Sat, 27 Sep 2003

Painting exhibition explores 'zaman edan'

Slamet Susanto, Contributor, Yogyakarta

In the 19th century, Javanese author Ronggowarsito wrote in Jayabaya, an ancient Javanese chronicle, about zaman edan, which literally means "mad times."

It was a time when everything was chaotic -- evil was rewarded and good was punished -- and those who did not join the club would be left behind.

It seems that the country is now experiencing such mad times.

Politicians are fighting with each other in the pursuit of power. Political parties and presidential candidates are making every effort to win the election at any cost. Billions of rupiah have been allocated for their campaigns. The public has become confused about the choice because all of the candidates claim to be the best.

During this time of upheaval, Bentara Budaya Yogyakarta cultural center has introduced a new "political party," called the Skeleton Republic Party. Its presidential candidate is Sumanto, a cannibal from Purbalingga, Central Java, who made the headlines after he was found to have eaten part of a corpse.

The party has been "set up" by Bentara Budaya Yogyakarta to highlight its painting exhibition, titled Mad Times in celebration of its 21st anniversary, which fell on Friday, Sept. 26. The exhibition, which continues until Monday, Sept. 29, features 23 pieces created by several noted artists, including Djoko Pekik, GM Sudarta and Popok Tri Wahyudi.

"We don't intend to insult or discredit Sumanto, but he is a reflection of the state of our country today. People "eat" each other in a broader sense -- exploitation and extortion occur all the time. People simply become objects and are like scattered bones," scholar Sindhunata said.

The establishment of the Skeleton Republic Party with a symbol of bones, rice grains and cotton, is to mock politicians who care only about power but neglect the people. Its motto is, "Be united in choosing the wrong path," which seems to satirize the slogan of the former ruling party, Golkar, with its motto, "Be united in progress, go ahead bravely to choose the right path."

Djoko Pekik describes mad times in his work titled Bencana Lintang Kemukus 1965 (Disaster of the 1965 Comet). In October 1965, according to the painter, a comet was seen in the sky for a whole month and it became an omen for a calamity. This was proven subsequently with the death of many people following the abortive coup d'etat, attributed by many to the now-defunct Indonesian Communist Party. The nation's founding father, Sukarno, later died and his successor, Soeharto, ruled the country for over 30 years.

In his painting, Djoko described a line of trucks loaded with people heading to a mass grave for execution. There were also dozens of blindfolded men who were ready to be put to death.

"Such massacres occurred everywhere, in Solo (Surakarta) and Sragen, Central Java, and also in East Java. From 1965 to the present, the situation has continued endlessly. Bombings, subversion and other cruelty have occurred again and again," he said.

Another artist has questioned why people are not ashamed of killing each other, like the military who proudly claim to have killed many members of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in the nation's westernmost province. This was highlighted by Harry Wahyu in his work titled Ibu Pertiwi Menangis (The Motherland is Crying).

"In my painting, I show that the Motherland is crying because her children are born, only to be brutally killed," he explained.

In his work Muda Sosialis, Tua Kapitalis (Young Socialist, Old Capitalist), Popok Tri Wahyudi tells about young people who are critical of government policies, but once they are in power, they turn into oppressive capitalists.

During the opening of the exhibition on Sept. 19, the audience was entertained by musician Jaduk Ferdianto of Laras Jiwo, a number of comedians, as well as a parody group from Gajah Mada University, Produk Gagal (Failed Products).

Mad Times Bentara Budaya Yogyakarta Sept. 26 - Sept. 29