Rural Indonesia is alive and kicking

  • Arts
  • Saturday, 04 Jan 2014

Nonton Badutan (Watching the Clowns Show)

An Indonesian artist paints a picture of his rural homeland which thrives on both tradition and modernity.

THEY were all of them gathered. The villagers. Under the tall trees at the village square. From the youngest boy to the oldest woman.

It was a day of festivity, merrymaking and most importantly, a day of thanksgiving. For the good earth, abundant water and a good harvest.

It was that time of the year in Central Java, Indonesia, where everyone gathers for this day of celebration. And as is custom, several clowns were there.

Not the sort of clowns many of us are familiar with, the ones with the big red nose, psychedelic hair and extremely large shoes. These were traditional clowns, strong and muscular men in traditional clown masks, going about their jesting and dancing. The gongs nearby resonated in the Javanese air.

All in all, a distinctly Indonesian culture. Even to this very day and age. This is exactly what Rudy Mardijanto captures and encapsulates in his Indonesian Rural Society In Transition art exhibition at Interpr8 Art Space in Kuala Lumpur.

Rudy Mardijanto juxtaposes traditional, rural life in Indonesia with the 'invasion' of technology.

The exhibition is a testament to the vibrant, yet ordinary, day to day lives of the rural folk in Indonesia, particularly central Java where Rudy is from, and how tradition and culture is still retained and treasured in the face of modernisation.

“Through this exhibition, I wish to portray Indonesian culture, especially that from central Java and show, hopefully, that though time has and will pass, our culture and tradition cannot and will not disappear,” said Rudy, 46.

What is arresting and engaging with Rudy’s artworks is that, the culture, tradition and way of life of rural Indonesians are very similar to ours.

A sense of familiarity and nostalgia may awaken in one’s mind when one beholds Rudy’s paintings that portray the wayang kulit (shadow puppet), kuda kepang, congkak and morning markets.

In the Watching The Play piece, several people are seen watching the wayang kulit, but from behind the veil.

A group of excited people make the foreground of the painting and the entire procession of the shadow theatre, with the shadow puppet masters and musicians forming the background. Thus, the shadow puppet show itself is not of importance to Rudy but rather, the experience of watching it with a group of people.

Negeri Gerabah (Pottery Village)

Another piece that dwelled on the same theme is Selamat Hari Lebaran (Selamat Hari Raya). The first thing one would notice about this particular painting is the sea of people crowding the canvas. Showing a scene during the Hari Raya celebration, the painting is filled with people of many kinds greeting and talking with each other. Vibrant colours are the choice hues for Rudy.

Once again, the main theme of the artwork does not seem to be about the Hari Raya celebration itself but the fellowship amongst the people.

But you see, Rudy did not just stop there. He took it a step further. Even amidst the high noon of culture and tradition, technology has slipped into the lives of rural Indonesians and has become part of their lives.

“Before, only people in the towns used technology. But now, technology has reached the villages as well!” quipped Rudy, who has been painting for more than two decades.

He juxtaposed these traditions and culture with technology, at once making a social statement. It was interesting to see how Rudy chose to show these facts via his paintings.

In Perubahan Zaman (Changing Times), a group of women in traditional two-piece clothes are seen playing the congkak under the shade of trees.

Nonton Badutan (Watching the Clowns Show)

While they play, two women, clad in crimson and blue baju kebaya, also sitting under a tree, are using a laptop, set on a wooden stool and a mobile phone. It is as if these gadgets had been part of their culture for ages.

That is the genius of Rudy, for not over emphasising on the “invasion” of technology and at the same time not aggrandising the hold of cultural life.

Another such painting is called Mencari Kutu (Searching For Lice). The scene is now a paddy field. A white bullock is grazing the grass and three women are threshing the paddy, chatting.

Taking centre stage is a woman in baju kurung finding lice on the head of another, younger woman who is using her laptop.

The simplicity and surrealism of the artwork makes it even more appealing and engaging.

A few other paintings serve as social statements.

Negeri Gerabah (Pottery Village) is about the famous Kasongan district in Jogyakarta, known for its traditional pottery productions.

“In this particular painting, the workers are making clay figurines of a bride and her groom.

“What I would like to show is that these workers are very poor and their sole income is making these potteries. This is how they make a living, even to this day,” he explained.

It is always an enthralling and enriching experience to view the age-old culture and tradition of another society, especially one seen through the eyes of an artist. But what’s even more interesting is when one discovers not only the similarity between one’s culture and another’s and the history behind them, but also that no matter how high the tide of modernisation is, tradition is tradition and should never be lost. It is akin to losing one’s identity.

Indonesian Rural Society In Transition is happening at Interpr8 Art Space (Block C5, Level G4, Lot 20, Publika, Jalan Solaris Dutamas 1) in Kuala Lumpur till Jan 31. Exhibition is open 11am to 7pm daily, except on Sundays. Free admission. More information:

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