural resources in the world, namely the progressive impoverishment of the eco-food resources due to human greed and selfishness of capitalism and industrial society, represented by the military trying to kill the gorilla on top of a cob almost completely consumed, a symbol of the artist who does not give up and defends his territory, which is protected by Spider-Man that blocks the soldier, symbol of the fantasy of Art as a cure to the ills of modern society. All using objects found in landfills and scanned, in opposition to the modern photography now dedicated only to appear in the media or to win competitions.
Bestrizal Besta (Padang, 1973) presented three works: “Marking Stone,” “Who am I?” And “Outside Inside”, all focused very strongly on the subject of fear and childhood. “Each of my paintings portrays a figure of a child that is covered and isolated but gives a sign of not giving up to life’s circumstances” says the artist. The emphasis falls precisely on children, as beings very sensitive, receptive and a symbol of hope for the future, which are opposed – put in a cage – the aspirations and choices of adults. That’s the reason why the artist makes to ask to one of his caged child “Who am I?” The child is like a blank book, where adults and the society write the words upon on each page, describing and judging him. But children can to not give up to this and break the cage.
Erika Ernawan (Bandung, 1986), with “Self Image 1-4” dramatically raises the question about the role of the female body in Indonesian Muslim society, and she does – as a Muslim – showing her own naked body in a gradual dissolution in four mirrors. Sensitive to feminist writings and the psychological theories of Lacan, Erika lives the female body as eternally at war, “land of war and peace” as Nietzsche said. Even more so in a country with a Muslim majority, which makes the control of the nudity of the female body as a pillar of its philosophy. Erika was brave to show her naked body, knowing that this is forbidden, because “if the art is sincere it’s not afraid of anything”, as she says; and with this she underlines how, sometimes, in her country, being Muslim is only a dress to wear. Here we are not talking about the concept of female beauty, but about identity and control of identity, which occurs sometimes only just through the gaze that judges us; for this reason, at the end of her representation, the artist has broken the mirrors, as if to avoid the gaze of the society to have the last word on our identity.
Gatot Pujiarto (Malang, 1970) exhibited two works “The Dark Age” and “The Destroyed Peace”, works that recall the art of Burri, with jute canvas ripped to show other surfaces. These are works that revolve around the feelings aroused in the viewer and to personal interpretation. “The Dark Age” hits where the black exterior reveals in its glimpses a white backdrop, as if to convey optimism and hope, that can be realized only if it is the man himself to have the strength to rend the darkness around us.
Gusman Heriadi (Pariaman, 1974) offers two of his works on the internalization of values in the society. Interesting “Filling Up” representing a woman intent on reading in the kitchen. “This woman symbolizes many mothers in Indonesia, now absorbed by social networks, which have lost the desire to study and find themselves to be overcome in intelligence and culture from their children who go to school. For this reason she feels the need to find a moment for her to get back to reading and studying, and filled with culture”. His other work is called” Self-Hypnosis “, on the healing power of art.
Maria Indriasari (Yogyakarta, 1976). Also Mary, as Erika Ernawan, analyzes the status of women. “My work is always highly correlated to my existence as a woman, wife and mother,” says the artist, even if it is not his biography to be told, but part of his soul. “The mental conflict between love and anger seems to be a subject that provides me with endless inspiration”. She does it with two works, united in the same environment: “Destiny and Regret” and “Postpartum Syndrome: Sinked”, made with thousands of safety pins to represent the psychological condition of the woman, understood primarily as the mother. According to the artist, now in Indonesia to have children is a social demand, not so much dictated by love, but first of all by the Ego of the woman, and then by the need to be a mother to be fulfilled as a woman, as if being wives without children were bad qualifying to human level. So there are the three women, on the one hand, trying to rise to fatigue on a scale that represents the spiritual dimension and the other – on floor, the mother victim of the syndrome post-partum depression, which, it seems, many mothers suffer silently and, left untreated, in Indonesia.
Sigit Santoso (Yogyakarta, 1964), in his two paintings “Ichthus” and “Sisyphus” deals with the theme of the Faith and Labor. “Ichthus” is an acronym for Iesous Christos Theou Soter, which in greek means “Fish”, the spiritual symbol of God and Christianity. The man paints the fish alone in his room because unable to find him still in the sea, which indicates an intimate and solitary path to spirituality in a phase of loss of religious values. While the myth of Sisyphus allows the artist to tell the social dimension of work in Indonesia, the harsh existence of more humble social class, whose identity is known only by the fact that they work (hence the word: work therefore I am, paraphrasing Descartes ), but at the same time it deprives them of every human identity – his face covered and unrecognizable. Forced every day to carry on their shoulders the burden of their poverty and sacrifice on the top of the mountain to see it roll back to the valley and start again so every day of their lives.
I Gusti Ngurah Udiantara aka TANTIN (Bali, 1976) with “I am Beautiful Therefore I Exist # 5” argues cleverly with the modern concept of beauty, depicting Sofia Loren with aluminum foil, making it one of the classic icons of beauty – for us – absolutely cold and emotionless. According to Tantin, is being losing the sense of individual local beauties peculiar to each country, due to the industry of fashion and aesthetics that tend to homologate the different concepts of beauty, to reach a single universal ideal of beauty, which is however, only a dream of plastic (metal): “The exotic look of racially mixed faces becomes the beauty standard, which is glorified and followed by many young generations through the latest techniques in plastic surgery today”, says the artist.
Lastly Yudi Sulistyo (Yogyakarta, 1972), which was not present in Rome, with “Caravan” has faced the urgent problems of overcrowding and emergency housing. And who was in Jakarta well understand what we are talking about, namely the human explosion of the only one great city of Indonesia – bureaucratic, economic, political and business center – which is forced to accommodate all the people coming from other parts of nation. The artist does so in a surreal way proposing a model of a multi-level home made by furniture on a caravan. An ironic way to talk about one of the deepest social ills of Jakarta, but that also applies to all the other great world megalopolis.
Like the rest of the other themes of the various artists, they start from the particular, from the local to reach the universal; and though artists are very different, both in style and religion, as he Sigit Santoso said: “We came for the first time in Italy, we are all very different, but what unites us is Art.” United in Diversity (“Bhinneka Tunggal Ika”)
Very important was also the presence of the director Nia Dinata, which she presented her new project: “Ikal mayang: Unspoken Truths”, an Omnibus of six films from Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand. The six shorts directed by six female filmmakers focus on women’s problems. This is an initiative under WOMEN:girls produced by Garage Pictures and Big EyEs Entertainment to increase the share of women’s voices through filmmaking and screened in occasion of the celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, 2014 in Kuala Lumpur. The film was screened in all five countries of their respective filmmakers, only in Indonesia it’s still unreleased because of the presidential voting. Maybe it will be presented in November of this year. According to Nia: “Everyone should watch this film, because its message is universal and the theme is women told by other women. These short films are a reflection on the real lives of women in these countries”.
A real big event to let know and understand the multi-voices of Indonesia through Art.