Written for Jogja Contemporary – June Exhibition
for more about the exhibition, see here. The exhibition was reviewed here.

It is the crowning virtue of all great Art, that however little is left of it by the injuries of time, that little will be lovely.* 

Java Island is home to artist Laksmi Shitaresmi and Franziska Fennert. Java Island is also home to one of important early civilisations that dated all the way to 8 CE. A number of ancient ruins that was discovered since late 1700s, has, over the years, charmed archeologists, researchers, historian, religious and spiritual followers and artists alike. Its very existence sparks imagination that leads to research, spiritual journeys even tracing cultural markings in the edification of female characters in Java Island. Franziska has traveled East, settled and took upon that charm and creates her artwork by connecting the intellectual and the spiritual.

Java Island in the 21st Century is also home to 140 million people – a large part of a nation today called Indonesia. Its people has gone through challenges after difficulties in its economic, social and political life since the nation was founded seventy years ago. Laksmi, today, have lived through a period of rigorous government censorship, ’98 economic crises and social uproars, six presidential changes and a number of natural disasters. These life experiences has been embodied in the practice of her art making. She frequently uses familiar cultural pathos of Javanese symbolism in her artwork.

The exhibition has two focus which are standing strong side by side. These focuses are Folk and Lore, hence the title of this exhibition.

Franziska Fennert and her exploration in Javanese ancient narratives

Following her solo exhibition Place the King In the Right Position in 2014 where she tread in the idea of power in society and the individual, Franziska carries on to study Javanese values and ideals in Javanese lore’s. These lore tend to be passed on from generation to generation verbally, accompanied by the remnants of archeological findings. These lore includes the story about Ratu Boko, which led the research to the presence of Durga in Javanese society.

Franziska’s rendition of these lore acts almost like a meta-abstraction that gives way for us to read Javanese history in a fresh setting. In the figure of Durga also present in the figure of Loro Jongrang -whom the original statue now stood inside the 1000th temple in Ratu Boko complex-  Franziska utilise canvas and threads suggesting relief from a stone figure through the strength of Durga in destruction. This destruction is parallel to the act of cleansing and giving way for a new life, animate and gained a more temperate life outside a confine. In “Ratu Boko sebagai Durga” Franziska slowly lures us to see details and nuance of colours used in these important Javanese figures threading the presence of Durga.

Javanese culture are rich with nuance. More often than not, with the capitalistic forces in the society these nuances are rendered flat. Through Franziska’s work, we see strength in nuance of perceptions and characters. The presence of character such as Durga is an important part in Javanese cultural landscape.

Laksmi Shitaresmi: a Javanese woman critic to leader of the nation

Laskmi first appeared in late’80s – a time when Indonesia has a relatively growing economy and continues to struggle in defining its identity both politically and culturally. Since then Laksmi identifies herself as a Javanese women with all its dirt and glory. She works with Javanese symbolism in her art. To understand Javanese symbolism, one may find, a tedious work as it goes far into the first presence of Java Man found all its complex political and social constructs. Laksmi, uses these symbols as a form of respect to her cultural upbringing conveying her thoughts, concerns and worries about the people around her.

Laksmi clove to a mixture of animalistic symbols, presenting it as a collection of parts, signs and fragments like praying mantis and crabs, are some that she brings on her paintings. Presiden Kepiting is one of her witty work, curious about the new president ways in leading the country. Laksmi’s visceral canvases have continued to evolve, as she explores the boundary between figural representation and abstraction; her work also examines the role of fellow of the nation, and the translation of her personal experience to a canvas surface.

* The writer J.F. Scheltema of Monumental Java use this quote in the first chapter. The quote was from John Ruskin, a 19th Century famed critique used in his essay written about his journey studying the Roman architectural ruins in Florence, Italy.

Martha Widjajanti Soemantri


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