Sun, 22 Oct 2000

Murni explores eroticism of modern Balinese art

By Aendra H. Medita

JAKARTA (JP): Wild dreams, obsessions and eroticism are expressively revealed in woman painter I Gusti Kadek Murniasih's works currently being displayed at Galeri Nadi here.

The exhibition titled Fantasi Tubuh, Fantasy of the Body, which will run through to Oct. 29, obviously reflects a dreamer's restlessness exposed through her absorbing canvasses.

Generally, Balinese traditional paintings have many different styles and approaches such as paintings from Pengosekan, Ubud, Batuan, exploring themes and subject matter of nature, religious rites, and animals.

But, I Gusti Ayu Kadek Murniasih or Murni, a self-made painter, takes a very different approach. Her paintings strongly speak about her dream world and her restlessness over her obsessions.

There are only a few women painters in Bali and Murni, who was born in Tabanan on May 21 in l966, is an exception.

Painting has been considered a "dirty" profession and even a taboo as compared to dancing, an artistic expression categorized as being "very clean" and respected. To her, taboo represents her failure to understand, so she feels the need to be free and express herself to survive painting.

Murni has a very strong and uncontrollable wish to explore her world as a painter. At one time, her family moved to a resettlement site in Sulawesi, Murni was then working as housemaid for a family in Ujungpandang (now Makassar) in South Sulawesi, where she enjoyed some schooling. Although she had completed only elementary school, she became increasingly interested in painting. When the family for whom she worked as a housemaid moved to Jakarta, she joined them. In Jakarta she worked at a garment factory owned by this family.

Then in 1987 she returned to Bali and stayed in Celuk, a center for silver and gold handicrafts, some 10 kilometers from Denpasar. There, she learned painting skills from painter I Dewa Putu Mokoh for a year and a half. Afterwards, she exhibited her paintings along with the works of a number of women painters at Seniwati Gallery in Ubud.

Later on she joined a number of solo and joint painting exhibitions. Since 1995 her works have been exhibited in several countries from Australia to Italy, Hong Kong, Germany and the Netherlands.

Despite the strong influence of her painting mentor, I Dewa Putu Mokoh, Murni's works are the embodiment of actual themes, not merely reflecting the Balinese tradition. The success in her paintings stems from her inner world, one of tumultuous dreams and restlessness. It is this element that makes Murni, a woman painter with Balinese blood and intense contact with the Balinese atmosphere, differ from other Balinese painters.

To Murni, Bali is only part of the space she is in, serving as a guide for her to explore the painting world. "My paintings are not related to either tradition or mythology. My paintings are my own private life," Murni said.

Her struggle in the painting world is remote from the world of tradition because it is her own world that comes out in her works. She has her own dream world of eroticism, restlessness, imagination and the musings of her soul, all of which conspire into strength.

"My paintings have been very much inspired by all that you can find in my dreams," said Murni, a painter with a mysterious aura in her works.

"Fantasi Tubuh reflects Murni's journey inside herself. Her paintings expressively appear in all sorts of human figures. Murni, who has gone through ups and downs in her career as a painter, displays 111 paintings in this exhibition. Some of the works, made between 1993 - 2000, speak of the grand theme of eroticism.

Murni emphasizes on the visual aspect of individual objects which are rich in symbolism.

Take one painting titled Mimpi Sepatuku Dikeremi Ular and Lahirlah sebuah Pura, Dreaming of My Shoes being Hatched by a Snake and so a Temple is Born (1997), for example. This painting portrays shoes as the central object with a snake winding itself around them and inside the snake there appears a temple. Murni also enjoys exposing symbolic objects which depict male and female genitals in a radical approach.

In her works titled "Hati Yang Sepi 1 & 2, Lonely Heart 1 and 2 (1994), Trauma 2 (1998), Mencoba Bikin Kesenangan, Trying to Create Fun (1994), Enjoy di Angkasa, Enjoyment in the Air, 1993 and Antara Benci dan Rindu, Between Hate and Longing, 1994; these works strongly depict the pure wild images in her dreams so that genital exploration has lost its sacred quality.

Meanwhile in Jangan Lupa Bunga dalam Kulkas Hari ini, Don't Forget the Flower in the Fridge Today, Dasi Purnama, Tie of a Full Moon, Menyepi, Retiring into Seclusion, Kembaran (Twins), Bermain, Playing, and others offer greater profundity of Murni's powerful images, which are laden with symbolic forms.

Murni is strongly aware of the objects used in her works because the atmosphere that she captures from her dreams and then transfers onto the canvas comes out with the right measure of outburst.

Essentially, the piercing quality of her works is the reflection of contemplation on her dreams. Hendro Wiyanto, the curator of this exhibition, said that Murni's paintings portray human bodies in graphic images underlined by honesty and originality and that these paintings tended to offer 'pure' bodies, not 'exhibited' ones.

This reflects what she has developed out of all the dreams in her images and a pattern she has adopted which has kept her away from the existing and general realism of Balinese painters. This is Murni's pure eroticism in all her honesty.