The exhibition is part of ARTJOG MMXIX, Yogyakarta
How would you react, should an unknown man; dejected looking, haphazardly pause in front of you, staring straight and pierces you, as if he is provoking you?
Most of us will choose to avoid the provocation; perhaps by hanging our heads or even avoiding the man’s gaze. Only a small portion of people would react differently. Our reaction at an intimidated, provoked, exposed state often push us back to our archaic instinct–often illogically–; shall we fight or shall we flee?
Now imagine the dangerous provocation looming over a live attraction. Us audiences are often shielded and protected from the emotional narrative, knowing well that it will not affect us in real life. And yet, imagine, if the safety dissipates, should we suddenly get exposed to the scene in its full effect; how would you feel?
Such feeling is what Octora wishes you to feel through her play. The Bandung born, Melbourne based artist co-produces her play with Andre Ong and presented her piece at Artjog 2019: in a fifty-meter square space, the green and dark red room is harshly lit from the black stage, five topless men, with metal contraption around their neck, rounding the room and randomly provoke the audiences. Viewer is cruelly forced to respond and as such, experienced a real tension. The impact was wide-spread, over the 45 minutes show, some viewers could be seen staying close to the wall whilst the others cornering the entrance as they experience in tensioning intimidation.
Octora’s wish to merge audience and performers is deeply inspired by Italian futurists from the early 20th century. The style was developed by Dadais before matured by Antonin Artaud, a surrealist actor/activist/artist in Paris. In Artaud’s eyes, plays are not mere performances to be viewed by passive audience, rather, it should be an act that is living and awakening. Such play is filled with performances, intimidation and provocation to evoke our senses, of which are often numbed having lived amidst of the modern world.
The live play also delivers Octora’s criticism towards colonialism–of which is still culturally reigning–, particularly aimed at those who objectify the Eastern culture, capitalizing it as barbaric, wild, and rough yet sexy fantasy. This is well represented through the performers’ wild and rough demeanors; idiosyncratically erotic whilst standing, sitting, smoking as if they are craving attention.
Much disturbed by the objectification, Octora further expresses her cynicism through her photographic works. The photos are printed on velvet surface and hung around the perimeter of the room. Each of those is purposefully crafted to insult the late 19th to early 20th century Western ethnographers, curious in their search and duly equipped with photographic tools in their venture to the East–ncluding Indonesia–only to frame Eastern countries as mere exotic attractions. Octora’s photos can be seen portraying an unruly and wild man to epitomize her firm critique towards the West. Counterintuitively, the pictures are now enjoyed by the Eastern audiences, the victims of colonialism themselves.
Through her play and photos displayed at Artjog 2019, Octora reaches past the general criticism against the West and their role in colonialism and Eastern objectification. On another layer, she also questions the contemporary take on cultural invasion where many of the victims can be seen celebrating their own cultural colonialism. Whilst most artists take a neutral, open-ended stance on this globalized issue, Octora boldly rebuked this acceptance as she instructed one of the performers to angrily run towards a hung piece, tearing it apart. Such is a disgusted reaction from the victim as he attempts to break free from his Western stigma.
Octora’s artworks do not intend to offer solution to the issue, but rather raise the victims’ awareness to tear apart the derogatory exotic portrayal, of which is inadvertently limiting one’s self-expression, in Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty way. And through this firm stance, we can get a taste of Octora’s strong self-expression.
Photo credit: Daniel Hillman, 2019.
LUSTING OVER COLONIAL BODIES AND PHOTOGRAPHY
My artworks displayed at Art Jog were influenced by postcolonial research findings, in particular on how vague the concept of post colonialism are these days. Many have moved on from the era, quoting common spaces as the solution for equality; universal rooms that are neutral, democratic, and open for everyone without discerning those with physical disabilities, different race, cultural background, age, economic & social status, education level or even gender. It is as if as long as we have common space, that will be the utopia we are working towards, it is as if the colonized have too made peace & moved on from their colonized past.
In the end of the 19th century-early 20th century, western ethnographers were dispatched to colonized countries, including Indonesia, to present their findings on what life is like in the said countries. And yet, the discipline was manipulated by imperialists to distinguish westerners and non-westerners physically for political purposes. The ‘otherness’, ‘Sang Lain’, is also reinforced by the art of photography, technological advances of the time that go hand in hand with ethnography. After all, what better way to depict differences than a realistic proof on what the ethnographers see in real life? Photographs became credible references for imperialists to glamorize the western culture.
Even today, colonial photographs from the ethnographic projects are still distributed by western museums, the very same entities who have the authority to validate arts teachings prior to their release wider community. Furthermore, the physical photographs are also still parts of western museums’ collections; their archives accessible online, on prints and even social media. As promising proof of the truth, these photos do not just dictate people’s perception on reality in the past, they are now the source of past exotic imageries, an image still well celebrated on various global media platforms.
Cultural appropriation in art, fashion, film and novels often base their depiction of foreign culture through photographs of the culture, labelling them as celebration of multiculturalism; being exotic, is being political correct. In reality, this practice is far from decolonizing, breaking ‘the otherness’ idea cycle, if anything, it is arguably wilder than its preceding notion. Exotic scenes are showcased for the enjoyment of metropolitan communities (the colonizing), whilst their subjects are called to be ‘the others’ (the colonized) in hope of praise and glorification.
Through my artworks, I wish to represent the cultural appropriation cycle that is celebrated globally through the chosen performance. This series are snippets of parodies based on unsolvable contemporary colonialism cycle and physical bodies as foreign spectacles. The eastern bodies were moulded to be enjoyed on various contemporary media platforms, ‘A photographed body’. The bodies’ humanistic features are depicted even further from their natural states. In today’s global era, we are stuck in a similar situation two centuries ago, just as Andy Warhol forecasted ‘In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes’, don’t we all enjoy it?
PROGRAM: ARTJOG MMXIX
CURATOR: Agung Hujatnikajenong
DATE: 25.07.19 – 25.08.19
VENUE: Jogja National Museum
ADDRESS: Jl. Prof. Ki Amri Yahya No. 1 Gampingan, Wirobrajan, Yogyakarta 55167