BODY, FREEDOM AND AWARENESS
16 November 2022 - 16 January 2023
BODY, FREEDOM AND AWARENESS
On Women, Power and Traditions #3
A woman’s awareness of her body is a meeting point between sensitivity to the socio-political construct that surrounds her and the personal situation when the body are experienced to the most. Many women have been trained—through repressive environments or by consciously defining the female body in the terms and perspectives of others—to distance themselves from their own bodies and see bodies as part of a social taboo. In various aspects of life—religion, politics, economy—women’s bodies appear as objects that are controlled and capitalized.
In a context where culturally the body becomes an arena for power contestation, women need to struggle to be able to make peace and accept their own body as a part that shapes and builds identity. This process is not an easy one considering that the dominant power uses existing tools to create spaces where this subordination becomes some time invisible. In general knowledge production and social norms, the biological condition of the human body, often generally perceived as the “biological nature (kodrat)” that then constructs the gender role for women. The word natural for decades has become a weapon for the dominant power to navigate women’s movements and struggles, placing the role of “mother” merely in domestic space and became role that has lost its political context.
In patriarch society, women are released from sovereignty over their own bodies. Women feel alienated from their bodies. In women’s studies, this process of alienating women from their bodies and political functions is found in many analyzes through the perspective of Marxism, where modernism and capitalism have positioned women and their bodies as the “labour force” for the sake of productivity and the economy. The strength of the idea of alienation, and its possible relevance to women’s propertylessness in relation to new reproductive technologies, lies in its proximity to the idea of commodification.
Alienation also later became a concept that was widely used in the analysis of women’s psychological conditions; how the process of becoming a mother presents women with questions and dilemmatic situations related to the change of the body and self, how the female body becomes an object in the latest capitalist industries, which creates anxiety, indecision and loss of self-awareness.
In an increasingly complex living space, women become alienated because they live in a world that is not stand on their side, which places women as victims, which is still far from the idea of equality, these feelings of alienation are multiplied. The production and distribution of feminist knowledge, however, has increased women’s awareness to jointly fight and struggle for a more equal and safe living space, and to foster a spirit of sovereignty over themselves and their bodies. The trans-national women’s movement also provides inspiration on how to work against situations of injustice in a more diverse cultural context.
Masculin/Feminin in Domestic Violence and Sexual Harrasment Narrative
One of the fundamental arguments and actions from the transnational feminist movements is how to learn together in dealing with issues of sexual harassment and domestic violence, with an understanding of different political and cultural contexts. However, in various cultures, the roots of violence from this problem are patriarchal and masculine cultures that build male power as the holder of control over social and domestic aspects between humans.
By positioning men in a higher position in the gender hierarchy, their habits and behavior are accepted as the norm, or they are perpetuated as something natural and normal. With regard to sexual harassment, or sexist behavior, most people think that this behavior is “normal”. Seeing, touching, calling, defining women’s bodies have long been seen as activities that show how men display their masculine attitudes.
One of references on this phenomenon:
Society rationalises their behaviour as an aspect of their ‘masculine entitlement’. From an early age these intrusions are ‘dismissed as “boys” behavior,’ and is not ‘seen as a valid form of harm’. By ‘[v]alidating stranger intrusion [we confirm] the idea that it is an essential facet of men’s nature versus a learned behavior that can be unlearned’ (Baptist & Coburn 2019, p.116). This relieves men of the responsibility for and consequences of their actions – they are just boys being boys. Through society accepting this ‘performance of gender’ men remain ‘on top of the gender hierarchy’, which ‘perpetuates oppression of marginalized groups.’ (Baptist & Coburn 2019, p.116).
If we examine the text above further and analyze it in the context of Indonesian society, even though there are some differences, in general there is assumption about male behavior in sexual harassment remains the same. Women have been expected for hundreds
1 Wikstrom, Malin Christina, Gendered Bodies and Power Dynamics: The Relation between Toxic Masculinity and Sexual Harassment, Granite Journal, November 2019, accessed through https://www.abdn.ac.uk/pgrs/documents/Granite%20Gendered%20Bodies%20and%20Power%20Dynamics%20The%20Relation%20between%2 Toxic%20Masculinity%20and%20Sexual%20Harassment,%20Wikstrom,%20pp%2028-33.pdf
of years to accept this custom as the evidence of male masculinity. After decades legal institutions being part of the state constitution—since the independent, there is no law that specifically provides protection and security for women related to experiences of violence and sexual harassment, until the long struggle resulted in the Law on Sexual Violence Crimes which was passed in 2021. Previously, acts of sexual violence were regulated as part of a criminal case, which of course did not specifically guarantee the safety of women as citizens from threats to their bodies.
Even after the ratification of the law, the struggle is still very long to be able to apply this law firmly. Even though the #metoo movement globally encourages greater women’s resistance to voice various cases of sexual harassment, this case has still not touched the dominant powers at the top, so there has been no significant change in the application of sanctions against perpetrators of sexual harassment and violence. Internet-based solidarity is an important medium in building shared strength among survivors, activists and institutions involved in handling various cases of harassment and violence.
Art and Cultural actions has been long supporter for the movement to create a safer and more equal living space, being an important element of celebrating togetherness and collective struggle, as well as conveying personal experiences to be reflected in a wider socio-political context.
From Personal Space to Collective Solidarity
The awareness to approach, to read, to interpret and to live the body is driven by a personal desire to find home and space for the human soul. Women have long lost ways to interpret experience, and meeting spaces that open up the possibility of exchanging experiences—building sisterhood, then becoming a way to share narratives that have been kept and hidden up until now. The meeting of these two artists, Sekar Puti Sidiawati and Prajna Dewantara Wirata in similar but different narratives, for me is a way to link stories that are not often present in exhibition spaces. Although the female body is not a new subject in works of art, most of it shows how women are still the object of gaze; for example in the paintings of male artists which are full of body objectification.
The works by Sekar Puti Sidiawati in this exhibition are divided into two categories. The first is a wall installation work consisting of several ceramics in the shape of books, “OMW Healing”, all of the titles of which can be read as an articulation of Puti’s feelings, anxiety and thoughts on the problem of sexual and domestic violence that she once experienced, but which she and her partner have been able to overcome. Now both of them are living life in a new world that is more equal, open and growing together as human beings. Puti also sees her body as a site of liberation: that her experience of violence and sexual abuse has made her body a memory space for how she continues to struggle and build a life full of strength.
Reflecting on personal experiences to share in the form of works is really not something easy. Not all women have the courage to speak up and reveal hidden traumas or memories so that we can all learn from these experiences. Through these sentences, Puti is like replicating self-help books which are often used as a reference when someone is experiencing doubts and are even part of the most purchased books. The book became a symbol of knowledge, reference and record of reflection. Puti’s sentences contain suggestions and solidarity; invites to empower themselves and mutually strengthen fellow women. Occasionally he gives satirical humorous satire to show how the tensions of masculinity, power and women’s resistance are.
Meanwhile, her three-dimensional ceramic works are an exploration of forms that show the freedom and sovereignty of the body; how feelings, desires and bodily intimacies appear in ceramic objects that are non-associative, even though they lead us to the imagination and summon memories of women’s bodies. Some could be perceived like an open cup, a place where we can store and process life’s experiences. Or more abstract forms that seem close to our roots. Puti gives space for herself to play between the past and the future, between the real and the fantasy, between the ruins and the whole. Puti explores the technique of creating ceramics as a space to challenge the notion of what is fragile becomes stronger, becomes more solid and tough.
Ceramics that look shiny, but also feel fragile and vulnerable, like a woman’s body and soul. We have been trained to present the best version of ourselves, to accept sorrow and pain as part of fate and destiny, but often forget that some of them are socially and culturally created. The body imagination offered by Puti provides space to free emotions and articulate new hopes. That freedom gives us strength.
Prajna Dewantara’s work originates from two different time periods. “The Dancing with the Ghost” series is an ode to women who struggle to live in situations full of limitations that they experience. How to see the past as a point to rise up and fight for new dreams? How is the past and its shadow, being an important part of us today? Over the past few years, Prajna has volunteered to campaign for cases of sexual harassment through its social media platforms, encouraging women to continue to speak out so that together they can create a safer and more equal living space for all. Prajna bravely opened the conversation room so that voices that were hidden and stored could resonate and become a collective struggle.
Apart from that, our conversation then led to a number of things related to the body and its attributes as part of self-identity. Growing up in Bali, then moving to Bandung and Jakarta, Prajna always found herself in the belief that her body was free and empowered; to decide what to do, what to wear, what to accept or change. When marrying a man from Aceh, there are new values that Prajna must digest, especially in the context of Aceh and Islamic Sharia. Prajna faces a dilemma over how social expectations of women then become a moral standard that must be followed. Even though her own family doesn’t mind that she decides not to wear the hijab, Prajna has directly seen how women are often in tension between desire and sovereignty over themselves and social pressure on the grounds of religion, morals and so on.
These series of experience-based works are displayed in the exhibition through an exploration of the medium of watercolor on paper with color effects that show the use of light in photography. Her works “Under The Veil of Uncertainty” or “Body of the Hidden Temple” explores new visual possibilities from the idea of a “covered body”, which is then contrasted with the image of a photo that is often found in glossy magazine photoshoots. With this strategy, Prajna questions the power of gaze—between male gaze and female gaze—and how the body must gain power over itself. The closed body: is it protected, repressed, or hindered? Prajna invites herself to build long conversations based on these kinds of questions, to make decisions for her body and soul.
With regard to personal experiences of this kind of body, we will always be indebted to the works of Balinese artist I GAK Murniasih who during the 1990s - 2000s introduced us to taboos, the body and sexuality. Boldly and with dignity, Murni breaks the boundaries of imagination about the female body, breaks down the domination of the male gaze (male gaze), and voices her life which is full of hustle and bustle and turmoil. Murni is an inspiration that continues to be remembered in Indonesian art history about efforts to fight from within, dismantling what is deemed appropriate and making work a space to build a new, freer imagination. Based on various Balinese painting traditions, Murni creates visual icons that define self and body identity in its own language, as well as being a space where various trauma and taboo matters, including patriarchal repression and masculinity, are discussed and reformulated.
Migration, Body and Borderlands
The two artists in this exhibition also experience cross-geography and cross-cultural contexts coming from experience of migration. Sekarputi lived and grew up in Jakarta and Bandung, before finally decided with her family to move to Bali. On the other hand, Prajna, who came from Bali, then moved to Jakarta. Migration activities then also mark territories and boundaries, from one region to another, bringing values and history along with adapting and mutating.
Gender also frames migration in more humane terms, such as the movement of bodies across geopolitical boundaries and within frontier spaces. This intervention is critical, because contemporary nativist grudges monopolize political discourse over migration, stripping migrants of their basic humanity. Feminist texts such as those explained by Gloria Anzaldua (Borderlands, 1971) see how the process of migration and displacement is important to open new horizons in women’s self and identity, crossing geographical and cultural boundaries. By migrating these women penetrate new areas of culture and values and because of that they make a strong ability to position themselves in social life. Meetings with different cultures also influence views on socio-political construction, bringing criticism and perspectives that are more open and more tolerant.
Writer: Alia Swastika
‘PENYINTAS: BODY, FREEDOM AND AWARENESS
On Women, Power, and Traditions #3’
will be on view at BIASA Art Ubud
from 16th of November 2022, to 16th of January 2023
every day from 11am to 6pm.
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
Prajna Dewantara Wirata
Prajna Dewantara Wirata is a Balinese painter who currently lives in Jakarta, Indonesia. Prajna’s art journey began in 2009 when she studied portrait painting with Nico Vrielink, a Dutch painter who lives in Bali. She further explore the realist painting techniques, which she later developed while studying Fine Arts at Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) (2013 - 2018). Prajna’s interest in the technique was inspired by several Indonesian and European artists. Many among the great Indonesian artists who inspired her are Mangu Putra and Chusin Setiadikara. A European old master painter during the Baroque era named Caravaggio also had a great influence on Prajna’s works to this day.
Prajna’s works are never far from real-life experience, self-assessment, philosophy oflife, andjourney of faith in which she expressed in her paintings.
The process of working with a representational painting approach encourages Prajna’s awareness to interpret the experience of art in life as well as an understanding of oneself and the surrounding environment. Her ascinations towards life are often depicted in the form of portraits human figures depicted in shades of the color spectrum through the chiaroscuro lighting method.
Sekar Puti Sidhiawati
Sekarputi Sidhiawati is a visual artist who raises stories about the empowerment of women in domestic and intersection culture to give them and herself the drive to continue working. She is mainly working with ceramic, the material that highly represents house and women in general.
She was born in Jakarta 1986. Taking formal education at the Faculty of Art and Design ITB-Ceramic Art studio. She is now known as the founder of the studio Arta Derau, while consistently working in the art world. After working in Bandung, in 2018 she moved to Bali to expand her ceramic studio business. With woman related issues, Puti had been a finalist of several fine art awards such as the Soemardja Art Award (2010) and the Bandung Contemporary Art Award 2013. She had join several prestigious exhibition include Jakarta Contemporary Ceramic Biennale, National Gallery of Indonesia (2014); Temperature Affect, Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics Jakarta (2017); Manifesto, National Gallery of Indonesia (2017); Termasuk, Darren Knight Gallery Australia (2018); Southern Constellations: The Poetics of the Non-Aligned, Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova, Ljublana-Slovenia (2019), Indonesia Calling, 16Albermerle, Sydney (2020). Her second solo exhibition, titled ‘Your Existence Gives me hope’ (2019) was at Uma Seminyak.
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