Sun, 15 Jun 2003

Dewi Sri stoops to conquer in Widayanto exhibition

Carla Bianpoen, Contributor, Jakarta

From Tuesday to Thursday, Dewi Sri the rice goddess will come down from on high to the newly installed paddy fields at Galeri Nasional in Central Jakarta.

Is this a stunt or just some figment of a wild imagination, a dream or wishful thinking?

Perhaps it is a bit of everything, but whatever it may be, noted ceramic artist F. Widayanto is going to make it happen. Known for his bizarre imageries visualized in exaggerated forms representing images from Javanese mythology, the artist has molded 30 guises of the goddess -- who is revered as the goddess of prosperity and worshiped by farmers to implore fertile rice- producing fields -- in what is partly titled a "ceramic sculptures fashion show".

Legend has it that Dewi Sri was born out of an egg that the god Anta brought to Batara Guru. When Dewi Sri developed into a beautiful princess, Batara Guru is said to have fallen in love with her, much to the sorrow of the other gods who then conspired to have her killed and buried in a secret place.

Miraculously, as she was being buried, from her eyes grew the plant that is called padi.

The goddess whom the Javanese and Balinese call Dewi Sri is Nyi Pohaci Sanghiang Sri for the Sundanese, Indoea Padi for the Minangkabau of Sumatra, and lives on by many different local names throughout the archipelago. She is the gentle and approachable mother, the mother of the universe, the gracious donor of wealth, fortune and success, the protector of harvests who destroys evil.

In India she is the Hindu Devi, a deity believed to be a cosmic force -- destroying demonic forces that threaten world equilibrium -- a gracious bestower of blessings, wealth, fortune and success, as a local protector of villages and towns, a semi- divine force manifesting herself through fertility spirits and other supernatural forms, and also coming down to earth as a model for earthly women.

In short, she is all in one, and renowned for her particular beauty.

No other goddess can surpass Dewi Sri in the reverence she inspires on the Hindu island of Bali. Every day and seen everywhere is the cili (effigy) as her manifestation, made from neatly woven palm or lontar leaves to complement decorations or small offerings. In Central Java, she is worshiped as the protector of farmers, having the power to destroy evil and prevent pests.

The anima of rice cult, she is honored in many ways, including through her representation, such as an hourglass figure made from rice stalks, or woven from coconut leaves, and the shrines made of bamboo or stone that are a common sight in the rice fields.

Myths and legends of old never fail to fascinate and inspire.

"For me, they were the bedtime stories that lifted me into the realms of dream and fantasy," said Widayanto, whose eight previous solo exhibitions were all inspired by Javanese mythology. However, creating the various guises of the goddess has been a different experience from the previous efforts.

There is no absurdity, no comical presentations, but figures that transcend into the ultramodern without neglecting the goddess' traditional importance. And, though exaggeration of the breasts has been toned down, the sensual remains as prominent as in his previous works.

Widayanto says he wanted to make contemporary representations of the goddess that would be compelling in blending symbolic meanings with modern significance.

What better mode than having the goddess come down in the guise of 30 mannequins going over the catwalk amid ripening paddy! With different types and faces, the sculptures are wrapped, or semi-wrapped, in intricate, fashionable and colorful outfits befitting a queen.

Recreating the atmosphere of the village and paddy fields at Galeri Nasional, where the catwalk is made from real growing paddy and with birds chirping in the background, will heighten the ambience -- one may feel in a world of antiquity and the future at the same time. Adding to the authentic feel is the serving of snacks made of rice, as well as other refreshments, in the traditional Javanese village style on opening night.

Franciskus Widayanto is a graduate of the ceramic section of the School of Fine Art and Design at the Bandung Institute of Technology (1981). Noted for an equal commitment to supporting traditional art and expressing his individuality, he uses clay to materialize ideas derived from his fascination with the ancient, Javanese world. Besides ceramics, the 50-year-old artist is also skilled in drawing and painting, as will be evident in a side exhibition at Galeri Nasional. In 1991 he set up PT Widayanto Citra Tembikarindo to produce functional and decorative items, including accessories.

Dewi Sri - Nyi Pohaci Sanghiang Sri; Ceramic Sculptures Fashion Show; By F. Widayanto; Galeri Nasional, Central Jakarta (Opposite Gambir Railway Station); Opening June 17 at 7 p.m. - June 19, 2003