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RESEARCH

CURRENT PROJECTS

  • The Abstract Art of Kejawen: Javanese Aesthetics and the Spiritual Syncretism of Modern Javanese Painting

  • Drama Performance and Science Education in Southeast Asian

  • Taksu, Balinese Dance and the Interartistic Aesthetics in Indonesian Painting

PAST RESEARCH

BAGONG KUSSUDIARDJA (1928-2004)

Regarded as one of Indonesia’s key exponents of Indonesian dance during the modern period, Bagong Kussudiardja (1928-2004) embraced notions of tradition and modernity in what can only be described as an integrative practice towards the creation of something new (kreasi baru). Despite being known primarily as a choreographer, his establishment of Padepokan Seni Bagong Kussudiardja (PSBK) whose educational model remains similar to that of Rabindranath Tagore’s ashram in Śāntiniketan, India testifies to his approach to art making as one that refutes neat distinctions of form. That is, in both his practice and teaching, he has championed for a more fluid, communal and holistic approach to making art, one that dissolves distinctions between performance and painting, music and dance, spirituality and aesthetics, tradition and modernity, the sacral and the profane.

In Bagong’s paintings, the connection between a predominant subject matter of performance (dance, wayang, rituals and ceremonies) and his later works which experiment with abstract geometry and colour has yet to be studied in Indonesia and is effectively unknown at an international level. Having studied dance with Martha Graham in New York, focused on transnational Japanese and Indian techniques, and worked under the influence of traditional Indonesian dance and wayang, Bagong’s visual idiom is one that virtually reimag(in)es artistic conventions that govern painting. He draws on the artistic, intellectual and spiritual disciplines of the performing arts, both locally and beyond, to rewrite a modern history of Indonesian painting, one that is free from Euroamerican artistic boundaries and which integrated, rather than contrasted, different modes of thinking about art onto the canvas.

 

Focusing on the aesthetics of interartistic exchange in his paintings, this research seeks to draw links between his figural oeuvre of the performing arts and his abstract spiritual representations of the world. Based on a selection of Bagong’s art and historical writing, I attempt to offer an alternative vocabulary to critically engage with an artist whose practice did not conform to strict art historical categorisations and who chose to make art on his own terms.

Indonesian New Order dramatic literature locates itself at the intersection of postcolonial and postmodern literary and performance studies, often serving the purpose of creating spaces for dissent and resistance against the state’s ideological apparatuses during a period of modernization [modernisasi] and development [pembangunan]. Although Soeharto’s government sought to unite Indonesians in diversity as an attempt to modernise the country through rapid urbanisation, economic growth, infrastructure improvements, and the creation of a new urban middle class, the dramatic literature of this period brings to light the regime’s more covert consequences of othering, segregation, and abandonment to achieve its goals.

 

Drawing on the work of Michel Foucault, Cobina Gillitt, Ellen Rafferty, and Michael Bodden regarding modern Indonesian theatre and representations of marginality, this dissertation positions itself in the broader dialogue of drama in the modern nation-state as a site of resistance. I shall examine how dramatic literature attempts to speak back to hegemonic power through the experience of the Other. By analysing how the Other negotiates its relationship with land and identity, social inequalities, individual desire and state ambition in Iwan Simatupang’s No Address, No Name (1966), Putu Wijaya’s Ought (1973), and Nano Riantiarno’s Time Bomb (1986), this thesis examines how New Order dramatic literature challenged and resisted the Master Narratives of progress, change and modernization that Suharto’s New Order regime sought to establish. This thesis thus argues that the participation of place in a politics of resistance ultimately proves that Indonesian drama was primarily concerned with reclaiming the Other’s subjectivity as a part of rather than apart from society.

Nano Riantiarno

(1949-2023)

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Iwan Simatupang

(1928-1970)

MODERN INDONESIAN DRAMATIC LITERATURE

PutuWijaya.jpg
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Putu Wijaya

(1944-present)

THALASSIC AESTHETICS, COMMUNAL COMPANIONSHIP & THE METAMORPHOSIS OF MASCULINITIES IN THE NUDES OF HENRY SCOTT TUKE

Henry Scott Tuke’s preoccupation with the subject of the male youth is indisputable and the hallmarks of his oeuvre are both consistent and recognisable, including the young male nude, boats, seascapes and nature. Yet, in addressing the apparent sensuality in Tuke’s compositions of nudes, one risks obliterating Tuke’s intended celebration of young beauty in favour of sexual implications. What alternative relationships might be drawn from the representation of the male nude engaging in communal outdoor settings, in addition to those divulged from a sexual gaze? Through an examination of Tuke’s thalassic aesthetics and his depiction of masculinities, I contend that the artist was less occupied with manifesting sexual urges on the canvas, and more concerned with articulating the significance of communion with nature and companionship amongst men. This paper addresses how Tuke’s ‘nude’ oeuvre (1885-1928) redefines ‘desire’ for Uranian art; a definition that acknowledges but transcends the physical and sexual, focusing on desire that is characterised by youthful beauty and the vulnerable yearning for community.

The sensual and tactile quality of Tuke’s paintings of the young male body naturally lends itself to homoerotic readings by both scholars and artists alike. In fact, the idealism of youth and playful quality of light in Tuke’s August Blue (1893–4) inspired and typified the work of the Uranian poets. Alan Stanley, for instance, whose poem “August Blue” published in the 1894 collection Love Lyrics praises the “triumphant boy” as “King of the Sea” or a “nymph”, with a keen visual emphasis on his “slender, fair, and tall” physique after having encountered Tuke’s work. Similarly, the nineteenth-century poet Edwin Emmanuel Bradford too capitalises on the “boyish beauty” of the male youth compared to the beauty of nature. The naturalism of Tuke’s work thus coincided with the Uranians’ artistic objective of articulating the beauty of the male body and the sacred naturalism of male-male love. As a resistance against the ‘stuffiness’ of Victorian society, this subsequently and organically bled into the rise of the Decadent movement with its satiation of the senses. Indeed, one could draw seemingly instinctive parallels between the homoeroticism of Tuke’s naturalism and an “effort to contemporise what was considered to be a lost Hellenic tradition of ‘man-manly love’”. This position argues that the male body was Tuke’s ultimate goal and that the inclusion of male youth in ‘marine paintings’ of seascapes, engaging in fishing, rigging and battling sea storms indicated Tuke’s primary interest in their physique. Kim further argues that Tuke’s “chief interest lay in the erotic valence of the working-class model” whether poised in the nude or engaged in physical labour, and concludes that the artist “sought Uranian male ideals in all his depictions of youths”.

GILDING THE FAITH, ENSHRINING THE REFUGE

Through the study of a single case study of a 19th-century Burmese shrine, this research examines the embodiment of the tripartite Buddhist cosmos and the doctrine of the three jewels. Positioning this work within the art history of the Myanmar (Burma) Mandalay style, it suggests that the physical shrine represents "in visual form something entirely transcending human vision" (Dietrich Seckel).

AESTHETIC MANIFESTATIONS OF THE RĀMĀYAṆA RĀKṢASA IN THE SITĀ’S ABDUCTION PANEL AT CANDI PRAMBANAN

This research project applies Panofsky's iconographical framework to analyse the narrative mode(s), composition, style(s), symbolism, functions and meanings that are elucidated in a single panel at Candi Prambanan. There are also remarkable correspondences to reliefs from South Asia that would benefit from a comparative study with the bas-reliefs of Ravana shaking Mount Kailasa in Ellora, Mahasrashtra, India; Chennakeshava Temple, Belur, India; and Hoysaleshwara Temple, Haleibidu, India.

 

Further, through critical approaches of semiotics and post-strucuralist theory, I suggest that the reliefs form a bricolage of meanings that constitute the mythic status of the Rāmāyaṇa in pre-modern Indonesia.