Sat, 13 Aug 1994

Artist incorporates mixed media works in batik paintings

By Linda Owens

YOGYAKARTA (JP): Hovering amidst the constellation of planets, a giant, winged woman cradles the earth in her embrace.

This is just one example of the symbolically rich imagery in Linda Kaun's batik and mixed media works, on display at Baleanda Gallery & Restaurant in Yogyakarta through Sept. 3.

Linda dedicates this show to two related themes she has explored over the past few years: Passages and Spirit Guardians. Passages, she elaborates, are the inner journey we all make through the various phases of life. Spirit Guardians are those beings whose teachings question our connection with the living earth and to whose lessons we must listen if we are to nurture the earth, our fellow human beings and ourselves.

In 1975, during her studies in social work, Linda was introduced to the batik medium and developed an instant affinity for it. "Batik speaks to me in a way nothing else does. The feeling of flowing, of moving in a certain rhythm; the wax flowing into the cloth, the dyes flowing into the structure of the weave, creating beautiful rich colors. I still cannot know the final outcome until all the wax is boiled out at the end. This sense of the mysterious is inherent in the process," she says.

Linda is overly modest about her role in the process, though. When one sees the intricate detail in her work, the skill she possesses in handling this medium is obvious.

Other media

She hasn't limited herself solely to batik, however. In some of her recent works, she has begun to incorporate other media. In The Kitchen Guardian, for instance, she embroiders around the edges of batik vegetables to give them definition and dimension. Attached to this backdrop is a three-dimensional wooden "shrine" ensconced with its spirit guardian and actual cooking tools and ingredients.

This piece is as much a reverent contemplation on nature's bounty and the sacred hearth, as it is a playful reminder of yesteryear's "kitchen art". In the mundane and the everyday, from the beauty of a flower to preparing healthy food, Linda seeks "the sacred".

In Goddess of the Winged Beasts, she builds a collage of watercolor on paper and dyed fabric, which gives a remarkable impression of both human hair and feathers. The dualistic woman/bird nature of the goddess is reinforced by her eyes, one human, the other like a hawk's, sharply trained on the viewer.

The Goddess is present in much of Linda's art, depicted either in her physical form or through other symbols associated with the feminine principle.

The snake is one of the oldest symbols of female power and has an ancient association with regeneration, due to its ability to renew itself by shedding old skins. It appears in several of her paintings, including Self Portrait: A Spiritual Awakening, where it spirals (another symbol of the Goddess and the birth/death cycle) in and out of flames, waves of water, and leaves to form a frame around her face.

In her triptych Come Out, Come Out, Whoever You Are we are presented with a series of doorways or passageways from one world, or one level of consciousness, to the next. Set in a wintry forest of leafless trees, the first shows a shaft of light peeping through a crack in the door.

In the second, the door opens and reveals a newborn babe floating up from its depths. In the final frame, a smiling young girl ascends the last steps of the portal to emerge, carrying a radiant bouquet of flowers with which to bring the hibernating landscape to life. The image of the snake reappears here, as though fulfilling the role of a midwife in this birthing process.

Different light

Linda Kaun first came to Yogya in 1981 and continued to develop her batik skills, initially at the studio of well-known painter and choreographer Bagong Kussudiardjo. The spirit of Indonesia stayed with her on her return to Los Angeles, where she continued working and exhibiting. In 1992, she married Indonesian artist Eddie Hara and came back to live in Yogyakarta.

Returning to Indonesia, she says, has pushed her to see "this place" and herself in a completely different light.

She has found Yogyakarta to be a greatly changed city. It is more crowded and fast paced and has a less spiritual atmosphere than she remembers. Yogyakarta's artists, who a decade before struggled to make batik accepted as a valid artistic medium, like Bagong Kussudiardjo, Ardiyanto, and Tulus Warsito, have now shifted either partially or totally to painting in oil or acrylic.

The results gained from those early strides found a prolific breeding ground in the tourist trade. Mass produced batik paintings are now everywhere you look in Yogyakarta. While their gain in popularity is encouraging, their overall poor quality has unfortunately worked against maintaining the increasing level of respect for batik painting.

Linda has occasionally found the public's level of understanding and acceptance of batik painting to be frustrating. And when discussing her work she has, until recently, frequently found herself focusing more on defending batik painting as a valid form of artistic expression than on emphasizing the concepts embodied in her work.

Now, it seems, Linda has successfully navigating yet another personal transition as an artist, the growing confidence to feel she doesn't need to justify either her work or batik as her medium of choice.

"There is a dialog between the heart, mind, and hands of the artist and the particular medium she chooses," she says. Her work "honors and calls attention to the power and beauty women bring to life. Women have special gifts, values and perspectives on what the possibilities are, what we can all create as a world vision."

Those who appreciate her art seem to echo that sentiment as well. One of Linda's first mentors, Bagong Kussudiardjo, commented at her show that there no longer seemed to be any question she has found her medium.

With the presence of more women artists like Linda, and the growing volume of work by surface designers both in Indonesia and abroad, perhaps some long needed progress will be made in shifting the centuries old views that Linda challenges.