Sun, 23 Jan 2000

Yogyakarta artist likens reform to fashion trend

By Putu Wirata

DENPASAR, Bali (JP): "Reform", which, as a word proper and a yell, is expected to bring about a change for the better in our social and political lives, and after Soeharto's fall, it has been shouted by Indonesians in places across the country.

Unfortunately, it is nothing but fashion. At least, that is how the word is perceived by Yamyuli Dwi Iman, a Yogyakarta-based graphic painter, whose works are currently being exhibited at the Chedi Gallery in Ubud by the Cemeti Arts House in Yogyakarta. The exhibition will last through to the end of February 2000.

It is a sociopolitical fact that it is not easy for the Indonesian people to lift themselves out of the crisis which has affected practically all aspects of life, as manifested in moral decadence with large-scale practices of corruption, collusion and cronyism, acts of violence committed by both the powers that be and the uncontrollable masses and also the yet-to-be-successful enforcement of the supremacy of the law.

"To my way of seeing, people shout the word "reform" just to turn the word into a new piece of clothing of sorts," said Yamyuli, 39.

Yamyuli completed his fine arts education at Yogyakarta Arts High School and then the Indonesia Arts Institute, both in Yogyakarta, majoring in pure arts.

In the exhibition entitled Reforfashion, most of the works exhibited can be visually comprehended as "clothes". Reform began to emerge as a political discourse after the acute economic crisis began to hit Indonesia and when rupiah dropped in value to almost Rp 20,000 to the U.S. dollar. The reform drive could mobilize all social components to oust the New Order regime from its seat of power.

After Soeharto relinquished power, reform euphoria swept practically all over the country. The emergence of BJ Habibie as the successor to Soeharto allowed freedom of the press, something which had never been enjoyed during the period of the Soeharto's tenure. In the Habibie period, a number of political convicts and detainees were freed and a broader public space for expression and the freedom to establish political parties was allowed. However, the reform remained rhetoric as the Habibie reform regime left a number of problems unsolved.

Even after the general election, considered the most democratic ever held in this country, resulted in Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati Soekarnoputri being elected president and vice president respectively, the tug-of-war between the real reform and the reform in guise continued and is ongoing. The yells for reform are shouted by just about anybody -- people who aspire to enforce the law in accordance with the people's mandate or those who pretend to take sides with the people but actually are tricking them and manipulating their aspirations. Yamyuli satirically alludes to this situation when presenting reform as simply a fashion, or as clothes that cover the body and a rhetoric decorating the lips.

Take Reforfashion 1-6, for example. These works feature a half body of a man donning a smart dress and smart tie. The man sports a neat moustache and his tie is decorated with pictures of a car, a woman, a knife and many other items. Reforfashion 6 is the picture of a whole body of a woman wearing a gown with a flower motif, showing beauty and tenderness. However, beneath her there is a picture of two persons -- which may be interpreted as military officers -- standing erect and placing one of their hands on top of a standing rifle.

In Reforfashion 4, which is printed on hardboard, Yamyuli shows how a dress becomes a vulgar ornament on a woman's body. Set against a dark blue background, the slim body of a woman, dark gray in color, is wearing a dress in vulgarly striking colors and styles. Red, yellow, white, violet, the part that is hanging, the exposure of beautifully white calves and thighs and the long and slender shoulders -- all of these are sufficient to illustrate how Yamyuli has captured sociopolitical phenomena quoting the discourse of reform in their rhetorics. A woman's dress with vulgar colors and in an odd fashion ignore its function to protect and maintain the beauty of the shape of a body. It is like the rhetoric of reform which has lost its essence and moved away from its substance.

Indeed, it is not easy to understand Yamyuli's messages or comprehend his perception or criticisms about reform from these works. One may only see that there are results of various dresses now in fashion in the community but may find it difficult to understand the symbol of reform used as a topic of discussion in his works. Perhaps, this is the presentation of the refined Javanese culture in which criticism is launched indirectly and a satire is presented in a refined manner to ensure the target will not be offended. This criticism is as refined as the Bedhaya Javanese classic dance.