7 June - 7 August 2022
On Women, Power and Traditions #2
Salima Hakim and Mutia Bunga
FROM PRE-HISTORY TO THE IMAGINATION OF THE FUTURE:
POST-HUMANISM AS A SPECULATION
Historical trajectory of civilization is often marked by ancient monuments or inscriptions. It also serves as a marker of how humankind records their achievements, victories, or what is referred to as progress. In the context of the Anthropocene, humankind is centrally positioned so that they become predominant or at a much superior level. Scientists have spent hundreds of years studying the origin of humankind, which is considered the dawn of civilization, and designated the history of humankind as the vortex of the history of life.
Literature on the origin of humankind then became canonical texts spreading worldwide, with interpretations dominated by experts of Western knowledge system and mainly shaped in the patriarchal culture. The story of human evolution is always illustrated with the representation of the body of a man or a male human being. For hundreds of years, the illustration was barely questioned in the field of science. The same thing applies to the speculated idea of the future, how the life of mankind is imagined in the following decades, and how the role of women enters the picture of humanity in the future. How would science give equal space to various genders and break the dominance of male representation that has been considered given in the history textbooks.
The two artists in this exhibition: Salima Hakim and Mutia Bunga, offer their critical views that are worth discussing about how the figure and body of a woman—or a female human being, become part of the historical texts on the origin of humankind, while also imagining how women in the future struggle amid the development of technology related to genetic engineering. All this time, knowledge production has become part of an effort to put male supremacy on center stage, including by building monuments of achievement that are meant to justify the said supremacy in the first place. Shape-wise, monuments might be interpreted as an extension of the Phallus concept, a point to show the dominance of men in history. In the course of the dialectics, the rise of struggle and resistance of women and other non-binary groups has created the possibility of producing narratives and knowledge to build allyship to marginalized groups and rewriting history based on long lost or forgotten narratives.
Through the construction of knowledge, for decades, we have been taught to perceive the origin of humankind as a glorification of the male body and supremacy. Meanwhile, the female body that has a very significant role in continuing humankind's life cycle through reproductive functions seems to be hidden under the shadow of man. How can we create a more equal depiction in the representation of knowledge production in the future? How do we discuss the awareness of the human body and knowledge as something socially constructed and thus are progressive and likely to change? The imagination of the artists becomes a valuable thing that gives rise to new possibilities that enable a change in our world-view.
Salima Hakim is interested in archaeological method because she had a profound curiosity in history in her childhood. Growing with books on natural sciences and the National Geographic magazines, Salima developed a passion for understanding history, artifacts, museology, etc. She had planned to take archaeology as her major, but she then realized that in Indonesia, archaeological work would be too challenging. She finally decided to study in the design department while always reserves history as her main interest.
Around 2018, while preparing for her involvement in an exhibition, Salima encountered the question of how the female (body) is represented in the picture of the history of humankind. This encouraged her to find relevant literature and see how the mainstream narratives on the origin of humankind have marginalized the figure of a woman. Salima found several pieces of literature confirming the discovery of female fossil, including the excavations and findings in the regions surrounding Oceania, which indicate that the Melanesian is one of the oldest races in the world.
"Herstory: If Knowledge is Power" installation is Salima's projection of the power of science in shaping the historiography of civilization. She reclaimed and reconstructed the academic field to grant power to women and to challenge the canon to change their picture of the origin of humankind. The most popular source depicting the history of evolution is "The March of Progress", an iconic illustration of the evolution of human being from an ape into Homo sapiens published in 1965 in a book entitled "Early Man", which shows the gradual change of a male ape into a male human being, without portraying any version of the female counterpart.
Salima then designed a new image of the origin of humankind based on female body. She criticized knowledge production and structure by employing journal as her visual code. From various literature on the history of civilization, she compiled texts to present them as a scientific journal, then projected the writing into a picture on a much larger scale. Working daily as a designer and teacher while also getting involved in scientific journal writing that is often considered the achievement of a scholar, Salima views the journal as a symbol for one's articulation of thoughts. By bringing forth a journal recreated on a much larger scale, with feminist perspective underlying this idea, Salima tries to wrest and redefine the position of women in the field of science.
As an artist, Salima is interested in human manual labor, which is very close to the phenomena of work amongst women. Working with fabrics, sewing, and making embroidery are seen as domestic skills, often seen as handicraft instead of artwork. To Salima, the said media are familiar, and thus she perceives them as suitable means of expressing her thoughts and concerns on the gender-biased knowledge construction. Embroidery represents her advocating domestic works which barely have decent position in the formal work structure.
Mutia Bunga imagines the future of more hybrid living beings by observing a series of experiment to mix various kinds of plants. Botany has created new possibilities of crossbreeding a plant species with another, enriching plant diversity. Employing the medium of plant, Mutia does not intend to describe the anatomy as in other botanical illustrations. She is imagining something unborn, instead.
The Anthropocene idea that puts humankind as the center of life has somewhat put aside botany as if it is an encyclopedia of foreign beings.
Plants are essential element of human life because they produce oxygen and become the source of food. Quoting Putri Harbie’s note for Mutia Bunga’s work (2020), "In terms of food, some improved seeds are generated from a hybridizing process which are expected to become a solution for accelerating growth and improving the quality of vegetable or fruit. The human-made hybridizing process originates in the need to create improved varieties, followed by the selection of plant characteristics desired by the scientist, and lastly, several hybridized seed samples will be tested for growth. During the course of the process, not all of them will succeed; there is the possibility of having undesired characteristics (an interview with Wisnu Ardi, botanist and researcher at LIPI Bogor)."
A number of Mutia Bunga’s new works for this exhibition incorporate the idea of genetic engineering into her imagination of the future of humankind. Different phenomena of breakthroughs in technology have enabled certain intervention to human brain, body, and, probably, feelings by using mechanical and computational devices. For several recent decades, scientists have been studying and imagining about cyborg, the crossover of human body and machine. One of the English scientists, James Lovelock, believes that in the future, human must accept the reality of co-existing with cyborgs. Lovelock perceives the rise of technology through the evolutionary framework according to his studies and thoughts for decades about the ecological and biological systems. Lovelock imagines cyborgs occupying its ecological niche on this planet. "I think of cyborgs as another kingdom of life," he said.
"They will stand to us in much the same way as we ourselves, as a kingdom of animals, stands to plants."
Mutia Bunga presenting this projection by aligning the images of plants and the human body fragments, imagining that in the future they will mixed with the machine and technological devices. Human will no longer be the center of the universe but will align with other creatures and living beings co-existing in the ecosystem.
Through a series of paintings on paper and canvas, Mutia imagines the visual possibilities of new relations between the human body and other creatures, with bright, transparent colors and firm curves, building hope for the future of humankind.
The idea of post-humanism has been talked about in the world of philosophy and science and is interpreted in various possibilities through the works of art. One of the renowned scientists and thinkers in this field, Rosi Braidotti, views post-humanism as not an anti-humanism situation; instead, the possible hybridity is viewed as a new entangled form of life. Braidotti holds that advanced capitalism has blurred the boundaries between human beings, other species, and the earth in the commodification of life that has absorbed everything. The awareness to see the origin of history more impartially, and to reveal the possibilities of the future based on the speculations on body and humanity, appears to become the spirit of the artists in this exhibition, which must be emphasized. Art becomes a space to discuss various assumptions and imaginations, revealing an open spectrum of thoughts for multiple possibilities of more sustainable life.
writer: Alia Swastika
1. Putri Harbie, Curatorial Statement to the "Cross the Line" by Mutia Bunga, for the Asana Bina Seni “Your Connection was Interupted” exhibition, Taman Budaya Yogyakarta, November 2020. The exhibition was organized by Yayasan Biennale Yogyakarta.
2. “Cyborg will replace human and remake the world, James Lovelock says”, https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/cyborgs-will-replace-humans-remake-world-james-lovelock-says-ncna1041616
3. Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman, Polity Press, Cambridge, 180 pp., 2013,
‘PENUMBRA – On Women, Power, and Traditions #2’
will be on view at BIASA Art Ubud
from 7th of June 2022, to 7th of August 2022
every day from 11am to 5pm.
BIASA Art is located on Jalan Raya Sanggingan, Ubud, Bali.
For more information about current exhibition, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org .
Press Release and e-Catalog
Salima Hakim (born in Jakarta, 1978) is an alumnus of the Master of Art History postgraduate program at the University of Indonesia (UI). Currently, she works as a practitioner and lecturer of art history study in Universitas Multimedia Nusantara, Tangerang. She believed that art is a form of escapism that will enable the telling of complicated stories to be explained literally. She works a lot with embroidery and hand sewing media with exploratory narratives about historical deconstruction in a gender perspective. In Biennale Jogja Equator #6 2021, Salima continues the development of her previously initiated project, ‘HERStory’ from in 2019.
Mutia Bunga graduated from Painting Department Faculty of Fine Arts Indonesian Institute of the Arts Yogyakarta. She is one of co-founders of Tactic Plastic collective. Mutia Bunga mostly works with watercolors and pigments on paper, but in her work "Cross the Line" (2020) she uses plastic waste from police lines used to close sports arenas during the pandemic. Bunga pours several visual metaphors that show nature in an abstract style of
imagination to a catastrophic realist style.
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