And so begins my month-long stint as a writer-in-residence at Cemeti Art House in Yogyakarta. All things spiral and what better way to think of politics and rights than to be elsewhere, in another cultural and political space, only to encounter an exhibition that makes one think again, of politics at home? Diann (or Dyan) Anggraini’s works, currently being exhibited at Sangkring Art Space in south Yogyakarta had that precise effect. A long-time civil servant working in government and an artist, this particular series seems to focus on masks. Everywhere, the mask mimics, the mask is an exaggeration, the mask is absurd, it conceals or unintentionally reveals more; and in some of the works, the more pained, agonized expressions floating eerily by a face seem to suggest that eventually, all expression becomes sort of absurd, a tortured rendition of ourselves, when there is no self left to speak. This is no overt rant against censorship. The most brilliant series in a vast exhibition that brings together sculpture, ballpoint on paper and oil on canvas, is the most deceptively simple: a series of black ballpoint pen sketches on A4 paper government l
etterhead paper with printed text in Bahasa Indonesia. Minutes of meetings? Policy decisions so minor that they need not be classified nor deemed confidential? Summary of decisions made? Absurd debates on future strategies? If you don’t read the language you won’t know what the text says, but it’s almost immaterial. The effect is there. Her faces are gagged. Their noses and upper lips are covered. The eyes – open and surprised – don’t reveal terror or fear. They seem to communicate surprise. You want to laugh, despite yourself. The look on the faces seem to say, “bloody hell. How did this happen?” They want to speak, they’re in the midst of articulating something, and obviously, that’s going to be hard with your nose covered, your mouth struggling to breathe in its place and your upper lip bound up, preventing the formation of words with lips. The text and the face are there, both at the same time. Absurd all at once. We so often consider the deprivation of sight and speech as a form of terror, of censorship. Sight and speech as power. But here, you smell nothing (and then you think of all the variations of that expression – something smells fishy; something smells dodgy here; something’s “off”). There was more – portraits of bodies (men, women, children) with masks, backs facing us, Jawi or Javanese script etched like a shadow across the canvas.