Sun, 14 Sep 2003

Nindityo lets society's hair down

The CP Open Biennale has 128 participants, among which 80 percent are Indonesian and 20 percent foreign. There are great names, and not so great names, good works and not so good ones.

But there is only one work that shows art in a surprisingly refreshing manner.

A floor at Galeri Nasional is covered with black stones in the shape of konde traditional Javanese hairpieces, in combination with wooden hairpieces with a surface similar to health or massage sandals. Here people are invited to take off their shoes and traverse the symbolic konde to enjoy a foot massage.

Titled The Massage a la The Hairbun Party, it is Nindityo Adipurnomo's continuing effort to break down cultural taboos by literally walking all over them.

The konde is the typical hairpiece worn by women as an inseparable part of the formal Indonesian dress code originating in Javanese tradition.

While most women wearing this hairpiece today will only think of how to abide by "tradition" and fashion, the konde for Nindityo has become a metaphor to visualize burdensome and repressive strategies in real life.

Born and raised in Javanese culture and traditions, Nindityo as a boy admired the beauty of the hairpiece worn by his mother and his grandmother. As he grew up, however, he came to see the burden it meant to women -- how they were required to wear it even as they suffered with the heat creeping down to the neck -- and the fallacy of so-called beauty and harmony.

The konde is like a prison, he once said, and while continuously exploring it, it became a metaphor of noncommunication, prejudice and intolerance in Javanese as well as other societies.

Nindityo started to explore the traditional Javanese hairpiece more than 10 years ago. Early in his artistic life, he became fascinated with the culture in which he was born and raised into manhood. Initially he was drawn to dance, studying the Bedoyo, a Javanese dance that is said to symbolize the highest achievement during samedi (meditation) by closing nine human orifices and deflating all bad desires.

"All I wanted was actually to know in depth and understand the ground plan of the dance," he said.

He came to understand that this mythical court dance, usually performed by nine young female dancers of advanced spiritual attainment, required a high level of introspective ability; in fact it was a major feature of the dance. As he started painting, he found he could not very well visualize the element of "introspective" and "introvert" required of the dancers.

One of the Bedoyo dancers told him that the sacred classical dance was actually a symbol of intimate communication between the sole choreographer and the nine dancers. While Nindityo tried to visualize that in his work titled Lingga-Yoni (1992), he was not satisfied, as he perceived that as being too formal.

This was the point when konde began to be a metaphor for his creative works. In the konde, he found the same element of privacy that marked the dancers of the Bedoyo.

Among his various explorations with material, his installation works made of river stones like Step on Heirloom (2001) and Konde Batu Beyond the Modesty evoke a sense of prehistory amid modern times. The title of the first work alone was an open invitation for audiences to, in a sense, trample on Javanese culture. In Java, touching the head (or hairpiece) of someone you do not know is impolite. The head is regarded as the holiest part of the body, whereas feet have the lowest status.

It was no great surprise that people were reluctant to step on the stones. But Nindityo is adept at creating vehicles for interaction, and he invented the hairpiece as a tool for massage in an installation where everybody is offered the sensation of the hairpiece.

As young and old eagerly take off their shoes to get a foot massage, Nindityo hopes they also contemplate the symbolic hairpiece. Most probably, however, they are hardly aware they are treading on symbols of once sacred meanings.

-- Carla Bianpoen

--------------------------------------------------------------- CP Open Biennale Jakarta Galeri Nasional, Jl. Merdeka Timur (opposite Gambir railway station) Sept. 4 - Oct. 3, 2003 -------------------------------------------------------------------