Curated/coordinated by Ida Lawrence
Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, Sydney, Australia
12 January – 17 March 2019
looking here looking north is an exhibition by Woven Kolektif, a group of artists with continuing personal ties to Indonesia and Australia. Drawing on lived cross-cultural experiences, memories and observations between the two countries, the artists’ works explore connections to family, place and culture, both familiar and unfamiliar. For some of the artists, their creative process provides an opportunity to strengthen these connections; for others, the work itself is a place to reflect on feelings of ‘between-ness’ or cultural and geographic disconnect. Works range from playful observations of tourist hubs in Bali, poetic meditations on the intricacies and complexities of identity and memory, Google Street View visits to places of personal significance in Java, a keroncong (a form of popular music) karaoke video, and humorous painted stories about contemporary Indonesia. The artists express these stories, observations, meditations and imagined possibilities through performance, painting, installation, photography and video.
English text transcription:
In 1997, I visited my father’s village in Java for the first time. I remember being smothered with love by closely-related strangers. This smothering took place on woven mats on the dirt floors of aunties’ and uncles’ and cousins’ living rooms. I also remember the place to shit was out the back, amongst the banana trees and chickens. My memories of this trip have a yellowness to them — the scorching afternoon sun as we walked between relatives’ houses; intricate lines and bubbling pots of wax at the batik factory where my cousin worked; and the soft warm glow of a single bulb, illuminating smiling faces in my aunty’s living room.
The next time I visited, in 2007, some of my relatives now had cement floors, and others tiled floors, in their homes. In the following six years, I took many trips to my father’s village and over that time I noticed TVs appeared in living rooms, motorcycles replaced bicycles, electric pumps were installed in wells, toilets were built, electric fans swung, Nokias rung, smart phones buzzed and beeped and chimed and crowed and whistled… meanwhile (now familiar) relatives kept smothering me with love.
It is 2017. I arrive in my father’s village and this time the latest addition is a wifi satellite tower. My cousin’s teenage son, Dimas, studied technology in school and installed the tower in the backyard between his mother’s and grandfather’s houses, amongst the banana trees and chickens, so that everyone in the village can access its signal. Like many other nights when I’d visited my father’s village, stars twinkle and fireflies dance in the rice fields; but in the lane next to his mother’s house, Dimas and I now admire the dazzling whiteness of a dozen neighbours’ faces, brilliantly illuminated by a dozen handheld screens.
Indonesian text transcription:
Mbak Umi. Ini Ida — nomor WA baru. Ini masih di Sydney. Piye kabare mbak? Gimana kabarnya Farid, Pakdhe dan Budhe? Sampaikan salam dan peluk dari aku ya. Maaf walaupun lama banget aku gak kasih kabar, aku sering ingat dan kangen mbak Umi dan keluarga di Kliwonan.
Aku sekarang bikin lukisan tentang ingatanku dan hal-hal yang aku lihat berubah (atau tetap sama) di kampung sejak pertama kali aku pulang pada tahun 1997. Misalnya, dulu tidak ada TV, lantai semen, lantai keramik, WC, pompa air listrik, HP, atau menara wifinya Dimas…
Mungkin Mbak Umi juga lihat banyak perubahan di kampung sejak kita kecil? Pasti Budhe dan Pakdhe punya banyak cerita.
Menurutnya Mbak Umi, perubahannya bagus gak? Dulu kita tunggu 10 tahun untuk berkomunikasi tapi sekarang sangat gampang dan cepat. Dulu aku aman jauh2 di Australia tapi sudah gak aman lagi dari pertanyaan “Da…kamu sudah punya suami belum?” dan “Kapan menikah?”! Wkwkwk. Baru kemarin ditanya Lik Dul di instagram wkwkwk.
Mbak boleh minta tolong? Bisa sampaikan ini ke Dimas?:
Dimas! Apa kabar? Baik? Sehat kan? Akhir-akhir ini bulikmu suka ingat waktu tahun kemarin kamu kasih lihat “pemandangan” di gang di sebelah rumahmu — yaitu banyak tetangga berjongkok dan internetan pada jam 9 malam. Wkwkwk. Sampai sekarang aku tertawa kalau ingat adegan itu — cahaya terang dari HP-HPnya dan suara jangkrik dan kodok dari sawah sebelahnya. Aku lagi bikin lukisan yang ceritakan ini dalam Bahasa Inggris. Nanti kita minta tolongnya Lik Tono untuk bantu terjemahkan ceritanya ya. Sekarang lukisannya begini — nanti kalau udah jadi tak kirim foto lagi. Sampaikan salam untuk ibumu, bapakmu dan Dik Arya ya.
One of my cousins met me at Bali Airport Departures gate with a cake she had baked — a souvenir to share with my family and friends in Sydney. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that this beautiful gesture would be swiftly confiscated at Australian Customs. I accepted the gift — still-warm, boarded, and focused on devising a strategy: how to devour something as big as an aeroplane tray table within a six-hour overnight flight? Dee, in the aisle seat, helped me make a bit of a dint in it at around 5 am Australian Eastern Standard Time, but upon landing the remaining seven-eighths of my cousin’s jam-and-cream-filled love was lowered gently and reluctantly into a bin.
Sounds of a string quartet surged through invisible speakers. Apathetic blurs sped past on travellators.
I had nothing left to declare.
16 August (day before Independence Day):
We bought an Indonesian flag for the front of my sister’s house after being shamed by drive-by megaphone for not already having one patriotically
flaccid flapping in the Jakartan smog.
Long before my nephew was born, my younger sister and her husband decided his name would be Idris. My brother-in-law (a devout Muslim) liked the name because it is the name of a prophet. I googled “Idris prophet” and learned that he was “trustworthy” (islamtoday.com), “pious” and “constantly occupied with the study of the holy books” (sacred-texts.com), “tall, with a white complexion… little body hair and a lot of hair on his head” plus “a light discolouration on his chest, different to skin diseases like leprosy” (islamichouseofwisdom.com), and “the first man who was given the knowledge of astrology and mathematics” (linkedin.com/prophet-idris).
My sister, on the other hand, liked the name because “Idris Elba (the English actor) is hot”. I did an image search of Idris Elba. Yeah, it is true, he is hot.
Suara Indonesia Dance performing at the exhibition launch, 19 January 2019: